Let’s Talk: Should we sacrifice Aussie jobs to fix our schools?

You would have heard about the recent results where Australian school kids today are falling behind other countries — such
Let's Talk

You would have heard about the recent results where Australian school kids today are falling behind other countries — such as New Zealand, Estonia and Slovenia — when it comes to maths, science and reading.

It has been particularly disturbing given the intense focus being placed on the education of ‘tomorrow’s leaders’ and any teacher in today’s system can tell you about the number of curriculum changes that have rolled out, or the increased testing and assessment conditions being placed on Aussie students.

Now education minister Simon Birmingham thinks recruiting specialist teachers from outside of Australia is the key to reversing the decline of students’ performance in class.

He told the ABC, “The things we are doing are not working. More money in and of itself is not the answer” before admitting that he would be open to issue special visas to overseas teachers to increase the number of specialists in fields such as maths and science.

“Ultimately if we do need to get more specialist maths and science teachers into the classroom that’s a discussion I’m very open to having,” Birmingham says.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) report revealed that Australian was significantly outperformed by nine countries, and while Birmingham acknowledges previous efforts made by the Government to improve student performance had been unsuccessful the priority now is to ensure teacher performance is lifted.

“The single greatest in-school factor in terms of student accomplishment is absolutely the teacher,” he told the ABC.

He says the Government is committed to ensuring “hardworking teachers” are given the skills through training and ongoing professional development to “be the best”.

However, opposition education minister Tanya Plibersek said more equitably school funding was required and blamed in part the Government’s cut of $30 billion from schools in 2014 for the poor results.

“The central problem here is underfunded schools, particularly in remote and regional areas, particularly in poorer neighbourhoods, and everything this Government has done takes money away from those schools and undermines the reform agenda,” Plibersek told the ABC.

It’s worth noting that the neither Birmingham nor Plibersek have a background in education.

How do you think Australian education needs to adapt to resolve this issue? Are you a teacher or former teacher? Tell us about your professional experience.

  1. Having chatted to teachers from other countries (I taught in Victoria from 1969 to 2007), I wonder whether our culture is compatible with:
    teachers taking classes of up to 60 and not interacting with them;
    having total respect from students and the whole community;
    providing salaries up to twice what they currently are;
    expecting, and paying for, qualifications to be upgraded to at least Masters level;
    returning to rote learning in many areas?
    When I see phrases like: “teaching for learning”, “teaching for understanding”, “using the latest technology”, involving students in their learning” and “making what is taught relevant to the student”, I wonder what I was doing when I put those into practice all my teaching life. I also wonder whether our students are more capable of adapting to and handling change than some of those students nominally ahead of us in “league tables”.

  2. Having dealt with funding at faculty, school and cluster level, I wonder how many people understand what equitable funding is?

    When every school has enough classrooms, well-decorated and heated and cooled so students can concentrate on learning, have toilets which are in good conditions, have libraries with up-to-date facilities and enough staff and are able to fund the current “government initiatives”, then money can be spent on things such as extra sporting facilities, theatres, swimming pools and such.
    Government money for education should be spent on the core area of facilitating teaching. Schools with funds which can be redirected to other areas should not receive government funding.

    I would make it mandatory for anyone directing government funds to visit every school and see for themselves which schools need funding. I’ve taught in schools where windows were nailed shut to stop them falling out (no money to repair), where I conducted interviews in my office under an umbrella when it rained as the roof leaked (no money to repair), where we purchased second-hand computers to meet government targets for student-computer ratios, where I provided IT support to schools who couldn’t afford technicians; where I taught mathematics in woodwork classrooms …

    Many schools are doing a good job in conditions other people wouldn’t tolerate.

  3. Jean Walker  

    Having been a high school teacher for 40 years and then full time president of the teachers union, I couldn’t agree more with both sensible comments above.

    And, though I will probably get abused about this one – we should NOT have almost 40% of our kids in private schools, and having federal funding going to top up the luxuries of polo fields and yacht clubs for schools such as Sydney Grammar. We are the only country in the world that has that proportion of private schools while countries such as Singapore and Finland, with whom we are constantly compared because of our poor international results, have none. The UK and the US have about 10-15% and those are not all state funded.

    As I said elsewhere on this site, the wife of a Singapore professor was amazed when I told her these statistics – her response was – goodness, our parents would be ashamed to send their child to a private school – it would mean they weren’t good enough for the state system. Parents who send their children to private schools should as themselves why that is the case yet Singapore tops the leagues in results. Clue – ALL gov’t money in these countries goes to the state school system, thereby creating a better system for the entire country.

  4. Elizabeth Litster  

    The vast majority of Australia’s private schools are not rich and polo playing as Jean Walker would have you believe. They are grass root small schools that many parents (who incidentally are also tax-payers) choose to send their children to get a better education and more discipline than they believe state schools provide. Many parents want a school where their children are free to celebrate Easter and have a Christmas pageant without being told that their beliefs are politically incorrect. The majority of parents sending children to private schools make a sacrifice to do so in the hope that they are taught the basics, how to read, write, spell, add up etc. The things that will enable a child to function in the real world. Trips to theme parks and McDonalds, in my opinion do not help educationally. The teachers union instead of lauding Singapore should be asking some hard questions as to the real reasons children are being pulled out of the public system in droves. I lived in Singapore and the big difference is the attitude to education, discipline and respect for authority. The kids want to learn and the parents back up teachers. Throwing money at the dismal Australian education will not install that into this entitled generation or their parents who believe their child is too precious or delicate to ever do wrong and teachers that are “friends” first, teachers second. If the state school system is to thrive, we need teachers than can teach, the basics of education emphasised and parents to start to uphold the disciple of the school. Until then most parents that send their children to private schools do so because they believe it is better for their child’s future.

    • Robert Green  

      I agree with you Elizabeth. Most private schools are not the rich ones that most slack thinkers resort to as a description of a private school. We worked hard and scrimped and saved to give our children a private education for the same reasons you describe, and more.

      The reason why Singaporeans, and Asian children in Australian schools, do so well is that they are left in no doubt as to what is expected of them including respect for their teachers, diligence in learning and good behaviour in the class room.

      Additionally, our students are sinking under a quagmire of politically correct curricula (safe schools, gender assignment trash, airy fairy irrelevancies etc.) and are being rewarded for just turning up. No one fails in the system so mediocrity marches on into future, dumbing the population down and producing perfectly brain washed easily governed citizens of the world!

  5. David Cousens  

    I wish we could get past the private/public divide in education. It should not matter whether a school is a private or public school, but what resources the school currently has relative to what resources it needs to to provide the educational outcomes we expect Funding should be prioritised to schools where there is a mismatch between the current available resources and the necessary level of reources to achieve the desired outcome. Once we have achieved a level distribution of educational resources across all schools, then we can afford to shift funding to activities which broaden the educational experience of children Oh wait ,that’s what Gonski wanted to do wasn’t it.

  6. Carmel Everson  

    We absolutely should not be importing overseas teachers. We should be putting more funding into upskilling our own teachers and raising the entrance mark and salaries for Australian trained teachers with a focus on the Science and Maths if we are to compete globally. These marks are an average including all of the struggling children. Focusing on getting funding per each schools requirements should be key. The small private schools struggle for funds along with some of the public schools. Cut funding to the high end of private schools and redistribute to provide extra classroom help in the poor performing schools.

  7. Diana  

    So many children are unable to read or write properly that I wonder why they are at school. I see young people in their teens who can’t do the simplest of mental arithmetic, print because they can’t do running writing with the pen stuffed between their knuckles – it’s appalling. The workforce needs people who can actually read and write a letter, add up, subtract and mutiply without a calculator, know where a country is when they are told to send a parcel overseas…the list is endless.

    All these things have been either witnessed by myself or told to me by teachers. Some children have parents who teach them to read and write at home – apart from going to school – and encourage their children to do their homework, get the correct books out of the library and play the programs on TV which their teacher has asked them to watch. A case in point – a high school friend of mine found one of her best pupils in tears one morning. On enquiry, she discovered that the TV program she had asked her students to watch and write a short paper on, was not suitable for the family. The father had gone to the video shop (this was a few years ago) and taken out some “shoot-em-up” DVDs for the entertainment of the family and the child was not allowed to even SAVE the program he needed to watch for school.

    How wonderfully encouraging was that? My friend said that only one other child had watched the program.

    She said “I sent xxxxx to the library to get the video out so he could write his paper, gave xxxx a top mark and failed the rest on the assignment.” I don’t know if the parents complained about their kids not passing. I guess some of them didn’t tell their parents what they had to do, some didn’t care whether they did it or not and others may have encountered the same problem the little scholar had.

    No – after all my rant – the education department should get their act together, train teachers in the art of spelling and grammar overall, teach “running” writing again – remember the copperplate we had to do? – bring back the rote learning and change the curriculum to make sure no more generations of kids don’t come out of school without knowing the basics.

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