Education – Failing From The First

The Tasmanian coat of arms features thylacines...

The Tasmanian coat of arms features thylacines as supporters. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Education is a serious topic. When we talk about schools we are talking about the most precious part of our lives, our children.

Previously in my post ‘Edumacation – Broken As Designed’ I argued that “we have an education system that is measured according to a limited set of outcomes and the outcomes we drive for are no longer relevant to the society we want to be.”

While that may be true there are some measures that are still as valid in the twenty first century as they were in the nineteenth when we first started public education.

The most basic of these would be literacy and numeracy. This is why I was so appalled by a Radio National story ‘A literacy deficit’ that informs us that in Tasmania half of all people between 15 and 74 are functionally illiterate, and more than half are functionally innumerate—meaning they don’t have the skills needed to get by in the modern world, like filling out forms, or reading the instructions on their prescription.

The story also identifies this as an intergenerational problem further fuelled by low expectations.

As a result Tasmania has the highest unemployment rates in the country and more than a third live on welfare.

Now we here in Sydney might think to make jokes about Tasmania and Tasmanians at this point but we should be careful what jokes we make as Tasmania is merely suffering writ large the same problems that infest pockets of intergenerational socio-economic disadvantage in areas across the country.

As a side note I should point out to all those that think that the “Gonski” funding reforms will solve our problems that Tasmania already spends more per student than any other State, mainly due to the high proportion of small rural schools.

Some of the problems in Tasmania’s education system are structural. High schools only run until Year 10 and further education is available only at city “colleges” so for a lot of Tasmanian’s “finishing high school” means only Year 10.

I also noticed that the graph ‘Percent of students not meeting the national minimum standard’ that is taken from the 2013 preliminary NAPLAN results overstates the current problem in Primary schools in Tasmania. If you grab the report from this page you will see that Tasmania perform better than other States in some areas and even when they are the worst performing State (the Northern Territory stands alone as a total, signal failure though if you adjust for the high absentee rate it is not too far from the States.) This may reflect a minimum standard that is too low, however.

If we can’t teach our children to be functionally literate and numerate we are failing from the first. If we can’t do that how do we expect to teach them anything else?

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So Much Unfair

Medicare in Australia's brand.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “Tell us about something you think is terribly unfair — and explain how you would rectify it.”

We live in a society that might be described as democratic capitalism (though if I am feeling argumentative I would disagree that we are truly either) and there is a great deal about the way we build that society that is “unfair”.

If you talk to the upper-middle class and rich in Australia they say it’s “unfair” that they have to pay taxes while people “bludge on the dole” and that people on the bottom “just don’t know how to work.”

Today I’d like to talk about unfairness at the other end. I’d like to talk about some benefits that the top get that don’t get down to the bottom. There are far too many to cover them all (how about public finding of private schools)

In Australia we have a publicly funded health care system called “Medicare”. This is funded through a levy. If you earn more than a little over $20,000 you pay the levy. If you don’t have private health insurance that covers at least hospital stays you pay an extra levy.

At the other end if you earn less than $130,000 then you will get a percentage of all of your private health insurance cost paid back to you.

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Politics of Fear

John Howard, 31 August, 2007

John Howard, 31 August, 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia) It’s always good to stand in front of a flag when playing the politics of fear.

It’s on again. Increasingly right wing politics has become a politics of fear and Tony Abbot has learnt the lessons well at the feet of John Howard.

In the movie “The American President”, close to the end, Michael Douglas gives a speech defending his new girlfriend from character attacks from a Republican hopeful.

I’ve known Bob Rumson for years, and I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. And wave an old photo of the President’s girlfriend and you scream about patriotism and you tell them, she’s to blame for their lot in life,

Well what happens if we do some editing? If we take that speech and replace ‘family’ with ‘battlers’, ‘American values’ with ‘Australian values’ and ‘character’ with ‘huge deficits’. Then switch ‘the President’s girlfriend’ with ‘refugee boats’ and scream about ‘Australian borders’.

Does that sound like the noises we are getting from the Coalition? Check this story from their puppet newspaper “A Coalition Would Change National History Curriculum” and this one “Activists disrupt Abbott’s ‘illegal boats’ tally”.

Is this a party that is talking about the future shape of our country? Or are we likely to have a government after September that got there by “making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it”?

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Edumacation – Broken As Designed

Etchingham School 1946

(Photo credit: ttelyob)

So the State and Federal governments of Australia are going to find an extra $5 billion dollars a year to spend on school funding according to the recommendations of the ‘Review of Funding for Schooling Final Report December 2011’, generally referred to as the “Gonski Report” after it’s chairman, David Gonski.

What if they are going to spend it on the wrong things? What if the system itself is concentrating on the wrong outcomes? What if our education system is broken as designed?

First, let’s contemplate the purpose of our education system. What is it meant to do? If we want we can turn to our Government to answer that question, politicians can always be relied upon to give us a great “motherhood statement” on any large social question. In Australia we only have to go back to 2008 when there was a conference of government Education ministers in Melbourne that produced a nice motherhood statement as a report, the ‘Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians’.

The Melbourne Declaration says

  • Goal 1: Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence
  • Goal 2: All young Australians become:
    • Successful learners
    • Confident and creative individuals
    • Active and informed citizens

The most interesting thing about this statement is that it says nothing about vocational outcomes. The preamble however is a little more revealing, it says in part:

Skilled jobs now dominate jobs growth and people with university or vocational education and training qualifications fare much better in the employment market than early school leavers. To maximise their opportunities for healthy, productive and rewarding futures, Australia’s young people must be encouraged not only to complete secondary education, but also to proceed into further training or education.

It should be noted that jobs and vocation are nowhere else mentioned in the declaration.

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