The great divide

I noticed a number of news articles last weekend on school funding prompted perhaps by the announcement of a federal election in September.  I’ve always stated that we need a common sense approach to school funding.  Australia is not the only nation to be facing tough economic times so we need to become smarter when it comes using funding to improve the learning outcomes for every child.

In education, we strive to achieve an alignment between the work of schools and the central office and a coherence in what we are working towards.  This must also apply to state and commonwealth funding.  As the Grattan Institute’s Ben Jensen points out, in recent years the federal government has substantially expanded its involvement in education to “good and bad effect.”  Jensen admits that while some federal programs have been significant milestones such as a national curriculum, many have had little impact on learning outcomes and therefore our rankings internationally.

The school laptop program is just one example of the great divide between state and federal government. The five year program cost taxpayers around $2.4 billion,  however the NSW state government is now seeking a funding guarantee to begin replacing more than 250,000 outdated computers and to ensure the 1:1 ratio is maintained beyond 2013.  The federal government will not commit to extend the funding which is why principals are now asking where the money is going to come from.

Jensen is correct in saying that Australia scores poorly when it comes to linking policy design to implementation.  The above example demonstrates putting the cart before the horse, or the tool before the teaching.  Countries such as Singapore, Finland and South Korea have drive education reform with a strong framework for improving teaching; a revision of curriculum/assessment and finally how technology could support this. All this located in a cohesive and comprehensive values base reflected in policy.

Jennifer Hewitt also wrote in the Financial Review that:

The education system is failing students because of fundamental flaws in the approach to teaching and teaching methods, rather than inadequate funding models.  The problems are less about money and more about policy choices.

While these countries don’t have two tiers of government, it may be that our federal government needs to articulate an educational vision for today’s learner in today’s world while state governments work together on developing system wide strategies. Funding could then be directed into the ongoing training of all leaders and teachers so that implementation becomes effective at the local level.

In explaining its “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation” initiative, the Singaporean Ministry of Education said the initiative: will be the cradle of thinking students as well as thinking adults and this spirit of learning should accompany our students even after they leave school.  The capacity of Singaporeans to continually learn, both for professional development and for personal enrichment, will determine our collective tolerance for change.

To tackle this divide, we can’t rely only on numbers and comparisons. Great learning theory (Bransford et al) tells us that learning is about context, connections and meta cognition. We have to learn how to do the work of improving student learning outcomes. A coherent framework will enable us to deliver on our rhetoric of quality schooling for all students.

4 thoughts on “The great divide

  1. Recently I had the opportunity to take some study leave courtesy of the Parramatta diocese. We had a chance to spend a day with Professor Yong Zhao at Oregon University. One of the significant comments he made was the underlying theme in countries around the world in reference to education was government funding.
    His proposal was to look at online learning and giving students access to courses that interest them irrespective of where they live. In some ways we already do this however why not open the doors for all subjects and allow students to select courses that they wish to pursue incorporated in their daily timetable. Recently I interviewed our Yr 9 students prior to their holidays. It was an opportunity to ask questions about their learning. The one factor that emerged was a disappointment that they could not access learning during their holidays. For some students the holidays are the worst time of the year because their learning stops! Surely we can change this.

    1. Peter I agree that learning shouldn’t cease just because students aren’t at school. I like Yong Zhao’s proposal but it’ll take a while before this becomes the norm. In the interim we need to encourage students’ curiosity even after the home bell rings by seeking out appropriate learning opportunities or at least directing students in the right direction. This is why online PLCs are so powerful. After reading your comments, I came across this blog post –

  2. Greg,
    I could not agree more on the need to have pedagogical enhancement at the forefront. I fail to see how teacher standards as currently developed will address this adequately – yet another example of misused and misdirected funding, but it is a box that governments and devotees of bureaucratic initiatives can tick off. My experience suggests that future schooling policies and resourcing is something is difficult to solve in OZ because of a), the varying levels of government (and the politics associated with this) and, b), the conservatism that comes to the fore when it comes to proposing other possibilities for educating the young. Adults seem to want for their offspring something similar to what they had when their adulthood is so very different to that of their parents. We have a long way to go to reach enlightenment about this.
    Damien F Brennan

    1. Good points Damien. It is about cultural change which is complex and difficult but not impossible. We need to change practice first so you can see it and enhance the innovation, short term fixes don’t cut it

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