When the TrackSAFE Foundation (TrackSAFE) was formed in March 2012, the rail industry agreed it was time to improve rail safety education as one strategy to help address the alarming rates of near collisions, injuries and fatalities on the rail network on a long term basis.
In July 2012, TrackSAFE commenced research and collaboration with a variety of partners for our education initiative, TrackSAFE Education. A Reference Group consisting of representatives from all Australian and New Zealand rail organisations with rail safety education programs and other community engagement initiatives; road safety education specialists; state/territory education department and Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) specialists; and Police representatives; came together in early 2013 to create TrackSAFE Education’s strategy, committing to improve rail safety education collectively.
Our first priority was to create curriculum learning resources for Primary Schools launched in October 2013, followed by resources for High Schools in 2014, with the view to continually add to the collection of resources in a variety of Learning Areas across all year levels. We also acknowledged that early childhood resources are a crucial component of the learning process, and TrackSAFE Education’s first early childhood (2-5 year old) learning activities were launched at Rail Safety Week 2013, at the ‘TrackSAFE with Thomas and Friends’ event in Sydney.
We are committed for the long term to improving rail safety for children. We believe that by creating our learning resources based on expert advice and the current available evidence on how best to teach children/how children learn (pedagogy); and how best to ensure the safety messages ‘stick’ and are on the radar as something important for young people; there will be an improvement in knowledge, skills and attitudes in rail safety for school students who undertake our initiative.
A NEW NATIONAL APPROACH TO RAIL SAFETY
OUR LIGHT BULB MOMENT
Even though we felt really positive about the school visits we had been doing as an industry, there was little evidence to show that any of the previous approaches had made a difference to the safety of school students, and for our customers of all ages, as well as rail staff.
As an industry, we expected that a one-off visit to a school classroom or assembly by a rail industry representative or police officer would change the behaviour of school students travelling on our network. Teachers also believed that this would be an effective way of addressing their students’ behaviour around railway stations, tracks and level crossings.
However, we were frustrated that, year after year, there was little evidence to suggest school students behaved any differently on the rail network after a rail safety talk. We also realised that presentation style approaches did not engage students beyond surface-level interest, or reach all areas of Australia, leaving out rural communities and states or territories without rail safety school visit programs. Students in those areas need to be equipped to be safe around trains and tracks too. This is what led us to realise as an industry that our approach had to change.
WHY WE ADOPTED A CURRICULUM-BASED, EVIDENCE-BASED APPROACH
Our road safety and education partners helped us realise this approach was not only an ineffective way to teach students; it was also based on an unattainable goal. Through their research we recognised that an ‘information’ or ‘education’ program alone cannot change the behaviour of students, especially if it is a one-off event.
What was needed was:
- Readily accessible, longer term, flexible teacher-led delivery – education done by education professionals – for students of all ages.
- To centre rail safety learning activities around students, rather than ‘talking at’ or ‘down to’ students or using shock or fear tactics during a one-off visit.
- Evidence to show the students had in fact learned anything.
- To remove the expectation within the industry that education alone equals a change in behaviour.
In creating TrackSAFE Education, we have taken steps to ensure these gaps are addressed:
- Teachers can choose from a variety of lessons in a variety of Learning Areas, across a variety of year levels, and can decide which activities are relevant and appropriate for their students. All lessons are available free of charge through this website.
- Students can both participate in and lead the learning process, enabling them to feel ownership of the rail safety issues. The lessons are designed to allow students to progress through the lessons and attain deep levels of learning. There are no shock or fear tactics employed in the design – all activities are designed to highlight students’ strengths. Students can also interact with the safety messages through the TrackSAFE Education primary and high school student pages. The learning activities are designed to complement school visits from rail organisations or police to further increase student interest and stretch their learning.
- We ask teachers to assess students to ascertain any improvement in knowledge, skills and attitudes relating to their own and others’ safety around trains and train tracks. We also ask students to assess their own levels of knowledge, skills and attitudes. Our assessment tools provide a clear and simple overview of student achievement. We ask teachers to share this information with us so we can collect accurate data to evaluate the effectiveness of TrackSAFE Education.
- We do not and will not claim to effect behaviour change through our initiative, and are working with our industry partners to ensure this is no longer an expected outcome of an education initiative. For a more holistic approach towards behaviour change, we advocate that education should be accompanied with a variety of other initiatives within a safe systems approach.
THE POWER OF STUDENT INVOLVEMENT
WE ASKED SCHOOL STUDENTS TO HELP INFORM OUR LEARNING RESOURCE DESIGN
In 2013 and 2014, TrackSAFE Education surveyed hundreds of primary and high school students from rural and urban areas of Australia about what they know about rail safety. The results were surprising and contradicted the approach the rail industry had adopted for many years.
The results showed that many students had knowledge about rail safety (e.g. ‘stay behind the yellow line’, ‘mind the gap’, ‘don’t play games near tracks’). Our industry’s focus has been providing surface-level information to students, yet it appears that most students are already familiar with these safety issues and the expectations of how they should behave.
In the survey, we also asked the students how they wanted to learn about train and track safety. Their ideas have contributed to the design of the TrackSAFE Education learning resources, and we hope this contributes to increasing the engagement of students.
WE TAKE A STRENGTHS-BASED APPROACH
We believe students of all ages have the capability to improve rail safety in their local area, in a way relevant to their community’s needs. Evidence shows students are able to make a real difference when they are empowered to, and supported by the ‘whole school’, including teachers, parents/carers and the community.
We are working to improve the way society views young people’s role in and contribution to this real life safety issue. Instead of disempowering young people by ‘talking down’ to them by creating non-evidence based, negative, fear invoking campaigns for ‘behaviour change’, the rail industry is working together to implement a more positive and effective approach with TrackSAFE Education.
TRACKSAFE EDUCATION REFERENCE GROUP
The members of the TrackSAFE Education Reference Group assisted with creating our strategy, and actively participate in the design and/or review process for all learning resources to ensure they are:
- pedagogically sound
- aligned with the Australian Curriculum
- accurate and evidence-based from an education, rail safety and road safety perspective; and
- useful for teachers.
The members of the TrackSAFE Education Reference Group are specialists from the following organisations (listed in alphabetical order). We are sincerely thankful for the valuable contributions these representatives have made and continue to make to TrackSAFE Education.
Global Road Safety Solutions (member until 2015)