28/03/2012 - 10:54

Australia needs a culture of learning

28/03/2012 - 10:54


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Is more money really the answer to Australia’s education problems?

Is more money really the answer to Australia’s education problems?

DAVID Gonski has been in the media recently due to the release of a schools-funding review he headed known as the Gonski report, as well securing the role of chairman of Australia’s $73 billion Future Fund.

Mr Gonski, a lawyer, is a notable Sydney business identity.

He co-founded an investment bank, and chairs or chaired Coca-Cola Amatil, Australian Securities Exchange, Westfield Group, and Ingeus, Therese Rein’s employment agency.

He’s also: chancellor of the University of New South Wales; chair of National e-Health Transition Authority, Sydney Theatre Company and the National Institute of Dramatic Art; ambassador of the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation; board member of Infrastructure NSW; past director at John Fairfax Holdings and ANZ; president of the Board of Trustees, Art Gallery of New South Wales; and has headed Sydney Grammar School’s board of trustees, his alma mater.

Despite this bulging CV I can think of others I’d have preferred to have guided the schools-funding review.

For instance, Christopher Dawson of Sydney, who once headed The Australian’s Higher Education Supplement, for which I wrote during his editorship.

There’s also Kevin Donnelly of Melbourne’s Education Standards Institute, author of: Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars; Why Our Schools are Failing; and Dumbing Down: Outcome-based and politically correct – the impact of the Culture Wars on our schools.

But Mr Gonski will undoubtedly be remembered for the fact that the report arising from the review he’d chaired recommended: “An injection of more than $5 billion to reverse the slippage in Australia’s school performance”, with lots more Canberra leftist-inspired strings attached.

On reading those lines from the page one story in The Sydney Morning Herald, it was difficult not to conclude the report viewed funding as a remedy for a range of goals other than learning.

This was confirmed when reaching page 11, which carried an article by Mr Gonski, headlined: ‘We need to stop both nation and the needy from falling behind’.

And he wrote: “ ... [T]he pressure is on Australia to maintain a knowledge and skills base that can change and adapt. 

“The race is being run, won and lost every day. It is a continuing race and educational results tell us that Australia is losing ground from its strong position a decade ago.”

That’s a telling point since he claimed that, back in 2002 when Australia spent less than now on education, it performed better.

Doesn’t that suggest that perhaps spending more doesn’t necessarily mean better learning outcomes?

That’s an interesting proposition; more money may not mean better educational outcomes. If so, the next obvious question is; if it’s not money, what is/are the determinant(s) giving rise to better, indeed, outstanding, learning outcomes?

I’ve no doubt Messrs Dawson and Donnelly could have enlightened the Gonski reviewing panel on that.

What else did Mr Gonski write?

“It is no surprise to see Shanghai at the head of the OECD’s achievement take,” he continued.

“There is an obvious link between its outstanding outcomes and its great leap forward as one of the world’s most dynamic cities and a centre for financial services and manufacturing.

“But perhaps more of a surprise is the pack now ahead of us in mathematics – Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and China: Macau.”

Actually, that isn’t surprising.

All belong to Sinic or East Asian culture, which, like Jewish, and for a long-time Scottish, culture, most especially at the time of the Scottish Enlightenment (circa. 1700-1800), stood head and shoulders above others.

I recommend Arthur Herman’s New York Times bestseller How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It.

Moreover, their leading from the front in the sciences had little to do with money outlaid and more to the fact that certain aptitudes were promoted by such societies and peoples.

The same was witnessed in 19th century and later, Germany and across the Low Countries.

And when peoples of these areas, and Jews and Scots, emigrated to the US, they boosted standards in certain parts of America in a way similar to what’s being witnessed in today’s Shanghai.

Nowhere was the crucial factor the amount of money outlaid.

It was instead widespread culturally driven aspirations and determination to see their young excel. 

Such commitment was the outcome of the urgings of parents, role of generally quite poor churches and synagogues, plus dedicated learned teachers.

Very few of the outstanding scholars from the years and cultures named were what can be described as rich, just as relatively few of those in the Sinic lands Mr Gonski named are necessarily so.

Which raises the pertinent question: will another $5 billion from Australian taxpayers on education bureaucracies guarantee better outcomes as he’s suggesting? It’s doubtful.

An objective, not ideologically driven, assessment of learning across Australia should perhaps have been sought to help discover why Sinic culture is dashing ahead where little in terms of public funds is actually outlaid.

Sinic culture has traditionally valued learning.

If it is due to broad cultural backing for a learning ethic as prevailed for so long among the Jews of Europe and the US, the Scots, especially during their Enlightenment, and Europe’s Germanic cultures – Germany, Holland, and Austria, especially – then outlaying ever more money won’t guarantee Australia’s educational outcomes will improve.

They could in fact slump even further.

After all Mr Gonski wrote that today “Australia is losing ground from its strong position a decade ago” when less was being spent.

Doesn’t that ring a loud warning bell? If not why not?  

When it comes to learning, too many politicians and their appointees to reviews don’t give serious thought to what the determinants for better outcomes are.

All they ever back is spending more of others’ money on ever more fads like school sheds – $16 billion by Ms Gillard when she was Kevin Rudd’s education minister – so they can stump the hustings claiming they’re pro-education.

Buying votes isn’t what’s needed since that’s unlikely to improve Australian educational standards and outcomes.

It’s instead necessary to move to infuse into our culture ever greater respect and desire for learning and considering options like, at times, having, say, dual teacher classes.

And while seeking new paths shouldn’t our cultural leftists cease bashing so-called ‘wealthy’ or private schools since their generally better outcomes have more to do with parental commitment to learning, which benefits Australia, than the size of their bank accounts.

The silver bullet isn’t more bucketloads of money; it’s a priceless quality cultural leftists are incapable of comprehending called personal and filial commitment to knowledge and learning.


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