Is there a Future for an Educated Australia
Education is one of the three or four critical issues for all peoples and communities and investment in it leads to increased wellbeing as well as economic growth. It requires investment. Recent economic policies have instead steered us toward an education and work environment more suited to a low wage economy: learning and creativity are being undervalued. The solutions are to be found in recognising the positive outcomes of self determination and encouragement of creativity, not centralised control.
(This is the text as delivered of a talk given as part of the “Lunch Box Lectures” at Griffith University’s College of the Arts, Brisbane, 19 September 2007)
I want to start by acknowledging the Jagera and the Turrubul Peoples, traditional owners and custodians of the land upon which we stand today and its surrounds. I also want to acknowledge the ongoing struggle for recognition and justice which Indigenous peoples have experienced in this country, a struggle which continues to this day. I do so most especially at this time when so much seems to be at risk and in the light of the seemingly forgotten Mabo and Wik judgements, in which Indigenous peoples showed their generosity.
I am going to talk today about the future we have as an educated Australia, as a people in which education is valued and encouraged, not just for the individual but for us all. Because education, like health is amongst the fewer than half dozen things in which every single community and people and nation which has made any progress whatsoever has invested in. And I draw your attention particularly in that respect to every indigenous people and nation at least before being overrun by some other people. Education is an issue irrevocably tied up with notions of intelligence and therefore with issues of “nurture versus nature”, whether people’s intelligence are genetically determined and even whether certain peoples are inherently primitive.
I ask you this. When Islamic Asia Minor, Moorish Spain, Africa, native America, Indigenous Australia, Mughal India and other Asian countries were overrun by Christian western civilization, who were the primitives? At the time of invasion, how sophisticated were the civilizations of the invading peoples compared with those they overran? I will return to this at the close of my comments.
In truth a deep concern for education and knowledge allowed these sophisticated societies to maintain their place over many centuries and in some cases millennia. However, it was insufficient long ago, and still is in some places. Christian western civilization had guns, germs and steel.
There can be no doubt that education, through its contribution to understanding and technological advances, has brought immense gains in the quality of life of much of the world’s peoples. Think of the advances in health and housing, in technology, in transport and communications. As someone said recently, if you think there has been no progress I give you one word: dentistry.
But a great deal of time is spent in reflecting on these advances and on the pace of change, even asserting that change is so fast we need to make decisions faster. The fundamentals of humanity though are not advances in health and transport, technology or housing. The fundamentals of humanity are our relationships with each other, our ability to understand the diversity we share as well as our commonalities, our ability to respect others and our preparedness to help others and to relate to them. These kinds of things are not areas where there has been a great deal of progress. Just two statistics will suffice. In the decade to 1920 ninety percent of those killed in armed conflict were soldiers; in the decade to 2005, ninety percent of those killed in armed conflict were civilians. And the second statistic: in the USA the wealthiest one percent own 20 percent of the wealth and the wealthy protect themselves from the horrors of seeing the squalor of the poor including the working poor – the more than 20 millions who live below the poverty line – within gated communities.
If we cannot understand and recognise what is going on around us we are unlikely to do anything about it. As Jared Diamond pointed out Dutch people recognise the importance of caring for the environment because everyone lives in the polders – the low lying lands within the dykes (1). Most of us and all those who make the major decisions about our common future do not live altogether in the same environment. Indeed, increasingly those with influence seldom meet ordinary people and certainly do not encounter the problems of ordinary people, do not experience the difficulties of keeping within a weekly budget and still eating reasonably, the difficulties of buying clothes for the children. Interestingly many of those in lower socio-economic groupings, but above the poverty line however, consider they can get by OK. The very rich, on the other hand, believe they have difficulty affording all they need.
And the key point is that we need to understand that the real problems for all of us relate to the socioeconomically less well off in society. Because they are part of our common humanity and because that is where much of the wasted potential exists. However, by and large, concern as expressed by genuine investment, is lacking. Rather they are shut out and the consequent problems are dealt with by locking people up or trying to get them into low paid and unrewarding work. In New South Wales, the first priority of the government (in its State Plan) is security!
I want to relate much of this to our investment in and understanding of, education.
So the question is, “Does an educated Australia have a future?” By that I mean, do we, or more particularly those with influence and we, as those who influence them, recognise that our common future depends on our investing in learning and understanding. And I am not going to argue that we learn certain things rather than others, math and spelling rather than Indonesian or the classics. To a very large extent engaging in educational experiences, no matter the content, leads to a more enriching life. That is an intrinsic gain.
THREE GAINS FROM EDUCATION
There are three gains from education: intrinsic, civic and economic.
By intrinsic gains I mean the gain to us as individuals, and sometimes to those around us, from reading, from listening to music, from appreciating science, history, art and creative activities of any kind. Whether it is Mahler’s Ninth Symphony or Pink Floyd or Miles Davis, Picasso’s or Emily Knngwarre’s paintings or Klippel’s or Rodin’s sculptures, Manning Clark’s Australian history or Tony Judt’s or Antony Beevor’s European history. Or economics, the history of discovery of the natural world or whatever. There are those who compare the thrill of understanding some area of knowledge to the adrenalin rush of climbing to the top of a mountain.
Most of all, as Hugh Mackay has pointed out (in his writings), the satisfaction comes from engaging in creative activities. There is now very good evidence that people at risk, especially young people, gain a great deal personally from engaging in the appreciation of art and participation in art creation. Studies at two art museums in New York and projects here in Brisbane at the Queensland Art Gallery and at the National Gallery of Victoria reveal increased ability to understand and express oneself and increased self esteem from such activities.
By civic gains I mean those flowing from investment in early childhood education particularly but from lifelong education indeed. Attention to early childhood education has a huge impact on later life, reductions in crime, reductions in unemployment, reductions in unwanted pregnancies, increase in the status of women, increase in the self confidence of every person who engages in it. Not least decrease in the rate of population growth which flows on to reductions in the ecological footprint, to use current jargon.
There has also been an increase in the understanding of how many people we think of as unlikely to learn are extremely adept.
Many museum administrators consider adolescents an extremely difficult group of people to deal with. But asked about their visiting habits, younger people reveal an intense interest in all kinds of exhibitions. If they dislike visiting it is because they are criticised for sitting on the floor in groups, being told to move on – I recall a similar situation with young Joe, the poor boy who swept the street crossings in Dickens’ “Bleak House” – and treated by floor staff as suspicious.
Given the opportunity, teenagers demand better teaching standards and choose appropriate texts; far from finding performance art like drama and dance boring they discover opportunities for self expression in their lives (as shown by Professors Milbrey W. McLaughlin and Shirley Brice Heath of Stanford University).
The BBC some years ago reported a story about illiterate street children quickly teaching themselves the rudiments of computers and the internet. Intrigued by the icons on the computer and without any help, kids from the slums of Indian cities were able to figure out how to use computers, browse the internet (within minutes), cut and paste copy, drag and drop items and create folders; they particularly liked using software to draw and paint. They moved on to downloading games and playing them. Within two months they had discovered MP3 music files and were downloading songs. All this happened from incidental learning and peer to peer learning.
Then there is the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and the extraordinary conductor Gustavo Dudamel. The National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela, known simply as El Sistema, inspired and founded in 1975 under the slogan ‘Play and fight!’ by the extraordinary social crusader Jose Antonio Abreu. El Sistema flourished with a simple dictum: that in the poorest slums of the world, where the pitfalls of drug addiction, crime and despair are many, life can be changed and fulfilled if children can be brought into an orchestra to play the overwhelmingly European classical repertoire.
Third among the benefits of education are economic gains. By this I mean increases in productivity, decreases in unemployment, economic growth. We are constantly told that economic growth drives job creation and a necessary condition for that is flexible employment conditions and lower company tax rates.
The evidence rather is that substantial economic gains derive from investment in education from early childhood to later life. To assert, as have some, that the economic gains in Ireland for instance have been due to substantial lowering of company tax rates is simply “rent-seeking”. There are a host of data which supports links between freedom of association, in other words opportunities to join a union, payment of wages and salaries above the average and opportunities for people to participate in decisions which affect them and their workplace. A Harvard expert visiting Brisbane recently pointed out the flaws in the connections which the Workchoices legislation seeks to make between its notion of the workplace and productivity (2).
RECENT AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT APPROACHES TO EDUCATION
There have been very substantial advances in our understanding of learning, of how control over one’s own learning journey enhances learning, of the fact that learning is not simply the accumulation of facts but rather the gradual refinement of one’s relationship with the nature of the world around us and of how in many situations learning is an activity involving sharing of knowledge and understandings. We also know a great deal about effective teaching. And we know sufficient to make major decisions to invest in early childhood education.
But when it comes to what policies have been promoted in Australia there are disturbing anomalies (3).
- There has not been much investment in early childhood education, especially so far as lower socioeconomic and at risk sections of society are concerned.
- The attention to physical infrastructure in public schools has been poor. This has severe consequences for personal privacy of students as well as learning generally.
- The prerequisites normally associated with professional performance have been often ignored when it comes to teachers: since everyone has been to school everyone knows what teachers do and don’t. And should do.
- Little attention, in public debate, has been paid to what we know about effective teaching and learning practices and environments; rather performance pay and individual contracts have been advocated so as to weed out the poorer teachers.
- Private schooling and user pays – fees – at university level have increased substantially whilst funding of public schools has declined. Government outlays on universities have declined significantly in Australia but not in other countries. Naturally the Commonwealth Government denies that.
I want to consider early childhood intervention and the consequences in terms of civic gains. I will then deal with economic gains flowing from schooling and tertiary education. I will close by pointing out something of what we know about learning and teaching.
CIVIC GAINS AND EARLY CHILDHOOD INTERVENTION
There have been several important studies of intervention, mainly centred on children from poorer families, most of them in North America. They all show the same kind of thing. Children who participate in high-quality preschool programs are more successful in school and in life after school than children who do not. The substantial gains are to the individual and to the community generally. There is significantly less involvement in crime, significantly lower unemployment, significantly greater participation in higher paid employment and significantly more stable families and so on. These arise from improvements in IQ, most particularly amongst children of poorer families.
In the USA, people from poorer sections of society, especially Afro American and South American immigrants are, on the one hand exploited and on the other are ignored, as are indigenous peoples in most countries. Most recently, Hurricane Katrina revealed the extent of this amongst poor Afro Americans in New Orleans. The revitalisation of that city has marginalised Afro Americans, deliberately. “In the US social conservatives believe middle and upper class women should stay at home with the kids but that poor women should work.”
Note that the studies of twins and groups of children from similar backgrounds designed to explore whether IQ and educational attainment is genetically determined have all been done on middle class children. Evidence concerning gains from early intervention for middle and upper socioeconomic levels are not conclusive. We will see later the relevance of this.
Early childhood is critical because this is the time over which the brain becomes “hard-wired”. The studies by Margaret McCain and Fraser Mustard for the government of Ontario entitled “The Early Years Study: Reversing the Real Brain Drain” brought together neurophysiology, developmental psychology and education and many other studies which showed how much IQ was influenced by the amount of stimulation the child received in the first 24 months of life, particularly the first 12 months.
Mustard points out, “The biggest chunk of children in difficulty are actually in your middle class. And there is no poverty cut-off here, it doesn’t disappear with poverty, it’s a strictly linear relationship in the Ontario database. And the importance of this is that if you want to intervene and do things, you have to do a universal program, you must not do targeted programs, because then you isolate your middle class which has a huge political influence on your society, because they’ve got as big a burden of problems in the system.”
A recent book by Robert G Lynch “Enriching Children Enriching the Nation“ analyses the costs and the fiscal, earnings, and reduced crime benefits of public investment in 1, a targeted, voluntary, high-quality prekindergarten education program that serves only three- and four-year-old children who live in families in the lowest quarter of the income distribution, and 2.) a similar, but universal prekindergarten education program made available to all three- and four-year-old children.
“Assessments of well-designed and well-executed programs in early childhood development have established that participating children are more successful in school and in life after school than children who are not enrolled in high-quality programs. They tend to have higher scores on math and reading achievement tests and greater language abilities. They are better prepared to enter elementary school ” … have less need for special education” … They have lower dropout rates” … and higher levels of education attainment. They also have better nutrition, improved access to health care services, higher rates of immunization, and better health. Additionally, they experience less child abuse and neglect, and they are less likely to be teenage parents.”
There are numerous other studies. Some have been conducted by economists. They show lifetime income is largely determined by age 16. People who do not go onto higher secondary school grades and university tend to be those who would gain little by doing so: advanced education can’t undo 18 years of poor family background and poor schooling. So if one had to set priorities it would be tempting to ask why do we spend much on tertiary education. But that is the wrong question.
Wide differences in cognitive ability as measured by test scores show up by age 5 or 6 and these are strong predictors of later life outcomes, better than parents’ income. An increase of 10 points (1 standard deviation) in age 6 reading score (the Peabody Individual Achievement Test or PIAT) translates to a increase in percentage who attend “college” from about 30% to 36% and has the same effect as 2½ extra years of education for the mother. (These are all points brought out in a recent talk by Professor Michael Keane, ARC Federation Fellow and Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Technology Sydney.)
However, simply providing funds for childcare for working mothers is not the solution: if children are minded by relatives the outcome is generally a decrease in cognitive ability. This was shown by studying the outcomes for children in the US where there was a 20% increase in the number of single mothers with children under 5 years who worked in the nine years to 2001. Test scores were sampled for children of working mothers who assigned their children to quality care and those who had them minded by family or friends. Informal child care had a large negative effect, a reduction in test scores of 3.5% for each year of care. This mostly concerned children of poorer women. But informal care for children of well-educated mothers had really bad effects. The most important result is this: formal care for children of poorly educated mothers has good results.
The Rand Corporation did a cost/benefit analysis for one of the best studies, the Perry Pre-School Project. It found a saving of $2 for every $1 spent including welfare, special education and criminal justice costs. Expressed another way, the net savings to government are between $3,000 and $23,000 including increased earnings. This is a rate of return of 12% compared with 7% on the stock market (and none on subsidies to private business). Though a large variation there is little downside risk and is therefore an unusually good investment opportunity, as Michael Keane observes. Estimates for other studies show benefit ratios up to 17.
The relevance to Australia is that in the five years to 2004 there was a 30% increase in the number of mothers who work and place children in care. And social policies have recently increased the pressure on single mothers to work.
Investment in early childhood leads on to gains in parenting. Compare the generational experiences of children growing up in violent families and those in stable families where parents take an active interest in the way their children behave, where the parents genuinely support their children. Successful people, people who feel they have striven toward or even reached their potential, very often talk of supportive parents.
ECONOMIC BENEFITS INVESTMENT IN LATER EDUCATION
We can now turn to the relationship between economic gains and education through school and university. The most reliable comparative data on all these kinds of things comes from the OECD. There are various ways of assessing economic benefits. There seems to be agreement that a purpose of economic performance has to do with some aspect of wellbeing or its relations such as employment. And rather than mere growth being the signal it might be that competitiveness is a better indicator. We should note that the assertion that economic growth, by itself, produces better outcomes such as lower unemployment and improved wellbeing in general is under attack.
The highest performing economies – those with the highest rate of growth – in the last 30 years of last century were Norway and Finland (Nordic or Scandinavian countries), Ireland, Japan and Australia. Australia was around the middle after the US; in the last 10 years it was around third, equal with the Netherlands and ahead of the US. Ireland was still top by a very large margin.
But the most competitive economies were Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland) and countries like Ireland, Netherlands and Austria have generally been able to deliver low levels of inequality as well as strong employment outcomes. Secondly, the Nordics provide generous benefits for the jobless but the benefits are more tightly linked to work. That is, they reward well those who enter education or training or are actively searching for work but reduce their benefits if they reject these options. Thirdly, the Nordics rely relatively heavily on “social investment” as an instrument of redistribution and, as argued below, this approach is employment-friendly.
The World Economic Forum, “Global Competitiveness Report 2006-2007” ranks Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Singapore as the top five competitive economies.
When we consider unemployment by country we do see the same countries which have experienced high growth and high competitiveness – Switzerland, Nordic or Scandinavian countries, Ireland and Australia – have experienced low unemployment, at least in the last few years and mostly longer. Ireland has been a standout with unemployment at over 10 per cent in the last 20 years of last century; almost double that of earlier years.
Compare this with educational performance and investment in education. Internationally, educational ability is assessed through sets of tests among OECD and other countries. One of them PISA – the Program for International Student Assessment – measures the performance of 15 year olds. The 2006 “Education at a Glance” report found that Finland, Korea and the Netherlands achieved higher scores than the average in all other OECD countries, and over one-half a proficiency level higher than the average.
Eleven other countries (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, and Switzerland) have scores above the OECD mean. Austria, Germany, Ireland and the Slovak Republic perform similarly to the OECD mean.
The report also observed, “Two generations ago, Korea had the standard of living of Afghanistan today and was among the lowest performers in education. Today, 97% of all Korean 25-to-34-year-olds have completed upper-secondary education, the highest rate among the OECD countries. The experience of Korea is not unique. Between 1995 and 2004 alone, the number of students attending university more than doubled in China and Malaysia, and expanded by 83% in Thailand and 51% in India.”
And this significant observation: “The estimated long-term effect on economic output of one additional year of education in the OECD area is generally between 3% and 6%. An analysis of the causes of economic growth shows that rising labour productivity accounted for at least half of GDP per capita growth in most OECD countries from 1994 to 2004.”
The report noted, “Not all the rise in productivity is due to education, but a study using literacy as a measure of human capital shows that a country able to attain literacy scores 1% higher than the international average will achieve levels of labour productivity and GDP per capita that are 2.5% and 1.5% higher, respectively, than those of other countries. For individuals, too, education is a sound investment.”
It went on, “There are significant indirect benefits too, with many national analyses indicating a positive causal relationship between higher educational attainment and better mental and physical health.”
And Australia? What about public investment in our supposedly wonderfully successful economy? Private funding of primary and secondary education exceeds 13 per cent in Australia, like Germany, Korea, Mexico, Switzerland, the UK and Chile. That is twice the OECD average. Private funding of tertiary education accounts for more than 50% of outlays in Australia, Japan, Korea, the United States and Chile. This is 10 times the figure for the successful economies!
Recall that significant statement again: “The estimated long-term effect on economic output of one additional year of education in the OECD area is generally between 3% and 6%. An analysis of the causes of economic growth shows that rising labour productivity accounted for at least half of GDP per capita growth in most OECD countries from 1994 to 2004.”
The fact to relate it to is the level of investment in pre-school education!
Ross Gittins said on Monday, commenting on a future for Australia (as might be seen by an incoming government), “there’s plenty to be done at every level of education. The decades-long campaign to force commercialisation on the universities by starving them of funds has not worked well and is endangering our prospects as a high-skill economy.
“The long neglect of vocational training is costing us dearly in skill shortages. And the policy of underfunding public schools while over-subsidising private schools can hardly be aimed at making us a knowledge nation.”
Clearly, investment in education has wide economic and many other benefits, personal and community-wide. I emphasise and community-wide. Brendan Nelson when he was Education Minister said, “Many parents say to me, “˜Why should my taxes pay for other people’s children to go to university? My children don’t go to university.’ “ We can note the statement by another Minister. Mr Andrews when he was Minister for Workplace Relations said in commenting on a delegation of labour economists from universities about to appear before a Senate Inquiry into the (then proposed) legislation, “The views of a few academics are no substitute for common sense”.
To gain an understanding of where we are in public debate we can turn first to the recently released report commissioned by the Business Council of Australia and undertaken by Professor Geoff Masters of the Australian Council of Educational Research. It is a very good review. It reviews the achievements of Australian students in various international tests, it focuses especially on schooling. It notes that many aspects of the school system have not changed since the 1960s. It also focuses on skill development, on vocational aspects.
Amongst Masters’ recommendations, which the BCA endorsed, are these: “more autonomy and improved training for school principals and additional investment in early childhood and early school education. Masters also recommended “some form of variable compensation for highest performing teachers”. When the report got to the media and interviews with BCA officials, what was mentioned was performance pay and individual contracts. This is an agenda which the BCA has been pushing and which influenced the Howard Government in its Workchoices legislation. The NSW Minister for Education dismissed the BCA report as just another run at its well known agenda. So another opportunity for genuine debate was completely missed. The report faded from view.
There are issues in education to do with the nature of learning, the contribution of teachers and what we might call the informal learning environment such as museums, libraries, many groups involved in some form of education and creative work.
An outstanding address (the Menzies Oration for the University of Melbourne) was given last year by Professor James Wilkinson Director of the Derek Bok Centre for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University. Here is some of what he had to say.
“We know that active student involvement in learning results in more and longer-term retention than passive attendance at lectures; that training students to monitor their own learning through frequent feedback is superior to infrequent testing; that emotional engagement increases depth of learning; that group work is often superior to solitary efforts.Â We also know that student misconceptions about the world are extraordinarily robust and resistant to change, in other words that teaching students at the university level, when they have already had time to form these opinions, poses an even greater challenge than we thought.
He outlined a far greater challenge arising from the fact that the heads of students are not waiting to be filled by knowledge imparted by the teacher but “are already full and overfull, often crammed with very shoddy furniture indeed, which has to be carted off to the tip before refurnishing can begin”.
He reported a film crew which attended a graduation ceremony at Harvard University. At the ceremony’s conclusion they interviewed seniors, still in their academic robes, proudly holding diplomas that attested to their formal induction into the company of educated men and women. The filmmakers asked these happy graduates a deceptively simple question: What causes the seasons?Â The answers, recorded on film, are delivered with ease and self-assurance, in complete and grammatical sentences, with the sort of polish one would hope that a Harvard graduate could command.Â The result was that 21 of 24, including a Harvard history professor who happened to be a parent of one graduating senior, failed to answer correctly and give the true reason for why it is warmer in Cambridge in July than in December.
Wilkinson observed this to be an electrifying moment for anyone who believes in the importance of general education.Â “It challenges our assumptions about how education works in a fundamental way. Viewers cannot help but be impressed with the presentation skills of these students, while at the same time lamenting how little effect their education has had on their beliefs.
“Today, at least in the United States, we could say [drawing on an expression from Soviet times], “they pretend to teach us, and we pretend to learn.” He concluded “choosing an appropriate content is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for getting anyone to learn anything.Â The sufficient condition is for it to be taught well.Â And by “taught well” I do not mean taught so that students receive high marks. Rather, I mean taught so that they are capable of understanding and applying what they claim to know.
The totally stupid and dangerous notion imported from the philosophy of that well educated Nobel prize-winner in economics Frederick von Hayek that the market should determine everything, that reducing subsidies forces efficiencies and university education produces mostly personal benefits and therefore should not involve government to any great extent, has wrought havoc. There are problems in universities but they are not addressed by this nonsense. The situation is such that as one, and probably many, senior academics have observed “the one thing we don’t have time for is time to think”.
To schooling. Marketisation, giving more choice, vouchers, in the US that fraud “no child left behind”, performance pay and so on, are the kinds of assertions along with a national curriculum and standard reporting. None of which has produced very much at all. More autonomy for schools, and in general what we know about effective schooling and learning has hardly been addressed. Teacher unions are blamed, teachers go on strike, pay rates fall behind whilst rewarding the best teachers and getting rid of poorly performing teachers fills up the agenda. More autonomy for schools, and their principals, and the importance of public schooling gets some attention. The important point has been made by several observers, especially in on line media and blogs that teachers are not the only ones who contribute to a student’s performance and rewarding just teachers doesn’t address the issue.
We know quite a bit about what constitutes good teaching. And there is a huge amount of research about that, especially in the US. Because it doesn’t fit the current ideology it isn’t listened to. Rather the demand is for rigorous research, like that done by pharmaceutical companies in drug testing. Like performance pay, such silly suggestions grounded in what is known as “the new normal”, are rejected out of hand by experts like David Berliner of Arizona State University (4).
Teachers criticised by people who believe that all you need is subject matter knowledge and that any reasonably smart person can teach and educators are too much like a guild and so on. Critical thinking is questioned, especially if it involves Marxist theory and similarly marginal and dangerous material. I won’t go into this further.
Good teaching is characterised by a supportive classroom, by cohesive learning communities, when substantial time is devoted to curriculum-related activities within a coherent program, by a clarified structure with clear outcomes, by engagement in sustained discourse, by opportunities to practice and apply what they have learned. And so on.
Amongst the major issues are centralised control, support for professional development and respect for teachers. And amongst the issues for assessment is the difference a school makes in the learning achievements of the students. Simply looking at the test scores in some State-wide examination like HSC without knowing what the attainment was at the time of entry to the school is a near waste of time. Many private schools and State schools achieve good test scores because the children are from better backgrounds and have already gained from substantial investment in their education, not least in their early years. And anyway, if we concentrate on good teaching and less on tests and invest in early childhood for the reasons outlined then we might make some progress.
There has to be a future for an educated Australia. Otherwise we will be forced into competing on wages, a competition we cannot win. We have already wasted far too many decades pursuing a dig it up and ship it out strategy, subsidising marginal activities in the primary industry and other sectors, trying to compensate for unfortunate decisions, rushing to fund those things which will win votes. This has not taken courage, it has amounted to gross irresponsibility. There is too much demand by governments and many business leaders for others to be accountable and too little preparedness by those same government ministers and business leaders to be accountable themselves. Let’s not go to international affairs to examine that further.
As to the informal sector if we believed we should pursue an educated Australia we would support many activities well beyond the present level. The ABC is one: consider the extraordinary range of programs and the quality of many of the presenters, especially on Radio National and many current affairs programs on TV and radio. Look at its innovations in IT such as podcasting. SBS is one of many other enterprises deserving support of an educated Australia.
We can’t congratulate ourselves just because we are the inheritors of peoples who ranged across the globe trampling on the properties of others whom we marginalised by branding them as the primitives and their cultures and lifestyle as based in relative ignorance. Common humanity and economic progress demands greater understanding.
(2) Emma Alberici interviewing Professor Richard Freeman on 12 September 2007 on ABC TV “˜Lateline Business”.