Labour Party Silliness with Education

Posted: September 5, 2008 in Australia, Education, News
Tags: , ,

Education is the cornerstone of any modern civilisation; technology is useless if the people do not know just how to use it but also maintain it.  The education of a given generation dictates what society will be like twenty and more years in the future.

Recently the Victorian Labour Government announced some reforms for their education system which should scare any advocate for the continuation of independent, comprehensive education.   What are they proposing and why is it a bad thing?

To clarify, both the state and federal governments seem to be taking the same approach which only serves to worsen the quickly approaching problem.  Both are coming up with some remarkably illogical ideas.  To further clarify, I should point out that I normally vote Labour and generally lean towards the more liberal minded school of thinking; this is certainly not a piece from some Liberal Party puppet or mouthpiece.  I should also point out that I do work in the education system; though not in the public one (I do have some experience in it, however).

From the ABC News Story, for ease of reference (http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/09/02/2352949.htm ):

It outlines a role for businesses in funding schools and equipment

There was an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ where the Springfield Elementary School was supplied with a Periodic Table from a private company.  Anyone who remembers that particular scene should immediately realize why this proposal would be a bad idea.

The very basis of private corporations is to make money for its shareholders or business owners.  That’s what they do.  That’s all they do, when it break it down.  So why would they spend good money on a school if they were not going to get something in return?  Anyone who says that the school’s curriculum won’t be affected by being reliant on private sponsorship, especially in an example such as this, is naïve to say the least.

For example, the National Australia Bank may donate some classroom resources to a school, specifically the Mathematics or Accounting departments.  It would be assumed, I would think, such donations would be branded with the NAB logo or some such thing. Such an example would have at least two main problems: The first is a conflict of interest and the second is that the only purpose such serves is brand building.  Children are extremely susceptible to marketing strategies and seeing corporate logos in an environment children go to and are immersed in every day … well, in a way it could be compared to a kind of brainwashing.

So would the NAB, again used just as an example, be donating such things out of the goodness of its heart? No, of court not; they’re lining up future customers and getting a whole lot of advertising out of it in a market they’ve otherwise been unable to tap very well.

An aggressive recruitment campaign to get top graduates into the profession

What they’re talking about here really has two parts.

First, they’re referring to graduates from any field of study and not just teaching.  Primary teachers, for example, have to go through a four year specialised Primary Education University degree to be qualified and then meet certain criteria every year after that to keep their Teacher Registration.  Such requirements should indicate that to be a teacher takes somewhat dedicated and lengthy training and that remaining as one takes a long term commitment to learning new teaching strategies and skills.

Of course, you can currently do another degree and then a one or two year course commonly referred to a ‘Dip Ed’ or Diploma of Education.  That still includes that specialist training, however.

The second part is getting the best graduates and putting them in the worst performing (or toughest) schools.  Tackling those problem schools, as I am sure you have already thought, is not a task well suited to fresh graduate – it takes what can only come through years of teaching experience.  I know some poorly progressing classes, just in my local area, and there is absolutely no way I would put any first year graduate teacher with them.  Why?  Two reasons:  A graduate wouldn’t know how to handle them and it would completely turn them off teaching.

The days of a school being an island in the middle of a sea of ovals, disconnected from the community and fundamentally on about its own enterprise are over,” she said.

Right. Sure.  That sort of statement is extremely indicative that Bronwyn Pike has pretty much no idea of how schools are run, at least any school I have seen (and I have seen and worked in a few).  Of course, that statement actually has nothing to do with the proposal she gave.

Corporate businesses will not affect the curriculum with their privately paid for support, yes?  They’ll just donate equipment or whatever, correct?  Then how does that help to connect students to the rest of the community (which is apparently a problem which Pike can see but I have never actually encountered)?  If anything, schools are trying, often to extraordinary lengths, to get the community involved in the educational process – but private business such as the NAB, BHP or whoever … they are not the community.

Of course, her statement is nonsensical anyhow – at least in the apparent context that she uses it.  Schools are run by specially trained personnel for a reason, you can not get people not trained in the area poking their noses in and meddling.  I would not, for example, presume to know anywhere near enough to demand a say in how the Health System works.  Nor would I go to local council and demand that I am actively involved in the construction of local roads … simply because I do not know the first thing about doing such.

Sadly, the Federal Government plans are not any better, by any stretch ( http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/08/28/2348457.htm ).

The plan includes promises to give parents information about how their school compares to others

If parents did not already investigate the school they’re sending their beloved children to before they enrolled, then something is wrong already.  There are a few problems with this proposal:

It breaks everything down to numbers and nothing else.  It doesn’t take into consideration special factors that all schools encounter; it only marginally takes into consideration social demographics and so on.

It will especially encourage a ‘teach to the test’ mentality in educational professionals.  Instead of teaching students what they need to know in interesting ways, teachers will face huge pressure to teach so students get the highest possible mark on whatever benchmark tests the Federal Government sends out.  I have yet to see standardized tests which were worth the paper they were printed on, let alone the time it took to think them up.

…threats to sack principals whose schools do not come up to scratch.

That is already handled by the School Council/Board that every school has.  Those groups were formed for this reason; to be on hand so they can keep an eye on how the school is being run and take steps to fix it if something should happen to go wrong.  I have seen School Councils move to have principals fired because they weren’t pulling their weight while the Department of Education thought everything was fine because the numbers they received looked good … on paper.  Bureaucrats, be they Federal or State, can not have a proper understanding on what is happening in any individual school – hence School Councils, who are there and know what is going on.

Linked to all this is pay linked to performance; increasing teacher pay if they happen to be able to raise the benchmarks of their students.  Again, not a terribly good idea.  What about those students who simply are not capable of improvement?  I know I have students who fall under that category – even though they are in a mainstream class, they are not capable of such improvements due to genetic mental limitations but they also don’t rate low enough to get any sort of extra funding or consideration.  Or, worse still, those students who have no desire to learn at all?  Yes, it happens.  As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.  A teacher can try all the strategies he or she may know, but the final decision to want to learn lies solely with the student themselves (and by extension, their early upbringing by parents).

The educational system has a lot of pressure on it and the problem facing it are only going to get worse in the foreseeable future and this is for a variety of reasons.  The education of a child was once considered to be a full partnership between schools and parents; one would teach a student academic content while the other would concentrate on imparting to them the knowledge of what it is to be a good person while supporting their academic pursuits.

Now, due to economic pressures for the most part though there are certainly some social ones as well, one side of that equation has been almost annihilated.  It is extremely common to find that students leave school and arrive home to find no parents waiting for them; there is no one there to assist them in their homework or simply ask them how their day at school went.  They are left to be minded and coached by the family television set or x-box with little to no encouragement to pursue their academic goals.

With parent support incredibly reduced, more and more expectations are left at the proverbial feet at schools.  Another common occurrence is that schools run breakfast programs in the morning, so that students do not start the day hungry.  Such a thing would be near unthinkable twenty years ago when that sort of thing would be a basic expectation of a student’s parents.  Sadly, they are often unable to prepare breakfast since they had to leave the house at 6am for the two hour commute to work every morning. Schools are no longer expected to impart academic knowledge to students, now they are (for want of a better term) expected to be everything from counselors to full surrogate parents.

As a final aside, the man who came up with this style of plan in New York (one Joel Klein) is supporting its implementation here (http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/08/30/2350769.htm )

All I can really say to that is simply there are something extremely good reasons why the state of the Education System in the United States of America is considered a horrible, sad joke.  If nothing else, ‘No child left behind’ has been an incredible failure which has done nothing but put incredibly more pressure on already woefully under-funded schools while not helping students one little bit.

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