The federal election is in full swing, with much to be promised – but don’t expect education to feature as strongly as it should.
Every four years in Australia, the Federal Election pokes its little head out of hibernation for a few months to feed on the visionary promises of the political parties before returning to its slumber, gorged full on the dreams of Australians, waiting until the next federal campaign to consume much of the same.
And so it is 2016. In the upcoming month before the election on July 2nd, both major political parties will promise an influx of money to health, education, infrastructure and security. Tax cuts will be promised and the streets will be awash with rivers of gold. We’ve started with the economy with the Libs, and Labour releasing their spending policies.
What it always boils down to in the end is money.
“How much less tax can I pay?” is basically the most important question to the population.
It is always interesting to see the main platform the parties choose to distinguish themselves from each other. In the last election, it was the Coalition’s “Stop the Boats” rhetoric, which has seen the implementation of prisons with which we incarcerate refugees indefinitely. The same sentiment can be seen in Trump’s “Build the wall.” Security is always a vote grabber. Infrastructure always promises a better tomorrow, as long as people don’t mind paying for it. Education is also a good one for politicians, because you can talk about it without actually having to deliver anything.
No-one really cares about education when it comes down to it. It doesn’t affect the voting population because everyone that is voting has already finished their primary and secondary education. They might have kids in the system, but between a choice of improving the education system and saving some coin in the next budget, the choice is pretty clear. The politicians will talk briefly about it, but it will remain unchanged. Why have a better country when you can have a better house?
What would I want to hear about education, in the upcoming month? The first thing is I’d want to hear how the government fundamentally wants to reform the way we see education. Education is the building block of society, often used to just maintain the status quo. Education should be viewed as the most important structure a society can attain. Do you desire better hospitals? Have better education. Build a stronger economy? Educate your citizens more effectively. You want the government to be accountable for their actions? Again, the answer, education. I don’t want to see more money promised to better education, there’s only so much Gonski can do. I want to hear the changes to how we do education.
For example, in NSW we have the HSC. The aim of the HSC is to get the highest marks possible to get into university. Why is the university entrance mark attached to graduating secondary school? It makes things easier in general, but so much of secondary education is focused on completing exams, not preparing for life. Why not separate the two and use the entirety of secondary education as a means to harness the resources needed for life? An entire school term is basically dedicated to a university entrance exam. Not everyone goes to university and not everyone needs to. Having success in an exam should not be the sole purpose of education. As John Dewey said, “education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
Australia is ranked 14th in the world in education. In this day and age there is an abundance of information and scientific research showing us proven teaching models and techniques from around the world that we could be utilising to better our education practices. Finland has a shorter school day so that children can spend a good portion of their day on extracurricular activities. Extracurricular activities are so important in life. Think back to your own childhood and some of the best memories you might have are from when you played on a sport team, played in a band or learnt art or dance. These are all things that bring a rich and positive appreciation to an individual. Extracurricular activities bring a sense of good wellbeing. What would you give to be able to finish work early, leave, and then pursue a passion that enriches your soul and makes you feel good? What a rich Australian culture we’d have.
However, the most important thing I’d want to hear in the looming election month is that in Australia, we don’t understand, or value, education. Be upfront about it. There are experiments around the world – young children in rural India are teaching themselves biotechnology in English without the aid of a teacher. But not us. These are effective student directed learning practices that we don’t trust our own children with. We still believe that teachers are the founts of all knowledge. The aim of education shouldn’t just be to make sure a person can count and spell.
The biggest aspects of learning I see missing from education are critical thinking, creativity and simply a passion for knowing more about the world.
This election I predict the same platitudes from all parties, pandering to the masses, promises of “a stronger Australia.” You can’t make something stronger without strengthening the foundations. The majority of us have finished our schooling, so formal education is behind us. A better Australia looks like one that is better educated.
As Nelson Mandela taught, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
It’s a shame not enough of us actually believe that.