The UNSW Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences hosted two premier education and humanities conferences in the past month – the NSW Council of Deans of Education (NSWCDE) Conference from 29-30 August and the Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (DASSH) Conference from 25-27 September.

Associate Professor David Blaazer said the University and Faculty relished in the rare opportunity to host two important conferences in the space of a month.

“Each conference is prominent in its own right and so it was a coup for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences to play a part in hosting both events,” Blaazer said. “The conferences brought together leaders in education and across the humanities and social sciences to share ideas and discuss ways of challenging the status quo and changing the world for the betterment of everyone.”

The NSWCDE is the peak body representing NSW teacher education providers, university faculties and schools of education. Hosted by the School of Education at UNSW, the NSWCDE Conference offered a unique opportunity for university deans, heads of schools, leadership teams and representatives from education organisations to learn from one another and consider how to proactively influence agendas that impact the teaching profession.

The theme of this year’s conference, Leading the Profession: Initial Teacher Education and Beyond,

was a call for education professionals to look beyond preparing teachers and toward preparing the profession’s future leaders.

More than 100 delegates attended the two-day conference, which covered topics from how universities and schools can work together to reshape education to contemporary challenges in Initial Teacher Education.

In the opening address, the Hon. Sarah Mitchell, Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning, announced that she had approved the policy developed by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for a dedicated Aboriginal unit to be included in all Initial Teacher Education programs in NSW from 2021.

Another highlight of the conference was Pasi Sahlberg, Deputy Director of the Gonski Institute of Education and a Professor of Educational Policy at UNSW providing an international perspective on initial teacher training. Professor Sahlberg described the universal hallmarks of high-quality teacher education: a research-based degree; an education academic department; faculty interlinkages; and teacher training schools (a clinical model).

The DASSH Conference saw about 75 delegates from across Australia and New Zealand converge on the three-day event hosted by the UNSW Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences with support from the University of Technology, Sydney. The Australasian Council of DASSH is the authoritative agency on research, teaching and learning for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) in Australian and New Zealand universities.

The theme for the 2019 conference, Promoting the Common Good in a Fractured World, was inspired by the need to find ways of overcoming divisions so that we can engage with each other constructively to face the pressing challenges confronting us all. Whether through research, teaching, or participating in the public sphere, HASS scholars have the potential to initiate and shape the critical debates of our time. But how this should occur, and to what end, remains far from clear.

The event featured a stirring keynote speech from Professor Megan Davis UNSW Pro-Vice Chancellor, Indigenous who described her role in drafting the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the overwhelming support from communities, businesses and professionals for a constitutional change to establish a First Nations Voice to Parliament. 

The conference created a space for conversations about the contemporary obstacles and opportunities for the humanities, arts and social sciences, and how to respond more effectively to the cultural, political, and societal challenges of our time.

More than 20 speakers and 11 panels took place over the three day conference. Topics included how HASS should intervene in critical public debates and ideas for incorporating Indigenous studies and Indigenous perspectives into the curricula.

Larissa Mavros