The immediate reaction by the media to the Coalition’s education budget statements was that the Coalition had seized the initiative on education from Labor. However closer inspection of its policies on schools, such as a Summer School for “leading teachers”, indicates it is an initiative that one can only hope does not come to fruition as it reveals the Government’s ignorance and arrogance as well as being a great misuse of taxpayer’s resources.
Working as an assessor in the Quality Teachers Awards Program in New South Wales, I have observed some of the best classroom teachers in Australia. Some of the dominant qualities are their love and deep knowledge of the subjects they teach, their genuine concern for and understanding of each of their student’s immediate and long term needs, and an outstanding personal integrity.
Their students say they want to achieve because they do not want to disappoint their teacher’s expectations of them.
These teachers have undertaken further studies in their own time and at their own expense. They have not needed bribes - like all good teachers (as well as nurses and welfare workers) they are driven by the intrinsic rewards of doing their job well and extrinsic motivation is far less relevant. A summer school would mean nothing to them. As Kevin Donnelly said in an article in The Australian on May 10, 2007:
Short-term professional development programs have little effect and common sense suggests that a better option would be to subsidise those willing to undertake postgraduate qualifications during an extended period.
The teachers the Government are considering for the course are already at the point where they are more than ready to assist in professional development of other teachers. What is needed now is the financial support in terms of time and space for these teachers to share their skills with others in the workplace itself, because they are the ideal people to do so, and the workplace is the situation where the immediate and direct benefits can be seen.
The Coalition’s combination of ignorance and arrogance comes from its re-interpreting of the role of the federal government. Federal intervention in schools began with the Liberal Menzies Government in the late 1960s providing financial support to Catholic schools and science education and developed further under the Whitlam Labor Government, where money was focused on professional development of teachers and disadvantaged schools.
The procedure of both of these governments involved identifying genuine needs in schools and then providing the resources directly to the State Education Departments to meet these needs.
For over 100 years, women and men with good will and tremendous energy have created state education systems which, while like all human institutions are far from perfect, are nevertheless among the best in the world.
Now the federal government is maintaining that, with its close to zero experience in school education, it knows far better how to run state education systems than the states do.
These are not the policies of a “conservative” government but a “revolutionary” government like that of Robespierre or Pol Pot, which wants to wipe out all the achievements of the past and restart the calendar from year zero.
To quote from Kevin Donnelly in the article mentioned above, linking acceptance of Coalition policies to funding “represents an overly bureaucratic, intrusive and centralised model of developing public policy”. By threatening government funding (and in a way that discriminates against public schools) the Prime Minister is acting as if all the money that flows into the Federal Treasury from the states is his own personal fiefdom.
The views expressed here are his own.
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