Vale David Symington

David Symington

It is with regret we inform you of the passing of David Symington on August 4 following a recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. David had a long and productive career first as a teacher, then principal in Victoria, then an academic at Deakin University. 

David was one of the very early active researchers in ASERA, in the days when research on student conceptions was picking up steam. Dick White writes: ‘He did beautiful studies on children’s explanations of natural phenomena. A lovely spirit’. He wrote about museum field trips and drawing as a learning strategy. In the last couple of decades his research has centred on partnerships between schools and the science community, reflective of his work in the 1990s with CSIRO in education and communication. He was involved in some significant projects at Deakin on rural and regional education, STEM education pathways, school-community links including evaluation of the STEM professionals in Schools program, school reform, and community views of science education. David’s research was notable for its incisiveness and its ‘big picture’ thinking aimed at policy influence. There he was well connected. He brought to his research an innovative, free-ranging spirit and a political acuity that served to frame research designs to raise significant questions.

At Deakin, through the 90s he was Dean of Primary education and was known for his gentle humour and wise counsel. Tributes from ASERA veterans refer to his humility and generosity: ‘a wonderful colleague and a remarkable and generous man’ (Dick Gunstone); ‘a great ASERA colleague and very good friend’ (Peter Fensham); ‘his humility and his gentle ability to relate to people’ (Denis Goodrum); ‘highly supportive and always willing to assist’ (Keith Skamp).

Malcolm Carr, from Waikato, writes: ‘A study leave spent with David, and the consequent involvement with his colleagues and family for several months has always been a favourite time in my professional life. I recall being there when the final of the weird football competition with four posts at each end of the field happened. Melbourne became a deserted city and David was so kind to support a bewildered Kiwi through this event.’

A number of people remember his standard-setting after dinner speech at a very early ASERA. Leonie Rennie writes: ‘I have enjoyed many laughs and conversations with David over the years, and I was thinking only yesterday of his ASERA after dinner talk, years ago. It was about things to do in church during a boring sermon, and one thing was to crawl under the pews from the back to the front and return without being noticed. It was very funny and David managed to tell it with quite a straight face. He was indeed a wonderful companion at ASERA and always with good humour, kindness, and great generosity of spirit.’

For the research team at Deakin who have had the pleasure of working with David as Adjunct Professor for 20 years, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to have access to a fine mind and a generous spirit to gain inspiration and share ideas with. 

He will be missed. 

Russell Tytler

3 thoughts on “Vale David Symington”

  1. I am so saddened to hear this news. David was such an encourager during my my professional career, and in my early days of becoming a primary science researcher. He was a valuable member of our community, and staunch supporter of ASERA. A sad loss. Rest well, David.

  2. I was very sorry to learn of David’s death as I have very fond memories of him at ASERA conferences. As others have noted he was a very gentle person and someone with whom you could have a laugh. I am sure he will be missed by all those who knew and worked with him.

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