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Dr Debra Bateman’s story is one to both instruct and to inspire.
Originally a hairdresser and a person of modest ambition, she has overcome personal tragedies to become one of Deakin University’s most enthusiastic Early Career Researchers.
And she has a powerful message she wants to get out: that while the past is a singular place, there are many futures.
“When I left school, I did a hair dressing apprenticeship,” Dr Bateman recounts.
“I hadn’t really thought about going to uni, no one in my family had gone to uni and I thought uni was only about students unions and individual subjects. I had no concept of research.
“What happened to change all that is after I finished my apprenticeship, I had a serious car accident that resulted in a brain injury.
“I had 12 months in hospital and of rehab. I had to be taught how to communicate clearly again, how to regain my balance.
“During that time I had a vocational counsellor come to visit me.
“I couldn’t go back to hair dressing because I was now weaker on my left side than on my right.
“When the counsellors did all the aptitude and vocational testing they came back to me and asked if I had ever thought about teaching.
“I hadn’t, I hadn’t enjoyed school at all.
“But after visiting the teachers college and having a series of interviews, I enrolled part-time in a diploma in teaching.
“I just fell in love with studying. I loved every subject I did; I loved the reading for the courses.”
During that time the teachers college, Christ College, became the Australian Catholic University.
“So at the same time I was becoming more curious about education, I was also elected as the president of a university’s student association,” Dr Bateman said.
“I got to sit on the university senate and faculty board and all those things that gave me a real understanding of what universities were about.
“I also got the opportunity to talk to professors who were leaders in their field and that gave me a glimpse of what it meant to do research and to understand something so deeply.
“I found out what it meant to be a professor.”
A bonfire had been lit.
After completing her diploma, Dr Bateman undertook a Bachelor of Education course.
“Straight from that I went into a Masters,” she said.
“That was the first experience I had of really engaging with research.
“It came on the back of a unit, a preparation for research unit it was called, and I got to choose an area of my interest, which was futures study, and particularly in education.
“I looked at the way curricula were shaped, and the policies that went with them.
“I also noted how often what was said was that schools prepared students for their future, but no one articulated what that future was.
“My masters was all about futures, a philosophical look at why we should we have futures in our school practices.
“At the end of my masters I didn’t feel satisfied that I had answered all my questions, so I then enrolled in a PhD where I was to work with a group of teachers and see how classroom practices could be transformed by adding a very explicit futures dimension.”
Dr Bateman was located in a school in North Dandenong that was renowned for being innovative.
“They were doing some amazing things,” she said.
“But one of the things I noticed that they had in the play ground was a ‘time machine’.
“This time machine transported students to the past, but they didn’t know how to go to the future.
“To me it became metaphoric for education more broadly.
“After my brain injury, the death of my husband, and the birth of my little baby’s, I had come to discover that the future was this really dynamic thing that we have the ability to shape and my research is now all about that – how we can contribute to the future.”
A major concern for Dr Bateman is the way that futures are “colonised” in education.
“Futures colonisation means a government or a group making choices for individuals,” she said.
“Once you take the one size fits all approach, you are actually taking the choice away from the individual child.
“We need to be giving children the skills to determine their own futures, not deciding them for them.
“It’s a little like learning to drive. The instructor teaches how to use the indicators, how to change lanes.
“When are driving ourselves, we look back to those skills but we are choosing our own future directions.
“If we have the skills to create our own futures, it can lead to a lot of positives for our society.
“When you look at drug abuse, early school leaving and a whole range of other social issues it can often be attached to students losing a sense of a future.
“They become trapped in the past, or the present.
“These people can be empowered through the idea of futures!”
So speaks a passionate and powerful voice of personal experience!