Is Australia the GERM capital of the world?

I was sure that the U.S. was first in the world when it came to testing and accountability, choice, competition, and privatization. Sad to discover we are number 2.

Australia – The GERM Capital of the World

GERM is an acronym for the giant scato-meme that testucators [vis-a-vis educators] have helped to spread around the world with considerable albeit predictable success. It stands for Global Education Reform Movement. It is a movement that has altered the well-established schooling status of countries from child-focussed-learning to ones that relies solely on high stakes testing. It is a movement that started off in a New York school district and, supported by the resources of big-ticket publishing companies, established modes of testucation in a number of western countries.

Australia was a push-over. Australia can now claim to be the GERM capital of the world. This reform movement, powered by extreme political muscle corralled principals, teachers, parents and pupils early in the piece to believe in the power of measurement. All are now well-conditioned to the pressures of GERM-inspired NAPLAN testing and are anticipating its conversion to on-line operations. NAPLAN, a testing device that pretends to assess literacy and numeracy levels, is standardised testing on steroids. Sadly it is unreliable and invalid for ‘improvement’ purposes. That doesn’t matter. Australian schools were told to put up and shut up. We put up with it. We must.

Like Thomas the Tank Engine, we compliantly obey our financially fat corporation-based political controllers of learning through fear-based measurement without question.

After five years, NAPLAN is failing badly in what it was supposed to do; and the political solution to this is to increase the effort – a not unusual political reaction. More clout. More money

Pasi Sahlberg of Finland first used the word GERM in a non-pejorative way to compare the differences between his country’s reform movement of many years ago that used non-testing, learning principles to guide its young people and those countries, like Australia, that have more recently adopted the heavy-handed measurement reform mode. Finland’s system operates on cultural equity, teacher respect and curriculum freedom; ours and other GERM countries the direct opposite. Australian schooling now enlarges social differences, degrades the teaching profession and follows hard-core curriculum guidelines.

All authorities seem to be possessed by the occasional international PISA tests for 15 years olds, conducted by the OECD, for opinion and judgement about their schooling, despite the frailties of that mode of judgement. Finland treats PISA casually because it cannot see any benefit in national blanket testing and it does not want PISA results to control its live curriculum as it does to GERM countries rigid ones.

NAPLAN adherents, advocates, supporters and operators cannot explain how our ‘students’ under-perform so profoundly, compared with Finland’s pupils at 15 years of age. How come? Australian children attend school for up to four years longer than do Finnish children by 15 years of age! Over two years more of test-oriented schooling – including one full year of intense [4yrs x 10 weeks] hands-on, heads-down test practice for Australian school pupils – and we still can’t ‘measure-up’! What is going on? Child-oriented learning-based educators [non-testucators] can tell the politicians why. But then, with their usual fervour for knowledge of what happens in the classroom, Australian politicians take no notice of those who know what they are talking about. They prefer to talk in numbers – NAPLAN-speak. This has been the pattern of political rhetoric for the past half-decade. These unfortunate policy-makers believe that there are votes in supporting NAPLAN, promoting choice, shaming teachers, advocating heavy guidelines and spruiking test scores.

No other authority, even New York whose model we adopted, can be as proud as Australia for its attention to GERM ideals. We are faithful supporters and our schools are well controlled…not as productive in learning terms as they should be…going downhill in NAPLAN terms …but, well controlled. The Klein-Gillard duo continues to claim ownership.

Credit for Australia’s ascendance to gold-level standard in GERM principles must go to its forms of control.

POLITICAL CONTROL The introduction, in the 1990s, of managerialism into public school education saw ‘plumbers running garages’ from pre-schools to state education systems. The devastating inexperience-based factors then filtered to classrooms and after a decade or so of its wantonness, there was an obvious need for reform of public schooling. During this period the basic ‘school experience’ requirement for school administrators was devalued and pupils are still paying a heavy price. Quality learning-based, classroom-active, knowledgeable curriculum principalship is not a requirements for heads of schools, and politicians prefer to blame teachers at the work-face for the problem and continue to do so. Kemp, Nelson, Rudd and Gillard at the federal level have all made statements about the need for improved standards in a manner that is reminiscent of the Black Papers ‘Back to basics’ era. Joel Klein, a New York lawyer appointed by the his friends the Mayor to run his school district found favour with Rupert Murdoch; and his efforts made headlines. The spin drew the attention of Australia’s Minister for Education during a visit to USA, and persuaded by the sweet-talk of this fellow-lawyer, arranged to have him hold meetings with corporate Australia to have them endorse her next step – to import the Klein System into Australian schools. She did.

In retrospect, Australian school educators wish that she had visited Finland instead of the U.S.A. at the time. A learning-based indigenous system could have been developed based on equity, teacher respect and a developmental curriculum.

A diversion. What would happen, if, for 2013, one of our states decided to drop the expensive, failed NAPLAN program and adopt a child-focussed learning model of schooling of its own? A dream?

Historically, schooling has been the responsibility of the states but, by the turn of the century, the press of the federal authorities for a take-over was made manifest. “He who pays the piper” held the states to ransom and, being of the same political level of understanding about classroom behaviour, easily set the limits of control. Each state willingly complied and the tax-payer has since contributed billions of dollars to a useless effort.

PRESS CONTROL The daily press sets the agenda for discussions in the community, wherever people gather for a common purpose. It has always guided public opinion and has been known to manipulate commonly held views to suit vested interests and political viewpoints. NAPLAN is a source of many newspaper columns, especially in May and October. As far as schooling issues are concerned, there has been a developing tendency not to report issues that might express a contrary-GERM view [The Darwin Effect], but individual journalists will sometimes express an anti-NAPLAN stance or report someone else’s view. That’s the way things appear to be.

Rupert Murdoch, owner of Wireless Generation, the test publishing company that is part of his world’s largest media conglomerate, hired the aforementioned Joel Klein, founder of Australia’s fear-based, high-stakes schooling system, “to pursue business opportunities in the education market-place.” In Australia the Murdoch companies own 22 influential major newspapers and 4 regional and suburban chains covering 64.2% of metropolitan Australia, while the Fairfax group covers 26.4%. I ask you!

The Fairfax group appears to take a more neutral view of schooling issues. Its reporting of the first “Say NO to NAPLAN” production was balanced and open-ended.

While the control of classroom activites lies in the hands of a powerful press, hand-in-glove with GERM adherent politicians, strongly encouraged and supported by New York’s publishing and i-pad retailers, and operated by heavy-measuring sciolists, Australia will remain at the top of the GERM heap. The secret lies in keeping parents in the dark and making sure that principal groups and teacher unions do not revive their lost professional ethics. The only thing holding up a realistic standard of schooling in Australia at present is the quality, industry and commitment of the teachers in the classroom.

There’s the rub. There is a serious need for open discussion and learn-ed parent and classroom-teacher conferences on topics such as “The Morality of Blanket Testing” or “What Happened to Professional Ethics?” or “Where Have All the Parents Gone?”

While the media/political coterie and their curmudgeons prefer to sponsor the emphasis on teaching how to cope with the testing of core subjects instead of teaching child-based learnacy; while their members prefer to standardise all school pupils at the same skill level instead of recognising that each pupil is different and there is no ceiling to accomplishment; while they promote pre-test panic as a learning motivator instead of teaching children at their own learning pace; while they borrow their inspiration from the corporate world instead of accepting the CHILD as their inspiration; with their paranoia for ranking test results instead of sharing the evaluation of effort with each child as its personal business; while they describe children at school as ‘students’ who just study and little else instead of recognising the teacher-learner contract implicit in ‘pupil’; while they try to name and shame teachers with reckless evidence instead of celebrating the smallest of successes as they do in Finland; while they encourage schools to be cloistered institutions with a ‘beat the rest’ mentality instead of encouraging inter-school collaboration; while they encourage wide-scale cheating with their practice tests and time-table adjustments instead of encouraging honesty and pride of effort; while at the highest level they cover their blunders with expensive gimmickry like charter schools, re-arranging of years at school and with managerialism’s mis-organisational structures….Australia can claim GERM supremacy.

We used to punch above our weight on international issues and the rest of the western world respected our opinions and took notice. We are getting used to the lightweight division. That is our future.

Phil Cullen AM
Anti-NAPLAN geriactivist.