One of the great failings in the education debate has been that few people have recognised that the social, economic and technical fabric of our society has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. We cannot go backwards, we cannot “bring back”, we can only go forward. Yes, we need change, but we need our public schools to be ready to accept that change, which is not happening. This does not just mean curriculum, but administration and pedagogy as well.
If we introduce change too rapidly, as is happening in other Australian states, we can expect that we too are going to experience huge equity and social problems in public education. We need to be a lot more thoughtful about how we introduce change, and not just dump change on schools expecting them to flourish.
We also need to be careful about the reasons for change. Most of, if not all, the ideological change that has been introduced into education has proven to be less than perfect. Call it whatever you like, local autonomy, or school-centred administration, it is essentially the same. The basis for that change has been to introduce a more “business-like” approach to education. what this means is “a little competition is good, so a lot of competition will be better”.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence at all to suggest this is true. In education there is a great deal of evidence to refute any such claim, but the Right will insist. This is why they keep coming back to the same formulaic approaches, lockstep curriculum, merit pay for good teaching, competitive education. In short, it is designed to be “outcomes based”, provide a tangible “bottom line”. How can this be a good thing when we have no idea of the intangible value of education?
In country areas, local autonomy will be helpful for principals to reengage communities in their schools. For many rural communities, schools have always play a huge role in the life of the community, but in the city, schools seem to have separated from the community. Is there any wonder? For me, schools should be a focal point for local theatre groups, sporting teams. School facilities like gyms, drama centres and such should be available for community use. They rarely are, anymore. In my state of South Australia, few schools are designed well enough to allow themselves to be normally inclusive of the wider community.
Publicly funded and managed night schooling and technical education has proven to be a valuable tool for social mobility for the last eighty years or so. However, it is declining as specialist “training centres” take over, with many proving less than competent, some even criminal. There has been no public discussion of a change in policy; the opposite in fact, there has been encouragement of private providers. Essentially, politicians are arguing against publicly funded adult education, not the public just the politicians. This has produced a lot of restructuring and funding “efficiencies”, i.e. service and budget cuts, so much so that some adult education centres are in real danger of closing. This is one thing we have done well in SA, and now the whole thing is under threat.
The equity issues alone will still be being discussed for the next hundred years. Meanwhile, SA is declining even more rapidly, and in the end, the class system we have deluded ourselves in actively ignoring it will come back.
Class warfare erupting again… all because of monetarism. We are racing to the future backwards.