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Not quite Mr Pyne! A constructive critique of the current education minister’s ideas about the teaching profession

Dr Eva Dobozy, Curtin University

On February 19, 2014, Mr Pyne, the current Federal Minister for Education, noted during a televised interview that: “Teaching is a vocation and a craft. It’s not a science. It takes a heart and head. It takes practicality and it takes knowledge.” Indeed, not long ago, medicine too was seen as a vocation and craft, but not anymore. No graduate from a leading Australian medical school would dispute that medicine is a scientific discipline and that the practice of medicine takes a ‘heart and head’ (to use Mr Pyne’s vocabulary). It requires a combination of aptitude and theoretical and practical knowledge and skills that has to be acquired through rigorous study at a higher education institution.

Does this mean that all medical practices are automatically evidence-based and ‘scientific’ in nature? No, of course not. Even today, there are pockets of pre-scientific medical practices, such as naturopathy and herbalism (see Wardle, 2010),
which are often incompatible with scientific medical approaches taught at leading universities worldwide
(Scarpa, 1981).

The science of education

To underscore that teacher education is indeed a science grounded in evidence-based research, a number of international universities have departments referred to explicitly as The Faculty of Education Sciences (see the University of Seville and the University of South Africa) or offer graduate programs in educational sciences (see the University of East Finland). Unsurprisingly then, there are also scientific journals with the title: Education Sciences, or International Online Journal of Educational Science, International Journal of Educational Research, the Journal of the Learning Sciences, and the International Society of the Learning Sciences to name a few. This gradual adjustment of language to reflect the scientific basis of education can also be illustrated with events closer to home. Hence, I argue that 21st century Australian teacher education is not only committed to evidence-based practice, but our teaching is grounded in high quality educational research. Why else would the Western Australian Institute of Educational Research (WAIER) and its sister organisations the New South Wales Institute of Educational Research (NSWIER) and the South Australian Institute of Educational Research (SAIER) exist?

Teaching is complex

Increasingly, teaching is acknowledged as being complex. More importantly, findings from evidence-based international educational research advance our understandings of teaching and teacher leadership practices on student learning engagement and learning outcomes (OECD, 2013).

Contemporary teachers need to apply their multifaceted theoretical knowledge and skills. This means that not only do teachers need to have a very good understanding of learning areas or the subject matter to be taught (what to teach), the preferred way to teach (how to teach), but also how children typically will behave and/or react inside and outside of the classroom (application of educational psychology theory). More significantly, as education experts, teachers are relied upon to cater for individual developmental differences and work according to individually designed education plans (IEDs), spot and report signs of atypical development, child neglect and abuse and they are also expected to have superior interpersonal, intercultural and linguistic skills.

Learning Design: a scientific approach to pedagogical modelling

The educational sub-field of Learning Design (LD) is grounded in scientific research and emerged out of the need to study and describe the development, implementation and adaption of particular learning designs. The aim of LD research is to improve teacher effectiveness, learner engagement and learning outcomes (see The Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design, 2013). Technological advancements impact all professional fields, requiring heightened specialisation and knowledge. Hence, similar to a medical specialisation, such as robotic surgery, LD is emerging as a specific field of educational research and practice (Dobozy, 2013a).

In conclusion

I am disturbed by Mr Pyne’s non-evidence-based and ideologically coloured rhetoric about the teaching profession and it is not the first time that I lament the lack of conceptual clarity on the federal education stage (see Dobozy, 2013b). I am pleased to note that Mr Pyne explained on 27 March, 2014 that he is “focusing like a laser beam on teacher quality” and is committed to allocating funds for teacher professional development and teacher education. What is needed now is an acknowledgement that education has evolved into a science, which means that teachers’ educational practices are grounded in evidence-based research.


Dobozy, E. (2013a). Learning design research: advancing pedagogies in the digital age. Educational Media International, 50(1), 63-76.

Dobozy, E. (2013b). The leveraging influence of strategic alignment: What constitutes Early Childhood in current Australian policy debates? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 38(3), 112-117.

OECD (2013). Leadership for 21st Century Learning, Educational Research and Innovation. Paris, France: OECD Publishing.

Scarpa, A. (1981). Pre-scientific medicines: Their extent and value. Social Science & Medicine: Medical Psychology & Medical Sociology, 15(3), 317-326.

The author may be contacted at: Eva.Dobozy@curtin.edu.au

May 2014