From the President: Education is a right, not a commodity

"A school education, particularly in the crucial younger years of the journey, is not something that can be easily repeated. It is not a car that wasn’t quite suitable that can be traded in on a better model, or a house that didn’t fit a family’s needs that can be sold. It is, quite literally, a life-forming decision."  The Courier-Mail, 3 May, 2012

In the closing lines of the editorial of 3 May 2012, The Courier-Mail perhaps revealed more than it intended about the true import of the current education debate.

A fundamental principle of any democracy should be that government has a responsibility to provide a free, high-quality and comprehensive education for all. Furthermore, as in a key principle espoused by the recent report of the Gonski Review, “every child should have access to the best possible education, regardless of where they live, the income of their family or the school they attend".

Education is not now, nor should it ever be, a commercial proposition. Students and parents are not consumers. Teachers and school leaders do not play the traditional roles of workers and managers. Profit is never an issue. So it is inherent that the decision-making of parents with regard to education for their children is about what is best for those children.

The production of base assessments of “school performance”, contrary to the purpose and intent of the instruments for data collection upon which they are founded, is ultimately motivated by commercial intent. Selling parents and community members the idea that they cannot adequately choose a school for their children without accessing data provided by these commercial interests creates a dependency that generates the potential for future profits.

The fact that parental choice of a school can be a life-determining decision for a child should be a source of great shame and angst. The actions of successive governments of all persuasions at all levels have perverted Australia’s education system. Gonski provides irrefutable evidence that the Australian education system suffers from a gross distortion of both funding and opportunity as a consequence of these government actions. Education has become a commodity subject to the whims and vagaries of fashion and trends at the expense of the key principles which should dominate. It is in this context that commercial decision-making processes for education decisions, such as those suggested by The Courier-Mail, pass without raising a ripple.

Contrast the Australian education system with its extreme opposite: Finland. There is only one choice of education system; all students attend state schools. Providing education services for a profit is illegal, not just immoral. Every school enjoys the benefits of diverse enrolments from ability groups, socio-economic status, ethnicity and every other social descriptor. Teaching is a highly sought-after profession desired by the most capable in all fields. In this “utopian” context, school results are outstanding and that nation benefits economically and socially as a consequence.

A recent visit to Australia by Dr Ben Levin should fill us with hope. His assessment is that despite the clear disadvantages imposed on our state education system by the actions of government, Queensland and Australia continue to enjoy a world-class education system.

How much better would it be if every parent was afforded the opportunity to make the simple decision on behalf of their child to enrol them in their local state school with an expectation of the best possible education? If the Gonski recommendations are not implemented, such a possibility is solely dependant on chance and the work of all those who strive in adversity to deliver for students in their local state school.

Teachers. Worth it.

Kevin Bates
QTU President

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 117 No 4, 1 June 2012, p7