Vale Dr Ken Rowe
Educators around Australia are mourning the death of Dr Ken Rowe, one of the country’s most respected authorities on the importance of quality teaching, who died in the mid-February Victorian bushfires, the worst natural disaster the nation has experienced.
Dr Rowe was a member of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) Board since its foundation until early this year. His death has drawn tributes from ALTC Board members who recall his steadfast dedication to evidence-based teaching practices and his great love of life.
Emeritus Professor John Hay, Chair of the ALTC Board said he had known Ken Rowe for many years and had always regarded him as a key figures in Australian education.
“He was a great asset to the Board of the ALTC and a great supporter of the organisation and its aims and priorities,” Professor Hay said.
When Dr Rowe joined the ALTC Board in 2005 he was the Director of the Learning Processes and Contexts Research Program at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). He stepped down from this position late last year but continued his work with ACER on a consulting basis as the head of Rowe Research and Consulting Services, an independent company providing national and international services related to evidence-based education, epidemiological and psychosocial inquiry.
Several hundred people attended a memorial service for Dr Rowe in Melbourne’s Box Hill including the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin and former education minister, Dr Brendan Nelson.
Dr Nelson reflected on Dr Rowe’s dedication to language teaching commenting that while he was initially labelled a heretic for his work on literacy, it is now orthodoxy in schools around the country.
Dr Nelson said he relied upon the late educator’s opinion when making important policy decisions and committed himself to urging support for the implementation of Dr Rowe’s recommendations from the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy during his final term in Parliament.
ACER Chief Executive, Professor Geoff Masters, who delivered one of six eulogies, said it was difficult to convey the volume and scope of Ken Rowe’s professional work.
During his career Dr Rowe authored or co-authored 37 books or book chapters, 55 monographs, 75 papers in peer-reviewed journals, 86 research reports and three computer software applications. He also made more than 250 presentations of his work.
An expert in a range of quantitative research methods, Dr Rowe also led ACER’s research into teaching and learning, Professor Masters said, noting that he did important work on students with disabilities, the education of boys, early literacy learning and effective pedagogical practices.
Some of his work took place at the interface between education and health where he carried out “ground-breaking” studies with colleagues at the University of Manitoba, Canada.
With his wife Dr Kathy Rowe and colleague Jan Pollard, he received an award from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians for investigating the relationship between children’s auditory processing, their literacy development and attentiveness in class.
Dr Rowe believed that educational researchers should not be faceless backroom number crunchers churning out statistics and reports and should speak out passionately when required.
“Ken was not backward in letting people know what he thought,” Dr Masters said, recalling that in the media he invoked images of children “bobbing about in a sea of blah” and was dismissive and disparaging of “post-modernist clap trap”.
A remarkably effective communicator, “he got the message out there in a way that few Australian educators ever have”.
Dr Rowe died in the Black Saturday bushfires after travelling to his beloved family weekender in Marysville, a place he referred to as “heaven on earth” and where he enjoyed writing.
His wife said he might have wanted to end his days at Marysville, but not in these circumstances.
During his career Dr Rowe was Principal Research Fellow/ Associate Professor in the Centre for Applied Educational Research at the University of Melbourne in the mid-1980s was awarded a Commonwealth Relations Trust Fellowship at the University of London.
Dr Rowe is survived by his wife Kathy, his three sons David, Andrew and Iain and three grandchildren.