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How not to GONSKI

By Phil Cullen - posted Thursday, 26 July 2012

If Australia is to guide our nations' school kids intelligently, the Q&A raucous discussion on TV about numbers, dollars and sizes sets a bad example. It was such a sterile slanging match. The kids, whom governments force into buildings called schools, hardly rated a mention. There was little reference to what happens in the school rooms; and when there was, it was only in dollar terms. Let's look at a few issues.

  1. Those relating to the Gonski report can be afforded. If we wish to guide our nation's school kids intelligently, all that is needed is to divert the billions now spent on the useless program of national testing. This would free the pupils in Years 3,5,7,9 to have a year of learning and achieving without restriction, and free the money as well. Gonski is affordable. The AEU has yet to realise this. Looking after kids first and solving the Gonski dilemma as well is, surprisingly, not part of its campaign.
  2. The close learning interaction between teachers and pupils in primary schools demands more intelligent thought. To cite research that includes didactic forms of teaching and ignores the hundreds of learning episodes and exchanges that occur each hour in a primary classroom, is to talk in falsehoods. If any supercilious or number-based-scale has to be used, one could be based on 15 minute one-on-one teacher-to-pupil basis. For a productive five-hour day, this means that the upper-limit in size would be twenty. In special circumstances, this number would be too many. Anyone who has spent a while teaching in a primary classroom will tell you that twenty is plenty. No class using child-centred, maieutic, primary-school-normal techniques should be larger.
  3. A curriculum is a guide to activities in each classroom. It presents a challenge to each teacher to arrange the kind of pupilling practices that take place daily within. I am unsure of what a 'robust' curriculum means. Mr. Pyne seems to suggest that a future government will demand crash-bag-wallop techniques, reminiscent of the 'good old days' now being encouraged by the national testing program. How about curriculum guides that will encourage learning, and not those that aim at the passing of tests? The term 'robust curriculum' frightens me. It seems to mean that Pyne will extend the Gillard-inspired didactic practices. A future of politically sponsored didactic-style teaching with educational decisions based on invalid and unreliable blanket testing only, should scare the living daylights out of all parents...except those who opt for home-schooling.

The depth of importance of transferring the NAPLAN billions to support GONSKI cannot be gainsaid. NAPLAN in any case has to go. It is causing too much damage to children's futures; and Gonski has the potential to repair other forms of schooling damage. The combination of the two is a winner for those children who just want to attend their neighbourhood school and learn things as well as other kids do. Julia Gillard, Peter Garrett and Christopher Pyne and their 'eminence gris' behind the scenes, seem to be truly embedded in the mythology that bang, crash, wallop techniques motivate young children to learn what they are not keen to learn. Such an evil scato-meme is becoming embedded in Australian schooling's psyche. Stand-over tactics have successfully cowered the teaching work-force and far too many schools have adopted a 'go-with-the-flow' mentality.


The fear meme is of political origin. The brain-washing, sourced by publishing houses and on-line-learning firms, aims to de-program effective, child-centred teaching strategies so that there will be a scramble for their products. As agents for these mega-rich firms, wittingly or otherwise, politicians maintain control, of an, admittedly, meek work-force. Those legislators who are proud of their unprincipled, 'robust' stance - and there are many in all GERM [Global Education Reform Movement] countries - are dangerous people. News Corps' recent entrance into analytics, assessment and curriculum markets indicates a re-grouping after the scandal; and pressures on Australian politicians, principal, teacher fraternities and groups can be expected to increase. However, does anyone really care or do we prefer to watch sterile debates on television shows?

I have always been optimistic that Australia has the wherewithal to renew schooling arrangements in such a manner that it would be the world leader in all matters of schooling. We are quite capable of guiding our nation's school kids intelligently. At present, Finland is a curiosity because it unwittingly obtained good scores on the score-based PISA tests.... an unreliable base on which to make too many judgements. If I was an Australian Minister for Education, in state or federal politics, I would gather the names of the best of the primary school classroom teachers together in small groups and ask each group to design a schooling system that works.

How should they be selected? Anybody who has anything to do with schooling knows where the best classroom practitioners are and who they are. You ask around.

Principals, politicians, bureaucrats, academic 'experts' and, especially, measurers would not be allowed near the groups. Trust the people who know what happens when 'others' make decisions that effect their pupils. Let them bring the material together and then ask a small group of these living-breathing-working classroom operators to refine the presentations.

As a grand-parent, I do not like the way the way our school children are being treated – in public schools, private, schools, rural schools, city schools, poor schools, rich schools. Adults just don't care.

We need to start again. We need to talk about what happens in the classrooms of those kids who are compelled to attend a school. We need to talk about the interactions within. We need to talk about the kinds of evaluation that promote real long-lasting learning habits and productive achievement. We need to think.


We need to Guide Our Nations School Kids Intelligently.

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About the Author

Phil Cullen is a teacher. His website is here: Primary Schooling.

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