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If Gonski is the answer what is the question?

By Steven Meyer - posted Tuesday, 11 September 2012

It may turn out that of all the fiascos of the Rudd-Gillard era Gonski is the one that does the most long-lasting damage. Gonski gets it wrong for the same reason that most socialist solutions to societal problems are wrong. It answers the wrong question.

The title of the report is: Review of Funding for Schooling. The title reflects the terms of reference which are, in short, to review funding for schooling.

So what question is Gonski trying to answer? Stated succinctly it is something along these lines:


How can the Commonwealth and state governments change their school funding arrangements to ensure better outcomes across the board for students?

Framing the issues like this comes with three implicit assumptions. The first is that there is something wrong with Australian schools. I think few would argue with that one.

The second assumption is that whatever ails Australian schools can be fixed by changing the funding arrangements. Can it?

The third assumption is that more money needs to be spent on Australian schools. Does it?

Here, I suggest is the question that should be addressed:

How can we deliver the best possible education to each and every child in Australia regardless of geography and socioeconomic status?


Framing the question in this way has the following advantages:

  • There are no implied assumptions about existing institutional arrangements. Maybe schools in their present form will be part of the mix; or maybe we shall have to experiment with radically different ways of delivering education
  • There is no implication that we need more money. Maybe we do. Maybe we can deliver better education with less money. Maybe too much money is part of the problem.
  • I've included the phrase "each and every child" because I want to get away from the notion of a few sizes fit all children. Maybe we can offer individually tailored educational "packages" to students.

Bear with me while I take a small diversion.

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About the Author

Steven Meyer graduated as a physicist from the University of Cape Town and has spent most of his life in banking, insurance and utilities, with two stints into academe.

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