BILL SHORTEN’S pathetic pledge that spending $37bn on schools will produce economic dividends in 2095 would be laughable were the issue and context not so serious; any politician promising tangible returns in 80 years’ time is a charlatan, and this attempt to hoodwink people deserves contempt. With Education funding already at record highs, a responsible approach would spurn teacher unions — and tackle falling results in literacy and numeracy.
I’m in Brisbane for the day today, having cleared a large portion of the sizeable workload that’s kept me off this page for most of the week; even so, my remarks this morning will be brief, and I look forward to picking up the campaign with more gusto in the next couple of days.
But one issue that has caught my eye this week as I’ve gone about my business is the promise by Bill Shorten — apparently serious, and apparently without irony — that Labor’s plan to spend $37bn over a decade boosting funding to schools would produce economic dividends in 2095, and you really have to wonder just how stupid some at the ALP really are if they expect this kind of nonsense to cut ice with swinging voters.
When I left secondary school in 1989, senior students in Queensland were given a Tertiary Entrance (TE) Score, based on their results across a basket of five subjects: the top 1% in the state received 990, the next 0.5% 985, the next 0.5% 980, and so forth. It was an article of faith that mathematics, science and English weighed heavier in formulae for calculating TE Scores than other humanities or less traditional subjects (which is why, with a social science-skewed selection, I ended up with 920).
The reason for this trip down memory land is that in 1989, people were gaining admission to teaching courses (a “Bachelor of Teaching” being a new-ish option at the time, providing an alternative to the traditional postgraduate Dip. Ed. that was the normal course back to the classroom) with TE Scores of 685. The practice had been going on for some years before then and, as far as I am aware, continues today, although not perhaps with such low thresholds for university admission. And just as it happened in Queensland, this dumbing down of entry levels to teaching courses was also going on across the country.
Of course, some arrive as classroom teachers armed with degrees in Arts, or Science, or Music, or Applied Science, with a Dip. Ed. to round out their training; the point is that for almost 30 years now, tertiary institutions have been turning out teachers of whom some failed secondary school, and failed it badly: and this cohort of the teacher population is deeply entrenched in a system that no matter how much is thrown at it will continue to be responsible for producing secondary graduates who are defective in literacy and inadequately equipped mathematically for further study or for life.
I really do feel sorry for good teachers; shackled with socialised pay structures insisted upon by unions — along with the viciously-enforced refusal of education unions to permit any moves to either reward good teachers with significantly increased salaries or to fire the dross that dwells at the bottom of the industry — the cream of what was once a respectable profession is now forced to be shanghaied into the uniform mediocrity of being remunerated no better than the high school bombout and the inept.
Education funding to the secondary school sector in this country is already running at record high levels in real terms and — separating politics from astute governance — it surely isn’t too long a bow to draw in concluding that teacher standards, not funding levels, are the real problem at the heart of this issue.
Labor has been campaigning on the size of the cheques it would throw at schools and hospitals for decades, and in recent years those wild-eyed promises have grown increasingly shrill and unrealistic; the end destination of this ridiculous process was apparently reached this week in the form of opposition “leader” Bill Shorten’s po-faced suggestion that under his party’s policy, Australia would receive “an economic dividend” from this largesse toward schools in 2095.
Rather conveniently, when almost all of the currently coherent members of Australian society have taken a dirt nap.
I have to run, but we will revisit this issue, but in leaving this morning I make two points.
One, so-called Gonski funding recommendations were only truncated by the Coalition by two years, not ten, and not paying them was a Coalition promise in 2013: so let’s hear no more about “cuts” in this context.
But two, and more to the point, if Labor really is the “party of Education” — and if Shorten is serious about effecting meaningful change if elected, rather than merely preoccupied with securing power at any price — he would be outlining plans to give the finger to the education unions, and articulating the more complex task of identifying and rewarding the best of the best, offering additional training to those teachers in the middle of the pack, and providing support to get rid of the no-hopers and replace them with good teachers sourced internationally to begin with…until an overhaul of school curriculums began to produce consistently competent teachers to replace them permanently.
Don’t hold your breath. And if you’re planning to vote Labor this year on the basis of its Education policies, don’t bother. They won’t make a rat’s arse of difference — now, in 2095, or at any other time either.