Education more race than clear policy: CSU expert

1 JANUARY 2003

Coherent statements on education policies by the major parties during the current election campaign are nearly impossible to find, says leading education commentator and senior CSU academic, Associate Professor Ros Brennan Kemmis.

Coherent statements on education policies by the major parties during the current election campaign are nearly impossible to find, says leading education commentator and senior Charles Sturt University (CSU) academic, Associate Professor Ros Brennan Kemmis.
 
“It has become policy formulation by press release. Google keeps directing the hapless searcher to radio broadcasts, press releases and other people’s commentaries rather than policies,” Professor Brennan Kemmis said.
 
“Given the critical importance of education, the changes introduced by the current Federal government and the predisposition of the Opposition to take contrary views on almost everything, an interested voter has to search very hard to find relevant information and then piece it together into a form that vaguely resembles a ‘policy’.
 
“Politics has become more a media race than thoughtful attention to the future of the country. Where are the details and operational descriptions? They have disappeared.”
 
Professor Kemmis is also concerned with a number of specific issues that have arisen during the campaign, including:
  • ‘Power to principals’: “What is the problem to which this issue is the solution? Promises have been made of money and business experts to help manage schools, but how and why will this happen? More specifically, how do we contend with hard-to-staff schools? This is a persistent, acknowledged and unsolved problem. I think this initiative will only exacerbate the problems we already know.”
  •  ‘Cash for teachers’: “Education is not a competition or a detailed set of league tables. It is a public good and a public right. I see it being turned into a scramble for cash based on ‘good’ results. It belittles the pluralism of our society and ignores the debates about the growth of social ‘classes’ in this country. It turns education into a commodity that can be traded, exchanged, bought and sold like products in a supermarket. This policy fails to acknowledge the powerful democratising and social role that education plays in Australia. It would be better to give assistance to the clearly identified areas of social and economic need, than to set up an elaborate national system of yet more testing and benchmarking.”
  •  ‘Vocational training in schools’: “What are trade cadetships? What makes these different to qualifications already being gained by 220 000 students studying vocational education and training (VET) subjects in schools around Australia? This embellished title has been created to dress up already existing national qualifications. Any threat to ‘Trades Centres in School’ directly compromises the need to provide students with early access to vocational qualifications. It is an even greater threat to the capacity to address shortages of current and future skills in Australia.
  •  ‘The digital revolution’: “If the current program is shelved it will return Australia to a ‘digital dark age’. To call the introduction of computers into the processes of education ‘wasteful’ is reminiscent of the Luddites - they just delayed the inevitable and expended a lot of energy in the process.”
  •  ‘Higher education’: “The public silence on higher education in Australia is very disturbing. For example, given the targets set for including students from low socio-economic backgrounds that the sector has responded to in good faith and with some enthusiasm, some commentary on the future of this initiative would be helpful in decision making in universities, particularly for teacher education.”

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