Good education is not all about the teachers
Amidst news of the tragic death of Australian servicemen, worries about the economy and concerns about firearms in Sydney, it has to be a great day when our national government calls a halt to bad news and focuses attention upon a positive goal: improving our children’s education.
The old Australian value of the “fair go” is at the root of many of the recommendations of the Gonski review. The basic idea is that every child should have the opportunity to develop according to their abilities and not their parents’ financial circumstances.
The Prime Minister’s response deserves praise for strongly supporting that value. She recalled some less successful students at her old high school, some no doubt from disadvantaged backgrounds being called “vegies”.
More recently in the course of a NSW inquiry that took me to over 200 public schools I met students who described their schools as “povo”. They lacked the up-to-date equipment and facilities that they knew to be available in better funded schools.
Gonski provided pathways for creating a more even playing field.
One understands that the Prime Minister needs to keep her ammunition dry for negotiations with the states, however the means to be employed under her scheme remains shadowy.
The whole scheme would have seemed more tangible if it were planned to implement the recommended additional $6.5 billion in funding in shorter time.
I agree with Julia Gillard’s emphasis on the need for more practice experience and preparation for classroom management while students are in training for their role.
At the same time her focus on the important numeracy and literacy skills to the exclusion of more creative and reflective subjects and pursuits will continue to frustrate many students and their teachers. Not everything that is important in a young person’s education is reducible to scores on standard tests.
A great deal of the unevenness in what we conveniently call school performance is really due to variations in family educational backgrounds.
As a one-time head of the state’s correctional system I find it tragic that in disadvantaged areas one meets pre-schoolers whose backgrounds are so under-stimulating that they are set to experience school failure and discouragement and finish up in one or another of our institutions.
I felt there was an under-current to the PM’s speech of teachers being totally responsible for a school’s performance, when research shows major improvements in the academic skills of socially advantaged children peaking after holidays in the company of educated parents.
And because a bad start can cast a very long shadow the first priority needs to be narrowing the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged pupils at the outset and while the government is taking steps in that direction there is much scope for further improvement.
I would have liked to hear that acknowledged as part of the grand plan.
Meanwhile, because education is one of those fields in which there will never be a `D Day,’ of course teachers need to be life-long learners with real resources devoted to their continuous professional development.
Finally, the community owes a debt of gratitude to the educational warriors who have kept the issue of school funding on the political agenda.
Let us celebrate the over-whelming majority of teachers whose devotion to their duties marks them as being among the highest contributors to social wellbeing.
Tony Vinson was head of the landmark Vinson inquiry into the NSW education system.
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