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The great educational stunt

By Phil Cullen - posted Wednesday, 5 September 2012

It's a crusade, she says. Join me. It's a race; and Australia must finish in the top five. "Australia has to face up to the truth of international league tables that puts us seventh for reading and science and 13th in maths" The race is on ..and Cabbage leads by a head; Banana slips up through the bunch; Girdle goes well in the stretch; Assault and battery go head to head; and Mother-in law is left nagging at the rear...and here come Beetle Bum. [No disrespect intended. It was Spike Jones.]

Our P.M. has nominated our NAPLAN nag for the Paris Pisa Derby run much like Spike Jones' race to the music of The William Tell Overture. She is so fixated on the placings and scores, chanted over-and-over monotonously by 'Pete' and her other loving party parrots, all believing that schooling – sometimes called 'education' – is conducted by numbers.

This is, obviously, an outcome of the lobbying undertaken by the test-publishing industry. Pearson and the Murdoch units know whom to target and when. They are good at their job; they handle gullibility sensitively; and they deal in numbers....big ones. The NY close friend of our P.M. and founder of the Australian fear-based system of schooling, is now on a $4m salary, producing tests and accoutrements for Rupert Murdoch, is a master of sweet-talking. It's working.


Her Immenseness announced at the Press Club on Monday, 3 September that the next federal election will be about Education. People might now talk about schools and testing and learning and leading learning and about how children are treated. School personnel are not allowed, but others will voice their opinion, for sure.

There are two education issues for election purposes: - 1. Funding for private and public schools. 2. Child development and mental health.

For the average parent and genuine elector, the second issue is, far-and-away the more important. Her insistence that Australian school children must be in the top five, regardless of the serious threats to their over-all development and health on the Paris-based nerds' PISA tests, deserves attention by the voting public. What is this PISA that causes this extreme devotion to numbers?

The Programme for International Student Assessment, operating under the auspices of the OECD based in Paris, tests only 15 year olds [considered to be possible school leavers] in a number of countries to see how well-equipped they are to face the world at large. Although PISA tests are only able to test the testable in reading, mathematics and problem solving, it has no link to any school curriculum, so it provides great fun for the measurement nerds at OECD, Paris. That's about all. Thus far it has created chaos and panic amongst those in countries who don't understand what it is. It has tested Reading in 2000, Mathematics in 2003, Science in 2008, and Reading again in 2009. Overall PISA measurements carry more punch than they deserve for curriculum use and for comparative standards. Its heuristic punch would not explode a paper bag.

It is influential, however. Some countries, states and authorities around the world have gone numbers-mad to copyPISA's impetuous ardour ; giving tests invented by local non-school measurers, assigning numbers as scores to each participant, averaging the numbers to declare some ridiculously impossible assessment of teachers, principals, schools and systems; publishing results as if they carried some sort of evaluation of what is going on in schools.

Its effects on the mind-set of our PM, her efficacy hawks and quislings have been monumental. I am truly surprised by the support by members of the Labor Party for her platform. One presumes that some of them are parents. It must be difficult for any parent or teacher to agree with its major tenets:-

  • Schools will concentrate on teaching only the measureable parts of the curriculum that PISA tests;
  • Children's fear of failure will be exploited to the fullest.;
  • School time will be re-arranged to cater for test-practice
  • The curriculum will be rigid and cored;
  • Threats to teachers, schools, systems and states will be maintained;
  • Parent, principals and teachers and all on-campus school personnel are forbidden to comment on any schooling issue. This will continue.

The fascination with number to arouse a voting public to love her is perplexing. Surely each of us knows that measurers are people who dwell on the outskirts of schooling; and that they greatly exaggerate the power of their numerals. They should get back in the box with their childish toys. Number is number. When its hieroglyphics are used for descriptive purpose, scores or marks their squigglings are inappropriate. Used for the serious evaluation of educational endeavour, their use is satanic.

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About the Author

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

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