It was to be a feather in the cap of any government which implemented it. It was to be a cross-sector achievement that removed much of the fuel from the fire of school funding. It was to begin, to use another supposedly more lucrative industry’s terminology, the “investment phase” of recent education policy.
Unfortunately, the funding that was agreed upon between some states and territories in Australia and the Commonwealth (or “federal government”) has – to the majority of Australians – been renegged on by the Liberal Party of Australia, who is currently in power.
Their argument is that they never promised to do what the previous Government had planned – and agreed upon with the States to much public appreciation and support – to address the funding imbalance that crippled the ability of many schools (mostly Government or “public” schools) in their ability to provide for their students, specifically those with social, mental or physical disadvantage.
I’m a great supporter of public schooling. It can be seen as hypocritical to some, and perhaps ironic to others, that I am not teaching in a public school but an “independent” school. Our school is run by a Board, who appoint a principal etc rather than being controlled by a Church or the Department of Education. We sit the same national and state tests, including the all important HSC examinations in the students’ final year of high school. We charge fees, though these are not on nearly the same scale as the elite schools.
I suppose I don’t have a fundamental gripe about people choosing to send their kids to private schools or Catholic systemic schools (which are run by the relevant diocese). I myself was sent to an independent school, by a single mum who was – and still is – a teacher and who only asked me one question at the end of each year: “are you happy?”
There was nothing wrong with the public school down the road from home, nor the Catholic school a bit further along. Mum just thought that this school would suit my particular learning needs. I appreciate the fact that mum was willing to give some of her salary – spent on annual holidays or other things by other families – for my education.
Neither do I have a gripe with people who send their kids to public school because they went to public school or have some other motivation for doing so. Public schooling in a country sets the standard for education and makes sure that non-government schooling is focused on the same curriculum, providing at least the same learning outcomes, as the local public school does. If not, why would any reasonable person send their kids to a non-government school? It’s not logical.
So I believe in the strong role public education plays in a democracy, as I believe about public health system, a public health insurance net, public institutions and public spaces such as the magnificent State Library of NSW. I have friends and wonderful colleagues in my PLN who teach at public schools of all stripes and who engage in most of the same professional development, networking and resource-sharing that I do. There are no core differences between us – they care about their students just as much as I care about mine. Why would I want them to receive less than they already do? I want them to receive vastly more. I’d be happy to pay an education levy. I know the benefits.
That’s why I was so hopeful about Gonski. It would have further removed the ancient battlelines drawn by years of historical bunfights over funding. It would have set many schools on a more even playing field in order to deliver the learning outcomes they do with the students in their care.
But, between you and me, I was also not impressed by the $6 or so billion being offered to those schools. $6 billion spread over 9500 schools over 4 years isn’t actually that much. It’s not world shattering. Of course it will make a difference and in schools like mine an injection of anything is welcome (in financial terms) but really? How many $billion does education contribute to the economy? One of the top three economic generating industries I believe. How much profit do mining companies make? Their trains rolling along tracks build on public funds, their trucks belting along highways build with and by the public. Their ships leaving docks and harbours built and maintained in terms of security, quality, health and other regulations to make sure their industry is safe from real disruption or attack from the elements or from unrest. OK that’s enough of a rant on that, but you get the picture.
If we put even .05% of the profits of our mining and other resources industries into education, we could secure a funding pool that addresses the needs of all schools who haven’t had a new building in decades before Kevin Rudd’s BER. After all, don’t our major industries benefit when we have more people working better jobs making more money? We can only achieve that through a world-class education system. We could hire literacy and language and other special needs specialists in schools – particularly public schools – which bear the brunt of many of those conditions. We could build and rebuild schools in which the campus is somewhere the kids are inspired simply by being there. We could have rolled out the NBN to these schools and create demand for awesome internet.
I am saddened and angered by the willful disregard for the popular will on this issue. I don’t know about you, but I don’t vote in a party based on ALL its promises or policies. I think more deeply and widely than that. And I’m not telling you how I voted, but you can guarantee I didn’t vote to get rid of Gonski.
Come to think of it, I don’t think either party promised to anyway.
It could have been a feather in the cap, but instead they burnt the feather and ask us to ignore our senses.