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Luxurious ignorance is not bliss

By Kevin Armstrong - posted Wednesday, 14 March 2012

There is currently a call for Australia to spend more on education to produce better outcomes.

Frankly, that's simplistic .. spending more on anything does not necessarily mean a better outcome.

On consumer goods, that may be so; eg a $1200 washing machine would normally be better designed than a $ 600 machine .. and probably last longer. Better mechanical tools cost more, but are also more serviceable.


That does not necessarily transfer into the services sector. Paying more for a lawyer may get a better outcome .. or it may not. A better health outcome after an operation may or may not be due to paying more for a surgeon in a private hospital.

A meal in a 6 star restaurant will undoubtedly cost more than a meal in a suburban Thai .. but is the extra expense justified or justifiable ? In terms of food value, probably not; in terms of ambiance or being seen at the right places .. maybe yes.

Education is a bit like that. Politicians of all flavours like to extol the virtues of Australia being 'the clever country.'

We all know of people who have done a number of 'training' or skills courses .. and never used those skills. These courses cost someone (usually the 'government' ... ie 'us'), but can hardly be said to add to the skills base of the workforce.

My observation of our current education system leads to me believe that much of what happens in classrooms is more about 'crowd control' than real education. Many teachers are frustrated at the lack of respect for education among both students and parents.

So .. what's wrong ? Fundamentally, too many kids leave primary school without basic literacy and numeracy skills .. they don't cope in high school .. and become behavioural problems ... rebelling because they can't cope.


At the other end of the spectrum .. many kids are now forced to stay in school well beyond the needs of a basic functional education .. reading, writing and mathematical ability .. sufficient for further education, if desired .. or survival in the workforce.

What's my answer then ? Spending more in the absence of some changes is is unlikely to deliver better outcomes .. across a broad range of students; it may help those (relatively few) who are academically inclined.

Improving assessment process at the end of primary school / entry into high school would certainly identify problems much earlier .. and allow remedial teaching / learning programs to address those deficiencies.

At the other end of the scale ... bring in experienced community people to talk to students (say in Year 9) about career choices ... and maybe make the end of Year 9 a 'break year' .. where kids can chose to continue further study at school .. or leave and combine work and study at TAFE or the like.

It worked back in the Intermediate Certificate days ... before the notion of all kids staying in school, regardless of ability or aptitude, to 'complete their education' .. whatever that means.

For many ... it means being where they don't want to be ... learning little and disrupting others who want to learn.

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About the Author

Kevin Armstrong has teaching qualifications and a business management background. He has worked at management levels in private enterprise, government and the not-for-profit sector. He is a former General Manager of the Sydney Business Enterprise Centre and spent 8 years managing the Central Coast Group Training Ltd.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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