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Q&A and the education policy debate

By John Turner - posted Friday, 15 March 2013


As the first participant from the floor, Ken Boston, a member of the Gonski Review Panel, and former Director-General NSW Education and Training, asked: “Since 1973, both your parties, have allocated education funding to the independent, Catholic and government school sectors with an eye to political as much as educational imperatives. Forty years on, it is clear that approach has failed. By international standards our school performance is poor and declining and we have created one of the most socially segregated education systems in the Western world. Is it not now time for bipartisan acceptance of the Gonski principle that funding should be calculated on the basis of the measured difficulty of the job facing each individual school regardless of sector, rather than by political deals with school system authorities, lobby groups, church leaders and teacher unions?"

Bipartisanism was quickly overlooked as following participants pushed their own barrow in their attempts to protect their own organisations or positions from possible outcomes bought about by adoption of recommendations of the Gonski review.

I travelled 280km round trip by car to be part of the audience expecting that education policy would mainly be looking at how each party panellist was proposing to improve the intellectual potential of our students and increase the effectiveness of every child's school hours.

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Having applied to be a member of the audience and, on being approved, I was invited to submit questions. I submitted three, each suggesting a method of improving educational outcomes at low cost. The opening comment and question together met the 80-word limit suggested for each question and I followed each question with a brief 2-3-line explanation of the underlying evidence for my question.

On the Sunday evening I received my daily email from Alternet that provided a link to the first of a two-part transcript of a speech by Professor Noam Chomsky, the renowned linguist and philosopher from MIT, on the subject of Common Good and Education. I immediately downloaded the item to a file and sent it as an email attachment to the producer of Q&A. There was no reaction. The Alternet email opened with;

"Chomsky: Corporations and the Richest Americans Viscerally Oppose Common Good. The Masters of Mankind want us to become the "stupid nation," in the interests of their short-term gain - damn the consequences." The second sentence was a direct quote from the speech.

In the next few sentences Chomsky states; "Public education is under serious attack, one component of the attack is on any rational and humane concept of the Common Good, sometimes in ways that are not only shocking, but also spell disaster for the species. All of this falls within the general assault on the population in the past generation, the so-called 'neo-liberal era'...Sometimes the attacks on education and on the Common Good are very closely linked.”

Based on the Chomsky speech I added a fourth question.

It strikes me that the neo-liberals in the federal parliament probably have a similar aim with the policies disclosed by Christopher Pyne. Those policies support a more didactic approach to teaching and the policy of school principal autonomy. 'Didactic' seems to be the new name for dogma, the sage on the stage approach to teaching and the Jesuit's ancient and abhorrent attitude to the individual, "Give me the child to the age of seven and we will give you the man."

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With school principal autonomy how long would it be before people with suitable religious and/or neoliberal attitudes would be fast-tracked to the principal positions by a Tony Abbott led government, or neo-liberal led state governments.

Two university monitored trials, one in the U.K. the other in the U.S., have shown that monitored discussion of simple open-ended questions between students from a very early age will improve intellectual ability, improve behaviour, and improve the educational efficiency of all classroom time. The benefits have been shown to be long lasting and would probably improve parenting for the next generation.

The countries of Northern Europe have the best social justice ratings in the world and are highly rated on education quality and outcomes, with Finland rated one of the very best. In late 2011, a German study of eight measures of social justice in the 31 countries of the OECD reported that northern European countries and Iceland filled the first six places. Canada at 8th was first of the U.K. heritage countries. The U.K. and N.Z. were about in the middle of the rankings, Australia 21st, and the bastion of individualism and 'making money' were near tailenders at 27th, only ahead of Greece, Chile, Mexico and Turkey.

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About the Author

John Turner has an applied science degree on top of a diploma in metallurgy.

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