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Issue #1445      3 March 2010


Education and questions of trust

Education Minister Gillard and Prime Minister Rudd have for some time taken a belligerent stance towards teachers in the country’s public education system. They have portrayed public school teachers as a closed-minded and defensive group seeking to avoid scrutiny of their work and, by so-doing, failing to uphold the welfare of the students they are instructing. The PM and his deputy have striven to rally the community and parents in particular behind their “education revolution” and to get their trust that a whole series of major changes to public education are in the best interests of students and their school communities. Teachers are “the enemy within”, if Rudd and Gillard are to be believed. Unfortunately for the future of public education in Australia, it is the Rudd government that is betraying the trust placed in their hands at the last election and steering public education in a disastrous direction.

There have been many swipes and slurs along the way. The long-overdue national schools’ curriculum announced this week was dumped on teachers without consultation.

Gillard’s recent address to the National Press Club was full of references to “shining a light” on education and the national testing and benchmarks she insists will work to allocate resources to struggling schools and students. There is the clear implication that if a school or a child is struggling it is the fault of the teachers who are concealing their own mediocrity behind “closed doors”. She cites examples of the new type of educator the government is promoting, like those entering teaching through “Teach for Australia”. The US-inspired scheme allows higher education graduates to bypass the usual, rigorous teacher training and fast-track them into the classroom:

“...Shaun Isbister is teaching business studies as one of the first group of Teach for Australia associates. Shaun was the first person in his family to attend university. He ended up with first class honours in economics and was working as a business analyst before joining Teach for Australia.

“Now, after an intensive introduction to teaching, he is in his first weeks teaching kids with similar backgrounds to his own.

“Sean’s class motto is ‘results, not excuses’.”

Most of the reasons for underachieving students are bound up with the decades of under-resourcing to public schools and failure to meet the needs of the communities from which they draw their student populations. These are dismissed as “excuses”, however. Instead, teachers are to blame. According to this spin, their performance needs to be monitored with their results eventually posted to the My School website. Teaching is basic and easy, according the government: you do not even need teacher training to do it.

Gillard and Rudd recognise that public school teachers and their union are major potential obstacles to their plans for the dismantling of public education as we know it in Australia. The extent of the changes and the ultimate goal of large scale privatisation would not be welcomed by the parents and students of the country either and the government has been forced to conceal its intentions. A noteworthy example of this was the introduction of the My School website from which name-and-shame league tables have been compiled. The data is drawn from national literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN) testing.

Gillard is now introducing a number for all Australian students that will go with them throughout their education. The reasons given for this step vary.

But at bottom, the idea of employers having a virtual dossier on a worker’s whole life during his or her primary or secondary education is disturbing. They should not be trusted with that personal information. It is already a step too far. But it is the government’s other, unstated motives in introducing a student number which need to be questioned. Could it be that students need a number to track payments made “across systems” when they qualify for an education voucher? Couldn’t this initiative get around the fact that school children are too young to be stamped with a Centrelink client number?

It is the government that cannot be trusted on these burning issues in public education.  

Next article – Correction

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