Interview with Director of Education – Mark Samaha (Cafe Catch-ups Interview Series)

By admin | Education

May 13

Interview with Mark Samaha, Director of Education at Nirimba College, TAFE NSW

In this interview Mark gave some interesting insights into current and future trends in Vocational Education in Australia. I asked Mark his opinion on whether classroom teaching will become obsolete in the foreseeable future, and what qualities does he think are needed for students to succeed in online learning.

We also discussed the new learning model 70/20/10 and I asked Mark if he thought Google is dumbing down our youth or exposing our youth to more knowledge. And we finished off discussing if the standard of education in Australia is improving or declining?

 Full Transcript Below:

Paul: Hi everybody! It’s Paul here from intro2outro video productions, with another “cafe catch-up” interview today with Mark Samaha. Mark is the Director of Education here at Nirimba TAFE in Sydney and Mark has been one of my managers in the past and also a great innovator and a supporter of innovators. He supported me personally in a role that I had, years ago, introducing social media within a large training organisation. So, I am really looking forward to catching up with Mark today and hearing his opinions on different topics within education. I’m just driving to the Limestone café now. It’s a great little café here in Schofield in Western Sydney. Not far from  Nirimba TAFE.


Paul: Mark!

Mark: Hey Paul!

Paul: Thanks for coming today to the cafe catch up.

Mark: Thanks for inviting me.

Paul: Yeah. So, this is the Limestone cafe in Schofield.  Not far from where you


Mark: Yeah, around the corner.

Paul: So, it’s one of your favorite cafes?

Mark: Yeah. Yeah. I love it here.

Paul: Interesting. love the coffee?

Mark: Yeah, it’s a little hidden- hidden gem, if you like.

Paul: Absolutely. This area is changing a lot. So, there’s quite a few more decent cafes in the area. And, it’s good to see.

Mark: Yeah. Yeah. That’s right.

Paul: Well, let’s get straight into the questions.

Mark: Thanks,  Paul.

Paul: Yeah, for sure. So, Mark,  Do you think that classroom teaching will become obsolete in the foreseeable future?

Mark: Paul, I am- as you know I’m- I  work across the trades. And so,a lot of the work- training we do is a combination theory and very very practical kind of stuff. So, in my experience it doesn’t really change that much between disciplines. Learners love to be engaged, love to participate, love to be highly active in their learning and as long as you do that, I don’t think it matters whether it’s in the classroom or online or remotely or distance or whatever. It’s about the audience. And, in many cases the audience doesn’t have a maturity or the discipline to cope on their own and the amount of guidance a teacher can add, and the value a teacher provides is just immeasurable. So, I’d hate to think that, that isn’t recognised. The fact that a teacher guiding a learner through a process where they’re heavily engaged in learning, that is the height- and the most

heightening learning that can take place.


Paul: There’s a lot of difficulties with online learning. You need a certain type of student really, don’t you? I mean you need a certain style of

teaching as well. It’s quite different. But, also a student needs to be  self motivated. What other qualities would you say, we are dealing with a student

for online learning?


Mark: They’re learning style? They need to really have a learning style that’s suitable for the particular mode or media that’s being used. You know, there’s lot of studies that show that the most engaging television, movies do not impart a huge amount of learning and knowledge. People enjoy it. They listen, they watch. But, if you assess them a couple of days later the level of acquisition is quite low. So, you can try and do something really really glossy and really polished and highly entertaining. But, the learning isn’t there. They’ve got to engage, they’ve got to do things, they’ve got to write, they got to read and they got to investigate and critically analyse the media. And in case- if the video is great as long as they’re critically analysing it and documenting that analysis and that’s what embeds the

learning. So, it’s about- it’s about knowing that. A lot of- a lot of people

think it’s about sitting back reading a book and that’s [inaudible] or reading a screen or- and that’s just not it, you’ve actually got to be engaging. you have to be prepared to create your own content from what you’re learning so that it’s embedded. And it’s understood.

Paul: The new learning style they called 70/20/10 which is 70% is actually doing, 20% is informal learning from those around you and 10% formal learning.

What do you think of that style of learning?


Mark: Yeah, the model is great. The model actually quantifies to a large extent.

The different forms that learning can take place. So, formal forms are very

expensive and often not the most- efficient and effective. So, that’s why

10% is allocated to that. The more informal, the more mentored and informal

learning that’s more specific and directed at the content that want to be

acquired. That’s the 20% and that’s also quite expensive because it

relies on a- a mentor. But, it is the most ubiquitous learning

is the idea- is the 70% that- you know, if you’re actually actively engaged

in and focusing on experiences and understanding from those experiences the

knowledge and the skills you’re trying to acquire and deepening that through

practice. That’s a far more- and being autonomous about your own learning-that’s

a far more effective way to teach people to acquire knowledge. If you do it that way, you’re always learning and you’re always consciously learning. The more

conscious you are about your learning. The deeper it is.


Paul:So Mark. Do you think that Google is dumbing down our youth?

or exposing our youth to more knowledge?


Mark: I think it’s exposing our youth to more knowledge. I think it’s a wonderful resource. It’s not the only resource. There are other ways to search the inter-web.

In terms of *laughs* the in terms what google provides. It’s an immediate

opportunity. So, often in conversation you have this debate about

you know some fact then you can just look it up on google and straightaways

you’d know. So, i think it eliminates acertain level of conflict. But, not only

does it do that but it provides an immediate source of information. So, when

you want to know something you can find out and that’s great from a learning

perspective. I don’t think it’s dumbing down society. I think it’s just making knowledge more accessible and in the past I suppose you used to refer to encyclopedia or have to get to a library and often that meant that the opportunity to learn as a consequence of a need was moot. If you have a need you can find- you know you can get on your smartphone and actually access knowledge really

quickly. The only problem with google I might say is that, the quality

qualified information or the informations provided, the only question about it is

to be very critical and make sure that you’re understanding that it’s not

necessarily the most authenticated material of evidence.


Paul: So, do you think a good skill for students to have would be to be able to verify if it’s a quality source or you know that information where it’s coming from, is it a quality source. Is it something that is proven.


Mark: Yeah. That’s important and not only with google butacross the board as i hear a lot of stuff from the media through other channels and being able to clarify the important- the truth or the reliability of the content is a great skill and in the earlier we teach people to be critical and look at the biases. ‘Cos every source has a bias and it doesn’t mean- it doesn’t mean it’s wrong just cause it has a bias.

But, certainly just be aware of that bias.


Paul: Yeah. So, you can weigh up all the different

opinions and views and articles. So Mark,  probably a controversial question but i’d like to know . Do you think the standard of education in Australia is improving or declining?


Mark: I think the answer, if you look at the- the global comparison is that we

are declining. We are losing- losing our place in the top ten. It’s actual- high up

in that space. So, I think essentially, if you look at the way in

which we educate our school kids. The model hasn’t changed in decades

absolutely and the generations are changing, and our model doesn’t change.

Yes, the contents became more appropriate more relevant. Sometimes, they’re looking at- there was a move away from some of the

more traditional literature for example and now they’re coming back to it so

there’s a bit of an oscillation and a cyclical process here where we’re

leaving and departing from one model and returning back there in a way to try and

improve what we’re doing but fundamentally if you look at how our

kids are performing in the level of literacy and numeracy issues, you know we

certainly aren’t moving ahead in leaps and bounds and until such time as we

actually acknowledge that there are other models out there. And, instead of trying

to deal with the behavioral issues understand that our model is actually

the problem not the behavioral issues of the student. We will never get away from

this problem about some kids not liking learning because of their early

experiences and always being disengaged and and less likely to apply the

knowledge to make them prosper in life yeah.


Paul: And some really good models like in countries like Denmark where they have a really really high standard of education. I think education is free for everybody and all types of education and it’s got a really high standard and teachers and educators are really highly regarded and respected and they have a very different model as well but I think we should be looking possibly at some of those types of models that are really working well and possibly see how we can use that here.


Mark: Yeah I think you’re right. I think there’s some really good models. The teacher is critical whether you pay them more or less or it’s all about the training and it’s less about- it’s less about necessarily being an honor student and more about being able to know how to treat the learner and so unfortunately a lot of

our university programs are very much focused on the theoretical, the research not enough focus on the practical and the applied understanding of it. So, I’d

love to see us recognise our teachers for the value they actually provide and I

think in TAFE, we pay our teachers quite well and they get very good condition so

if you can’t- if you put the two together I think it’s a quite well pay. I just- I

I don’t think there is in our society, there is enough respect for

Teachers for the profession.  What it is- what it does is

profound for our society and it’s just rhetoric really most the time when

you hear people talk about it and not really follow through with

a meaning- A meaningful demonstration of the value that we have for our teachers.


Paul: Yeah. Absolutely. So Mark, what are some of the challenges in teaching school intensive courses as opposed to knowledge intensive courses.

Say, for example carpenterie as opposed to say IT?


Mark: Ok, I think the main challenge is quantity or volume of

learning. Volume of training. Volume of practice. Typically what you have is an

apprentice model where you’ve got someone in the workplace who’s constantly

practicing a certain skill comes to TAFE to hone that skill get to know

the exact best practice and go back and practice it that is ideal but seldom

does it actually occur that way. Seldom does the training lineup with the

practice in work- in the workplace so that’s why off the job is so important

because we can align the two up. We can do the induction, the instruction and the

practice within the same- within the same kind of motion or flow or process.

But, having adequate practice you’d be surprised for how long. Just to- just to

be able to lay bricks to build a wall and it takes it takes a long time to get

that perfected. To get it exact- And we take it for granted. Look at the wall, and you’ll see every brick’s laid perfectly, it’s all level, it’s all even, it stands up. You think that’s a simple process. In fact it takes in a lot of practice and you take up

to a year for someone to be able to do that confidently and proficiently and

absolutely. The good thing about IT is that you can practice. You’re not really

restricted to a particular spacious neither- You just need the device

unfortunately some of our trade areas do require more sophisticated set up

So, it’s been harder to practice whenever you like. And that’s what I’d like

to- My journey and as a director and what I’m aiming to do is to create

those spaces. The open workshop concept which is about having a space available for ongoing practice, for learners to look into and have access to until they mastered that skill so we’re not restricted to a timetable that’s based on

a teacher, it’s more based on the learning and through competency-based training.


Paul: You know, I’m just thinking about some of the training provided, some of the

private providers that set up and they do courses that are information intensive.

Basically they don’t have as many course as like at TAFE, for example, we do all the trades and everything else. So, they can provide maybe their courses could be- cost a little bit less because of their course alone. But, at the same time they’re not providing a wider range of courses where it’s TAFE is and that’s why the cost of TAFE courses- Well, TAFE itself the funding that is needed is a lot more

because we provide for those practical tough situations that are so necessary in a trade or in other areas.


Mark: Absolutely. I think it’s a huge asset that the government provides

for society and for the industry we don’t utilise it as well as we could

I’ll say that that we could utilise it more- more efficiently and more-

Hopefully, I think there are holiday periods and evenings where some of us is still

is underutilised, and unfortunately they- you know  the- the- the learning then is

compromised. All of the potential for further practices is compromised. And in

terms of private- there a lot of good private providers out there. Some of them

do not have the capital to be able to build the facilities, and have the

property imperative which means they don’t have the ability to do as much

hours of training as TAFE does. It doesn’t have a property imperative. But,

fundamentally the- the asset that TAFE provides should be valued and should be

should be preserved for future generations and we need to evolve and continue to

use those facilities and those assets to promote higher skill- skill levels.


Paul: Fantastic! Alright, Mark. Well, is there anything you want to add before we finish the interview?


Mark: No, I think it’s a great conversation I really enjoy talking about this stuff. I’ve spent a long time in education training 24 ideas and this is a constant dialogue that I have with various people around what- how can we improve and how can we provide the best service.


Paul: Well, thanks so much for actually taking the time out to come today. And hopefully, it wasn’t too scary.

Mark: No. No. it’s a great experience. It’s great.


Paul: That’s why I try to make it a relaxed environment because a lot of people, you put them in front of a camera. And normally, like a studio or something and you know they become a little bit- they freeze up basically, and what I

find is this creates a more relaxed environment and people speak freely and enjoy the coffee.


Mark: Great!

Paul: Thanks very much, Mark.

Mark: Thanks Again.



About the Author

Leave a Comment:

Leave a Comment: