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The waste in our schools

By Robina Cosser - posted Wednesday, 27 November 2013


New federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has given assurances that there will be no cuts in the education portfolio, but … where there is waste, Mr Pyne intends to cut the waste.

And, despite the slight trickiness involved here, we have to see the sense in Mr Pyne cutting the waste in Australian schools, particularly the waste of opportunity, potential and time.

While, on the one hand, the results of Australian students have been steadily getting worse on most international scales, on the other hand, we regularly hear of students who arrive in Australia after years spent in refugee camps and who do amazingly well in the Australian school system. In one recent example, Majok Tulba, a South Sudanese refugee, was able to rip successfully through our whole Australian education system from non-English speaking illiteracy to Sydney University Master's Degree during the eight years 2001-2009. Which seems to suggest that the main problem is not the Australian education system itself, it is the motivation of our Australian-born students. Many Australian-born students seem to be wasting their educational opportunities.

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In Bali I have noticed children walking from café to café, selling newspapers to tourists. The children are able to conduct simple conversations in several languages, building a friendly relationship with the tourists and bargaining over the price of their newspapers. Balinese children see a need to learn languages and they and their parents value educational opportunities very highly.

In contrast, many of our Australian students live with adults who do no work, but who still receive welfare payments. Our students see that these adults are free to use their welfare payments to buy alcohol, to gamble and to buy junk food.

Welfare payments break down the relationship between education and financial control.

To reduce the waste of opportunity in our schools, the new Coalition government needs to re-establish the link between education and financial control. Welfare payments should be locked into controlled debit cards that can only be used to buy approved purchases such as GST-free fruit and vegetables. A proportion of child welfare benefits should be paid directly to schools to provide every student with a school uniform and all of the books, etc. needed for school.

We need to take a close look at the wonderful lunch programs provided in French schools. Parents could be employed in Australian schools to prepare nutritionally sound meals. Children who enjoy nutritionally-sound meals at school will be healthier and will have more reason to come to school. The parents employed to prepare these meals would not only be earning, they would be learning about nutrition and food preparation.

Retiree grandparents could be encouraged to volunteer to set up gardens in our schools, to look after students while they are eating, and to sit and chat to students during playtimes.

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The more parents and grandparents we have working in our schools, the safer our children will be at school and the more our children will be exposed to well-functioning adult models.

Some children, especially boys, may be wasting their educational opportunities because our school classrooms have become peculiar, bland environments where competition is discouraged. Partly this is the result of the nutty 'beliefs' and 'philosophies' that have ruled our schools since the mid-eighties. But it is also a cultural problem - Australians really only like winners if they are ever-so-umble. Australian winners need to have an alcoholic father, a single, cleaning-lady mother, a homeless or a refugee camp childhood.

We need to re-think our 'ever-so-umble' culture. Australians need to celebrate academic excellence with the same enthusiasm that we celebrate sporting excellence. We need competitions, cheering crowds, excitement, ceremonies, medals, hours of TV news coverage, live broadcasts, long conversations about injuries and huge sections of our daily papers devoted to the celebration of academic excellence.

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About the Author

Robina Cosser edits the Teachers Are Blowing Their Whistles and Whistleblowing Women. She is Schools Contact Person and a Vice-President of Whistleblowers Australia.

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