Sunday, November 10, 2013

Education Elephant in the Room

It never ceases to amaze. There is an elephant sitting in most 'public' rooms that go deliberately unseen. All from the same herd. Wherever one looks in Public Policy, there it is. But no-one wants to mention the turd-pile despite the awful smell. Education is one such place.

The subject crops up in the many Tavern bars. This time it was in regard to education.

Everyone in western countries have been through the school system. The one noticeable fact about it, very few mention. They consider so many other factors but ignore the one.  It is as though they have all been schooled at Fawltey Towers. Don't mention the W ... wait for it.....

The Australian newspaper was on about the parlous state of education and failed to give it a passing glance.

Learning the hard lessons of failed experimentation 
DISMAYED by their children's indifferent literacy and numeracy skills and limited historical, geographical and scientific knowledge, many parents will not be surprised by today's revelation that a doubling of education funding over the past 20 years has not improved education standards.  
As national education correspondent Justine Ferrari writes, while school funding has doubled in real terms since 1995 to  
$40 billion a year,  
Australian students' results in international and national tests have flat-lined or fallen.  

Yet, despite the failure of smaller class sizes, student laptops and better buildings to improve student achievement, educators and politicians continue investing in them year after year.  
Working with his state colleagues and the non-government sector, Education Minister Christopher Pyne has no alternative but to pursue a sharp break from current patterns. 
Not that he will of course.
For an insider's view of the malaise that has progressively sucked quality, rigour, purpose and discipline from many schools, readers will relate to the insights of Michael Hewitson, an experienced maths/science teacher and former principal from South Australia, whose book How Will our Children Learn? (Connor Court) is reported in Inquirer today by associate editor Chris Kenny. 
It speaks volumes that Trinity College, a low-fee school founded by Hewitson in 1985 at Gawler, a dusty, working-class community north of Adelaide, grew into one of Australia's largest and most in-demand schools, with 3500 students within 15 years.  
After it started with only the most basic facilities, much of its development occurred with just 65 per cent of the money, per child, of a state school. 
The issues on which Mr Hewitson focuses in his book provide a useful guide for education reform. 
I wish. So may you.  But more money will be forthcoming; you can bet on that and get a better  return on it
He covered the importance of parental choice in education, the advantages of state schools being allowed greater independence and reporting to local school boards or councils rather than government bureaucracies, school governance, student discipline, teacher quality and commitment, streaming of students according to ability in some subjects and the importance of making the core curriculum - English, spelling, grammar and writing, number skills and maths - a priority.  

Like other experienced educators, Mr Hewitson also advocated extending the school day to cater for cultural and sporting activities.  
Nor should the anecdotal evidence in the book about the value of phonics in teaching reading, even to the most disadvantaged students, be overlooked. Unfortunately, although the benefits of phonics, in tandem with vocabulary work, comprehension and storytelling, have been proven repeatedly in empirical studies, the "whole language" system of teaching reading still prevails in many schools and university teaching programs.  
Importantly for students from less affluent backgrounds, Mr Hewitson's experience in resolving difficult disciplinary issues, at Trinity and as a young teacher with classes of 45 students at Whyalla, reflected the findings of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development research reported last week.  
Like the OECD number crunchers who surveyed the impact of rowdy classrooms on student achievement around the world, Trinity College parents, students and teachers found well-managed classrooms raised students' opportunities by boosting their chances of gaining access to their preferred tertiary courses. 
After the inherent wastage of the $16bn school building program and an upsurge of recurrent funding under the Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments to little avail, the national interest demands Mr Pyne, his state counterparts and universities in charge of teacher education move on from the flawed education theories that have short-changed two generations of Australian students. Poor outcomes tend to hurt disadvantaged students more.  
The Education Revolution.

But it is also a serious concern the achievements of the top 25 per cent of students appear to have stagnated, a trend pinpointed in a recent study of 37,000 students from all sectors in Victoria and in international testing. 
Is this any wonder. The top 25 % used to be composed mainly of boys. Then the great, expensive fad came to raise the standards of girls. Wholly admirable in intent, but at the deliberate marginalizing of boys in practice. And why?

Don't mention the W...

Some states have already freed up many schools from centralised departmental control and allow principals autonomy in hiring and firing staff and setting their spending priorities.  
Injecting intellectual rigour and balance and removing postmodern and pop-cultural fads from the curriculum is also essential. As the Gonski funding process unfolds, however, the main challenge for the commonwealth and states is to lift the status and expertise of the teaching profession, starting with academic entry standards for school leavers aspiring to teach.  
And who have those school-leavers who aspire to teach been, predominantly, over the past 20 or 30 years?  Those with almost the lowest scores in their all-too easy 'courses'.  Don't mention the W....
Effective in-service programs for teachers to improve classroom practices and more effective leadership training for principals would also have a direct bearing on school performances. Teaching quality is the main focus of high-performing East Asian school systems, and its value was underlined by Mr Hewitson in his account of a band of dedicated teachers. 
Parents know good schools or bad schools when they find them, regardless of sector, postcode, class sizes or facilities. Business as usual, with its prevailing mediocrity, is no longer acceptable. Until teachers' unions and some academics show a more mature understanding of the teaching profession and the needs of students, their continuing demands for smaller classes and more funding will render them irrelevant in one of Australia's most important social debates.

So, here is the Premier Newspaper in Oz reviewing the sorry mess that education has become. It looks at the furniture; it can see the stains. It sniffs the air. It refuses point blank to actually mention the one clear fact.

OK, you waited for it. You could see it coming.

It is a Female Dominated Bizzo. 
But Don't mention the Women.
Teacher Quality and Commitment. That got a mention, but not the fact that 80% of the education workforce is female. The Nurturers.
Women are ideally suited to teaching. But that does not mean children are going to benefit.
Children haven't. And neither has society.
Quality, rigour, purpose and discipline. Remember reading that above? 
What do we have instead? Nurturing.    'Equality'.   Special Programs to boost girls - begone difficult exams, bring on Google. Sex education !! - For 5 year olds !!!  Environmental hysterics - children of five told that they can 'Save the Planet' even before they can spell. 'Elf 'n' Safety - no running, no competing, NO FAILING.  Sunscreen 'n' Hats. Faux -sexual harassment and false accusation - ah, but that only for men, and for small boys who want to hold hands with the girls.
Most of the teachers actually have to read ahead in the textbooks because they are not on top of their subjects.
EVEN with 6th Graders.
The education system will NOT improve until at least 50% of teachers are men. It was in the men that one found the Quality, rigour, purpose and discipline.
But we all know why men do not go into teaching.
And that is never mentioned either.

Now you need a drink.



  1. Quality of education inversely proportional to the amount of money poured in.

    1. It certainly seems that way. Here in Oz we have fully 4 in 10 children now in Private schools, so poor is State education. And those private schools are awash with money from parents who also behave like Governments, but at least they have choice, input, far more control and Moral influence.

  2. Women became teachers because they couldn't do anything else.

    They are killing off the men.

    We can only go down from here...she says with a wink and a nod!

    Pull out your Kindles and no...that book in NOT online. Drum roll.

  3. There is certainly a lot to know about this issue.
    I love all of the points you made.


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Our Bouncer is a gentleman of muscle and guile. His patience has limits. He will check you at the door.

The Tavern gets rowdy visitors from time to time. Some are brain dead and some soul dead. They attack customers and the bar staff and piss on the carpets. Those people will not be allowed in anymore. So... Be Nice..