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  • Writer's picturePete Jonson

Saturday Sanity Break, 24 June 2017 - Education conundrum

The Turnbull government has taken another step 'forward' - or is it - with the Senate approving the Gonski 2.1 package of new higher spending on school education. (2.1 because extra money was needed to bribe cross bench Senators but sadly Catholics remain unhappy and many will vote Labor or Hanson at the next election.)

Trouble is, as in so many other areas, more money is not the main issue. 'Now we shall focus on improving standards' said Minister 'Birmo' but surely that is a mind-set involving putting the cart before the horse. Tough-minded, motivated teachers taught kids 50 years ago in schools without libraries or sporting fields. We learned to dodge tools thrown by the half-mad woodwork teacher and to ignore form teachers sneering at our abilities, saying 'don't waste our time', when asking for support in applying for scholarships.

Henry in the first spelling test in grade six made 12 mistakes, technically receiving a mark of -2 out of 10. He was given six hits on his right hand with a heavy leather strap and was sent next door to the year five class to confess his failure to his teacher from last year, in front of the new year five class. 'You are a rabbit. Go back to your hutch', Henry's year five teacher said. Next spelling test Henry's score was nine out of ten, a clear improvement that was maintained right through secondary school and indeed came in handy in Henry's Ph.D work.

Fifty years ago, the main careers for women were teaching or nursing. Consequently, teaching was dominated by women, whose abilities in many cases were far further up the totem pole of ability than the current average of male and female teachers. Now women can and do work in leading positions in politics, business, medicine, law, the whole gamut of professional occupations.

What about home environments? Fifty years ago marriage was more stable, fathers had most of the high octane jobs, mothers were far more dedicated to home duties including paying close attention to children's education, including homework and progress generally. Now many couples need to both work full-time to finance a mortgage, leaving much less time to ensure kids get gold standard attention to their schooling as well as social and sporting activities, eating and drinking (no drugs, very limited game boy activities) and generally tightly managed but loving attention.

This crucial point aside, many features of modern society militate against top educational attainment. Children seem to me to be less closely supervised by parents, who are generally very busy earning a living and in some cases place less value on educational attainments of children than their predecessors a half-century ago. Kids have a wider range of social activities, and some of these involve early sexual activities, consumption of alcohol and drugs, some of which reduce motivations for hard focused work at boring activities like spelling, arithmetic and later reading, writing and mathematics.

Better teachers will be needed. I hear no suggestion that more of the Gonski 2.1 spending will be devoted to offering higher rewards to better teachers, as judged by student performance, the standard way to organise higher performance in capitalist societies. I do observe that shortage of jobs has meant more young people with high attainments are looking to teaching again. This is especially the case with females, who recognise that the relatively high number of holidays will be useful in helping them monitoring their children's lives, including their education.

Australian education should improve with the arrival of more money. But the educational elite needs to find how to get better teachers and parents need to provide a home culture better focused on educational attainments of their children.

Comments on Aussie Education - Greg Sheridan, 29 June 2017

'Every so often a single policy episode illustrates the decline of a nation or at least its public policy culture. Gonski 2.0 is such a case', writes Greg Sheridan.

'It deserves a place on university courses for study of the worst possible policy produced by the worst possible process. It also indicates the more or less complete political bankruptcy of the federal Liberal Party, its comprehensive capitulation to Labor in political ideas.


'Over the past couple of decades we have consistently spent more and more money per student and achieved lower and lower academic results. Over several decades I have spent quite a lot of time in East Asian classrooms, in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere. East Asian classrooms typically spend far less per student than we do and get far better results.

'Both these data points — Australia’s experience and the East Asian comparison — indicate that more money of itself is unlikely to produce better results. Most of this money I suspect is destined to go in pay rises and make-work schemes'.

It's not just about money, dear readers. Sheridan's summary of what is needed is as follows.

'The Liberals have been in office for four years and have not produced any credible reform or plan to tackle education problems. We know pretty well what would improve results — a concentration on phonics in early literacy teaching, a much heavier time investment directly into teaching literacy and numeracy in infants and primary school, greater autonomy for principals to hire and fire, the compulsory study of maths, science and English most the way through the system, a new emphasis on substance in those three key areas, content and chronological narrative in history, the reassertion of the teacher’s authority in the classroom and the principal’s authority in the school — all the things the Liberals once believed in'.


Fiona Prior shares some feedback from last week’s posting of Pablo Larraín’s biopic Neruda. More here

Sporting life

Aussie cricket remains at risk of meltdown. Those who administer the game have made some modest improvements to their offer to players but players promptly said 'Nyet'. Some genius facilitation is needed or the Boxing Day test will be a sad occasion.

AFL (M+F) players are to get a major boost to incomes, making many more million dollar players. Meanwhile the AFLM season proceeds with upsets and consequent

excitement. The Swans allegedly scored twice in the final 48 seconds to snatch a wonderful win over Essendon to enter the final eight for the first time this year despite losing their first six games.

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More news after the big game tomorrow - Caaaarlton! vrs Richmond

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