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Cane toad solutions don't work, especially not in education

By Phil Cullen - posted Monday, 16 August 2010

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Cane beetles were a nuisance in our sugar fields and the USA offered help. In Hawaii there were some toads that liked eating beetles. If something comes from the USA, dutiful Australia is obliged to copy, so 102 USA-bred cane toads were turned loose at Gordonvale way up north.

Since no one had thought any further than the beetle-eating stage, things didn't turn out so well. No one had measured how high the little darlings could jump ... not high ... and the beetles survived.

Instead of looking for home-based solutions to the original problem (they hadn't noticed the rabbits and the prickly pear and the camphor laurels), we are still desperately looking for developing ways of controlling the toads. They have been here for 75 years, growing bigger and moving further.


Which says something about "experts". Think of schooling. Australia has always been highly regarded for the quality of its teaching force. They are first in line for jobs when they seek employment overseas. Ask anyone in authority in the UK, USA, the International Schools network and the Middle East. It just happens to be so.

Few people in Australia appreciate this, and some influential business and banking people even believe that any tardiness of its hired hands is the fault of schools and its teachers. They base their opinion on that group of past-pupils who are unable to access or are disinterested in seeking higher education.

So, schools have to be brought into line because check-outs can't spell or calculate. School leavers are useless because there is no rigour in the operations like there was "in our day". Schooling needs to return to "what we used to do": test, practise tests, punish, frighten with failure.

Brendan Nelson, Julia Bishop, Julia Gillard and Simon Crean, all influential controllers, see political gains in following such beliefs. They think that there is a need to go back. When Julia Gillard met Joel Klein at a function in New York, he seemed to have the right idea.

As a New York lawyer, he knew how to run schools; so, bank-rolled by the Australian banking fraternity, he was brought on a quick tour of Australia's deep south for a week; and Julia promptly introduced Naplan, better known as Napalm because of its tendency to destroy. Perhaps Joel should have been taken to Gordonvale for a launch of his system. It is, uniquely, his; and matches the introduction of the cane toad.

Australian schooling is now judged on test results - tests of literacy and numeracy only. Other outcomes of school learning and developing personal ways of learning don't seem to matter anymore. Many useful aspects of personal development are being consumed in the super-attention being given to a few left-brain activities.


Just as cane-toads have consumed heaps of non-beetles and destroyed eco-climates, blanket testing destroys a love for learning generally and the natural fondness for non-testable learning interests. Australia's potential learning and intellectual climate is certainly threatened. We are learning to live with the restrictive Klein mode. Give it 20 to 30 years.

The ferocity of our political leader, though, is impressive in pushing for fear-driven results; then, sweet-lipped and hand-talking with motherhood statements about looking after the future of our kids by improving scores the "con" is completed. We"ve been "had", big time; and the spreading of even more cane toads seems to be supported by her storm troopers and eichmanns in this new approach to schooling. Deafening silence. Things don't look too good for kids.

Why didn't she go to Finland, Korea, Hong-Kong China, Singapore or Canada for a cuppa and meet their teachers ... and their lawyers if that's her thing? On any mode of testing, no New York school district does as well as Australia does, and never has. Why copy one of them after a short chat with a vested sweet-talker over some canapés? Why not take notice of success? Please explain. Look around.

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About the Author

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

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