Building Brighter Futures
A groundbreaking study led by Jenny Gore aims to expand educational and career opportunities for young people.
What do you want to be when you grow up? It is an age-old question but what intrigues leading Faculty of Education and Arts (FEDUA) researcher Professor Jenny Gore is the array of complex forces that influence a child's answer to this seemingly simple inquiry.
Gore, the Head of the School of Education at the University of Newcastle, is leading a significant four-year study, starting in 2012, that will look at how career aspirations are formed in the middle years of schooling.
The novel project will be the first to seek a comprehensive insight into the factors that shape children's career and education ambitions from the ages of 10 to 14.
"Some research has been done on students in the upper secondary years but we are responding to an increasing awareness that kids' aspirations are actually shaped much earlier than that," Gore explains.
The information will assist educators in developing programs to expand children's awareness of the range of opportunities available to them.
FEDUA researchers Professor James Albright, Dr Erica Southgate, Dr Kathryn Holmes and Professor Max Smith are co-investigators on the project, which has attracted more than $1 million in funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the NSW Department of Education and Training.
The team will follow children from state schools in three regions - the North Coast, Hunter/Central Coast and Sydney's North Shore - tracking them over four years to ascertain how their aspirations develop or change over time.
The regions have been selected to reflect a range of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds and the experience of children from disadvantaged communities will be a strong focus of the research.
"The vast majority of parents, regardless of their background, want their kids to have access to meaningful career and educational opportunities but they don't all know how to make that happen," Gore says.
"Some children develop a narrow view of their choices because they are not exposed to other possibilities through the experiences of friends, family and community. We want to know how their choices are made, how we can open up a broader range of possibilities."
A former high school teacher who has been working in the tertiary sector for more than 20 years, Gore has made significant contributions to pedagogical reform nationally. With University of Newcastle colleague Associate Professor James Ladwig, she was a key member of the research team that generated the concept of Productive Pedagogy. They later co-authored the NSW model of pedagogy, known as Quality Teaching, a landmark framework for teacher education and professional development that has also been adopted by the ACT.
She is also chief investigator on another major ARC-funded project, with colleagues Dr Wendy Miller and Julie Bowe, researching the effective implementation of pedagogical reform. It aims to help teachers translate the research on quality teaching into classroom practice and is being undertaken in partnership with a Sydney-based education office.
Gore has a strong sense of social justice and is driven by the goal of improving teaching and teacher education for the benefit of students in all schools.
"I work from the premise that all teachers can deliver quality teaching, regardless of their environment, if you give them the conceptual tools to do it," she says.
"What is really gratifying is getting feedback from teachers we have worked with who say they were dragging themselves through the school gates every morning but now can't wait to get into the classroom and try out the new lessons they have prepared. They talk about being reinvigorated and re-energised and that is really exciting."