The other evening I attended a meeting on education convened by  two of our federal politicians. I came away very distressed about their views and the fact that it is our very young people who are paying the price of the governments mistakes.

Most of the discussion focussed around the Myschool website, set up by our now Prime Minister when she was Minister of Education. It seems to be based solely on her personal experience of education system which is very biassed. Obviously she is unaware of this. As one who went on to become a lawyer she does not realise that she has the type of intellect for whom the system was set up, and caters for, and the much larger majority who do not fall into this category have to put up with it as best they can. She would have very few friends in this latter much larger group.

The Myschool site lists each school’s results in 5 different academic categories and compares them with those of the rest of the nation and with ‘similar’ schools, and also provides details of the school’s income from all sources including the fees that parents pay. This then provides an income league with all the top private schools heading the list. At the bottom of course are the poorest schools which are then labelled ‘disadvantaged’. The lack of knowledge of Education by the Prime Minister is apparent here. There have been numerous studies showing that if you give the label to groups of students, either class groups or schools, of disadvantaged they will take it on board and achieve correspondingly. They take the idea of being inferior on board and achieve accordingly.

This isn’t just theoretical rhetoric. We discuss education in the sociology course I tutor at University and students from private schools in the past have vaguely felt that they have had a better education than state school students. I have noticed that since the Myschool site was introduced the gap has widened. Private school students are now adamant that they have had a better education and the state school students that they have had an inferior one. When I point out that I have taught in both and there is no difference the private school students get very irate. When I point out that I did relief teaching in one of our top private schools a couple of years ago and walked out in disgust at what I found they don’t want to hear about it. I even point out that past research has shown that students from state schools tend to do better than students from private schools at University but they don’t want to hear about that either. I think the problem is that private school parents pay huge sums of money for their children’s education (enough to provide a very nice deposit on a house or set them up in business instead) and can’t even contemplate that the money may be being spent unwisely, and that they have swallowed hook, line and sinker the private schools sales talk. The fact that it may have disadvantaged their children if they get to University isn’t even contemplated.

The other issue of course is that education is about far more than just the 5 academic abilities measured on the website, even if they were measured accurately which doing a short test every couple of years does not do. Add to the mix valuable school time (often weeks) being taken up coaching the students for the tests and the ‘fiddled’ results obtained by discouraging low achievers from attending school on the day of the test and the whole test scenario disappears into farce. Yet not only have we subjected our whole school system to this stupidity but we are creating a two tiered society, the education haves and have-nots, which again is a very regressive move.

What really upsets me is that I have been involved in education for so long that I have seen so many of these fads come and go, leaving a damaged community behind. One of the suggestions one of the MP’s made at the meeting was that we need to attract more brighter people to careers in education. This would help to provide a more intelligent education system.  The trouble is that those we do attract take one look at the job and move on, which means that the people who get to the top, and should be advising the Minister, are not the brightest people. Our highly intelligent teachers realise that having to prepare students for publically published test results, a league table based on flawed results, is a ridiculous idea and they move on to fields where their talents can be fully utilised. Unfortunately this is a self-perpetuating system. Given the fact that Australia has to not only survive but also succeed in a highly competitive world we can’t afford to be distracted by Minister’s whims.

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