This is a newsletter from Australia, written by Phil Cullen in a blog called The Treehorn Express.
Facts About Australian Schooling
Schooling in Australia is a state responsibility. Each state, however, relies on the distribution of money collected from its citizens by the commonwealth government, which then places conditions on the way the money must be spent by the states. It is a strange relationship. Because this arrangement locates exceptional power in the centre, the federal minister for education assumes full responsibility for all levels of schooling; and this allows the incumbent political party to determine aspects of schooling, some of which might be at odds with a state’s notions. :”There has been concern at the political level over the intrusion of the Commonwealth government and Commonwealth agencies into the field of education, traditionally and constitutionally a State responsibility. Some of these enterprises appeared to have a philosophical basis different from that underlying State activities in education” [M.J.Ahern Q, Hansard 04-04-78] . Such differences depend a great deal on the federal minister’s view of schooling. Few state ministers ever disagree and things runs smoothest when both governments share the same political ideology. The federal minister possesses enormous personal power and is allowed to indulge his or her will – from the sublime to the ridiculous – without reference. No state has reclaimed its right to supervise the curriculum requirements of schooling since the drastic changes to schooling in Australia in 2008, for instance; so the federal minster can do as he or she likes e.g introduce a high stakes testing regime or call for a curriculum review or whatever is part of a personal fancy. The state ministers have yet to test the limits of their own power over schooling in their own state.
SCHOOLS Children can attend a public state school for twelve years, free of charge. If they have rich or frugal parents, they can attend a private school at high cost. There is little difference, if any, in quality.
School years operate according to the calendar year, and promotion is year by year from Year 1 to Year 12.
Most children sit still in classrooms for twelve years or more. In some schools, the children must all face the same way for most of each school day. This benefits the sermonising teaching tactics required to practise for the annual testing program.
AGE Children can start school at age five, even though they need not do so. Many prefer to wait for sound reasons. In some states they may attend when as young as four and a half. Laws of compulsory education differ in each state, so the age of admission differs and causes disruption to people who change states, but there is little interest in stabilizing national ages of schooling,
TESTING & CURRICULUM The present-day written curriculum is over-burdensome. It’s huge. Any additions would be insane. Despite its extent, only certain aspects of literacy and numeracy need be taught. These are tested each year – Years 3,5,,7,9 – using a cold heatless format – in May. Results are available some months later, but there are moves to provide the tests quicker, more often, electronically. This testucating ideology is aimed at bringing each child up to the exact same standard on the exact same day….nothing more, nothing less. The tests have little relevance to the intellectual development of children, but they are handy for descriptive purposes by those who know only a little bit about classroom practices and nothing about the effects of testing on child development.
Since most schools are not trusted to describe a pupil’s suitability for his or her career opportunities or have its own evaluation and reporting program, intense testing is also undertaken towards the end of Year 12. A certificate is issued to school graduates, purporting to describe the level of competency in school subjects undertaken; and employers interpret them as best they can. If employers wish to know about the more essential qualities required, they have to make their own arrangements.
SYLLABUS LEVELS A curriculum usually refers to the learning entitlements of children when they attend school. A syllabus details requirements for pupils to reach curriculum goals. Australia has three levels of syllabus requirements according to the prevailing schooling ideology. The tri-level system introduced to Australia in 2008 distinguishes the requirements: 1. Testable aspects of literacy and numeracy are high level. Schools need only teach these, to be regarded as a ‘good’ school. Nothing else needs to be taught. 2. Mid-level interest can be taken in science, history, geography, social studies according to the level of pressure by people in authority. 3. Music and Art and similar airy-fairy subjects don’t count very much. They take time from test preparation. They command some attention on special occasions; and the results are usually spectacular.
‘STUDENTS’ Children at school are described as ‘students’, because the term has no relationship to schooling per se. It’s a safe description. It infers that children at school don’t have to be taught. They study. More serious authorities [e.g. Britain] describe all school attenders as ‘pupils’, using the O.E.D. meaning that suggests learning at a school involves the use of teachers. Although pupilling involves a teaching/learning contract between two people, Australia prefers the United States descriptor of ‘student’ because it follows the U.S. in all things as blindly as possible; especially schooling arrangements. The word doesn’t mean anything special.
PRIVATE or PUBLIC There are differing opinions as to quality of offerings. Australia has joined the U.S. in the press for the privatisation of schooling despite the high quality education by public schools. A private school can be a very profitable business and Australia’s ruling governments in recent times have been controlled by the neoliberalist philosophy of privatisation. People tend to believe that private and systemic schools are better, despite the results from various scrutinies. Many see NAPLAN tests as an admission ticket to the ‘best’ private or select school. Indeed some such schools, whose notions of pupilling is limited, ‘brand’ their intakes for streaming purposes using test scores. The brands last forever. But………
Nice people go to private schools. Some public schools contain a lot of foreigners, some of whom are Muslims.
HOME SCHOOLING is permitted, albeit grudgingly. A worthy alternative to institutionalised forms of instruction, it is becoming very popular with parents who are able to do so and who enjoy sharing their children’s educational development within a family setting. Such parents disapprove of test-driven forms of schooling, threatening their children’s welfare. Some use reliable diagnostic tests as required when required. While little state assistance is offered to these home-based forms of pupilling in a pure form, local coteries of home schoolers in various localities share teaching experiences, learning enterprises and shared evaluation techniques.
GROWTH INDUSTRIES – EDUCATIONAL & PHARMACEUTICAL
1.The printing and sale of Practice Tests and associated texts is now in the multi-million dollar range. Schools prescribe them even though their popularity is a reflection on the profession; and parents use them extensively at home or on holidays. 2. The rise in the number of ‘back-yard mechanics’ aka tutoring shops that concentrate on NAPLAN tests, has been quite staggering. A quick google will indicate the extent. Costs range from $20 to $50 per hour. 3. The use of pharmaceutical supplements to enhance performance is not disallowed nor discouraged by education authorities. While the rugby league and Australian football authorities have taken this matter seriously, no warnings or cautions have ever been provided to the public by educational jurisdictions. Neither has the extent of the use nor the side effects of such usage been researched extensively. Medical assistance for those children who are in distress, vomit and become emotionally ill or cannot sleep during the preparation period is, of course on the increase as part and parcel of the testing industry. Sadly, it would appear that child health and social welfare is at a low level of interest to the various state authorities while testing resides within..
MAJOR CONTEMPORARY ISSUES The dramatic changes to schooling in 2008, when these testing devices were introduced to control the curriculum, have caused wide rifts in professional conversations. The gulf between what is now called the ‘testucation’ community and the ‘education’ one is wide. As with most macabre political issues, the gap will slowly close. and this repulsive use of Standardised Blanket Testing to mould children according to a one-size-fits-all pattern. using tactics that run counter to all the sacred beliefs of caring for kids, should disappear. Its disappearance needs encouragement.
The belittlement of teachers has never been been so high. The blame for the muck-up in the 2014 NAPLAN writing test was said to be theirs. Their over-zealous practising disposed the testucating hierarchy to try to ‘catch’ them by requiring a most peculiar response to a weird question…..and their attempts rebounded.
Small wonder there is a heavy resignation rate. Those who continue to teach in the face of extreme unethical behaviour are surely amongst the greatest of all times; producing such quality all-round products in the face of the requirements of test tyrants and muddled, muffled political deviants.
That’s Australian schooling…… girt by political unscrupulousness in a sea of arrested intellectual development. It’s been so for six years now. Time to stop the rot. The damage has been too costly for our future.
OUR FUTURE Our present schooling system is clearly a product of our obsession with all things American. Australia seems to be compelled to copy quasi-educational. unsubstantiated Yank gimmickry that usually ends up in disaster. High-stakes testing, charter schools, performance pay, core curriculum, common core syllabuses and serious judgements made on unreliable testing procedures are features of this American/Australian system. Australian classroom-experienced teachers have the capacity to design a system, uninfluenced and unsupervised by the testing fraternity, that will establish a high-level learning culture based on love of learning, instead of on a fear of it. Encouragement to learn can easily replace the fear-of-failure syndrome now dominating our classrooms. Our future depends of the freedom to learn. It needs to be released from bondage before any progress can be made.
Phil Cullen [….in support of a fair-dinkum, no-nonsense,kid-oriented Australia] 41 Cominan Avenue, Banora Point Australia 2486 07 554 6443 firstname.lastname@example.org