As I sat in traffic on the M4 this morning, I listened to the Chairperson of the Australia Industry Group explain how Australian schools are just not doing enough to ensure that young Australians are job-ready, and it’s symptomatic of the grave concerns that employers have about education systems and why there should be greater involvement form employers in determining what is taught at schools.
This was in addition to the book review I read this morning about a wealthy, middle aged white man who decided that he was going to take a year off from making lots of money in order to ‘give something back’ – and what he was going to do was teach in an inner-city suburban school in the US. Surprisingly for him (but probably not for anyone who has ever had anything to do with education) he found it really tough and threw in the towel after a year – but not before securing what I imagine is a lucrative contract to write a book about his experiences. While he might have lacked the ability to be a teacher, it would appear he has not lost his ability to make a buck out of someone else’s problems.
Meanwhile, in a much more serious vein, the Senate has just released a report into the way students with disabilities are treated in Australian schools. Even the parts that I’ve heard make for grim reading, and, not surprisingly, many of the concerns they raise are related to the public schooling system.
Why is that not surprising? To my mind, it is clear that in countries like Australia, the US and the UK there is a concerted effort to destroy educational systems, and curtail the status and the role of teachers and especially government-funded education. Before you accuse me of jumping at shadows and indulging in conspiracy theories, let me give you some examples of what I mean.
In Australia (following on from ‘Charter’ schools in the US and ‘Free’ schools in the UK), the conservative governments are now looking at ‘independent’ public schools. This model allows the principal at the school more leeway and latitude to make decisions. This ‘freedom’ will, almost miraculously, lead to better results and a cheaper education system because the market wills it. There’s yet to be any evidence that such approaches have any success. Sure, there are very good Charter schools, just like there are very poor ones. The factor that determines the success of the school has little to do with free status or not. Yet the fact that we are relentlessly pursuing such statuses suggests that we are less interested in the school’s success and more interested in cutting costs from schools.
Meanwhile, big business is becoming more and more involved in education – at the expense of current educational models. For example, Microsoft is advertising its plans to ‘hack’ education. Apple has long had a claim to ‘disrupt’ education – all of which suggest that the current model of education is broken and not working. Closer to home, big publishing companies are neck-deep in the administration, marking and continued application of NAPLAN – all accompanied with the rhetoric of ‘improving standards’ and ‘getting back to basics’. In schools close to where I live, systems are experimenting with large space learning where there are sometimes more than 100 children in one open space – because it better reflects the workplace and encourages creativity. I’m sceptical in the extreme – I’ve seen such models adopted in the UK, and despite the same claims, the real reason was so that you could employ one expensive teacher, and then have five or six much cheaper teacher aides. Could it be coming soon to Australia? I don’t see why not.
More to come on this topic.