“The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.” ― Jean Piaget
A quality education is essential to provide future generations with the best possible opportunities and to ensure Australia is globally competitive in all fields of endeavor. Australia must aim to close the education gap, internally, within Australia, and externally, with other countries. There is no reason Australia should not be at the forefront of innovation and excellence in education.
Current discussions around education investment and outcomes in Australia seem to be centred around the Gonski report and recommendations almost exclusively. While this report is an important focal piece on school education in Australia, CountryMinded takes less “branded” thinking on the issue.
There is no doubt that the key messages and aspirations contained in the Gonski report are relevant and commendable. In principle CountryMinded supports the Gonski recommendations, particularly for equitable funding for schools including in rural, regional and remote areas. However, the Gonski review was focused on budgetary and monetary constraints.
With technological advancements, and an interconnected global economy, Australia must advance to compete. As a country, Australia is facing immediate challenges in terms of productivity and efficiency, the best way to resolve this, is with a better educated, more productive and more efficient workforce; this will only occur with a significantly improved education system.
Whilst money and resources are essential, the application of more resources does not always result in better outcomes. It is essential that we consider education reform in terms of improved education outcomes rather than just fiscal inputs.
In the context of the importance of education in future proofing the nation, it would appear teachers, principals and other educators working to provide our future generations with the best possible opportunities are underpaid, under-appreciated and overworked. This in itself is having a negative impact on education outcomes.
Experience as parents suggests the most important variable in determining the success of any student is the effectiveness of the teacher. By extrapolation, teachers are a key component in the solution to the education problem. It is increasingly apparent the problem is the system in which they are forced to work. Gonski goes part way to resolving this issue in regards resourcing, but there is a cultural element of the education system that must equally be addressed.
CountryMinded would seek to recognise the contributions of educators, and ensure that throughout Australia they are given the appreciation and reward that they deserve. In order to provide a better education to young Australians, we must define, identify and reward great teaching. In order to provide better outcomes from the education system, we must improve the quality and efficacy of teaching ahead of the curriculum.
Education effectiveness must be measured through student growth. A teacher’s performance should not be simply considered in terms of meeting an arbitrary standard at the end of the school year. It should be measured in terms of how students have improved under the guidance of their teacher, and are able to do so year after year. As a society we must work closely with teachers who are passionate about developing standards and metrics which will allow for a useful and practical evaluation for ensuring student growth.
The current centralised curriculum pressures are demotivating for teachers and students alike with excessive junior school work loads and performance standards. It is essential that there is flexibility for educators to meet the specific needs of their communities within the framework of national education standards. Teacher and administrator remuneration should be directly linked to student growth with a base salary and performance bonuses paid in accordance with measured growth.
Education needs to be responsive to the needs of the students and considerate of their natural aptitude, cultural and social surrounds. While it is essential to provide the basic foundations in reading, writing and mathematics, it is also essential to make the curriculum relevant.
Beyond school education, there are profound issues around tertiary and vocational education particularly for rural and regional people. People who train in regional centres are more likely to work in regional centres. It is essential that the education system is considered in the context of integration of school leavers into the workforce.
This requires similar prioritisation and thinking to school education in the context of capitalising on the investment in education for the nation. Vocational and tertiary education is part of the education system and must be considered as integral to it. It is not an either/or proposal.
Vocational education has been severely limited by a cannibalistic attitude and approach to meeting Gonski recommendations in schools. CountryMinded is fundamentally committed to vocational training. The cuts to funding and centralisation of vocational training presents a significant disproportionate barrier to entry and completion for many regional based students.
CountryMinded is committed to the retention and enhancement of regional universities and adequate support for regional based students.
CountryMinded is opposed to the deregulation of fees for Government supported universities on the basis that it creates an elite mindset which belies the fact that wealth does not determine natural ability or intelligence. Inadvertently, it will preselect candidates for critical careers based on their parents’ wealth rather than their aptitude and talent. It is essential for the nation’s competitive capacity that we maintain an education system that does not exclude people’s opportunity for education based on socioeconomic demographics.
Rural and Remote Issues
There are significant and quite unique issues facing rural and remote people in regards to education. The distance to primary and secondary education facilities presents a particular challenge to many families.
Increasing numbers of rural and regional people are being forced to leave their vocation or split their family unit to be able to afford and/or access education for their children. For many, the standard of education facilities in their community is not adequate for their children to realise their academic potential. The social cost to the family and community is untenable.
Across Australia, rural communities/electorates have shifted from some of the highest socioeconomic demographics to most of the lowest. This has coincided with Government cuts to rural and regional education facilities based solely on numbers. The strategic importance of retaining people and excellent teachers in rural and regional centres based on the economic significance of the output of those regions must be taken into account in the funding rationale.
The cost of school attendance in rural regional areas is disproportionately high. The isolated children’s allowance is a useful concept for boarding school attendance., but has not kept up with the increase in costs associated with school attendance. Similarly, it is not relevant to non-boarding school attendance costs.
Tertiary education for rural and regional based students who must live away from home to study is disproportionately expensive to other urban based students. While some students choose to live away from home, most rural and regional students have no choice. This is significant barrier to entry and completion of qualifications. Given the strategic importance of an education system that is prejudicial, it is essential to acknowledge and address this issue.
Informed by and inferred from our guiding principles, CountryMinded would support policies that:
- Ensure the national education system must reallocate existing funding to facilitate better education outcomes, and seek internal education efficacy.
- focus on providing a solid foundation of reading, writing, mathematics, critical thinking and social responsibility.
- Define and reward great teaching.
- Constantly review the efficacy of the centralised and standardised curriculum particularly in the context of student growth.
- Ensure the viability and sustainability of rural and regional based higher education institutions based on the strategic importance of the facility over just the number of students.
- Support a tertiary studies allowance for rural, regional and remote students and a more relevant index for the isolated children’s allowance for school education.
- Support a funding mechanism or tax deductibility for all education related expenses including travel for rural, regional and remote families.
- Improve access to better telecommunication services for rural, regional and remote families for education facilitation.