President’s comment 19 March 2013

Gonski fuels the education conversation

The Gonski review and recommendations have brought education into sharp focus as a matter of crucial public importance for the nation.

The ensuing public debate and discourse are valuable; it is far better to have the realities facing schools brought to light and discussed, rather than teachers and principals being left to struggle silently with increasing social complexity and increasing demands from politicians and society as a whole. 

However, what is unsaid but assumed can be highly demoralising. 

Continuing discussions about “teacher quality” seem to assume some major failing in the “quality” of current teachers, with no evidence to support this assumption. Discussions about whether increased resourcing is necessary for schools or whether resources just need to be spent in a “smarter” way seem to be based on an assumption that there is currently money being wasted in the state school system.

It would be hard for proponents of the “spend smarter” philosophy to define where this waste is apparently occurring.

The reality is that successive surveys of educators by the Australian Education Union (representing 200,000 members) show that 95 per cent of Queensland state schools and P&Cs are raising funds for classroom, sporting and library equipment. Teachers in schools throughout the state are supplying students with basic education resources such as pencils and exercise books, even with nutritious breakfasts. In every school, education staff know which students need more ongoing individual assistance but there isn’t the funding to provide more staff for extra one-on-one help. In every school cluster, collegial discussions produce innovative ideas that suit local needs but there just isn't enough money to put these programs in place with any confidence that they will be sustainable.

The education debate currently happening in the media, within and between governments, and in local communities which have become engaged in the Gonski campaign will be richer when education is no longer considered an expense, but an investment that pays off for everyone.

Kevin Bates