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$2.4 billion, however the NSW state government is now seeking a funding guarantee to begin replacing more than 250,000 outdated computers and to ensure the 1:1 ratio is maintained beyond 2013.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.