25 Feb.’10 – ‘Just Suppose…’


Printed in On Line Opinion

We’re a small country. It is possible to standardise some rituals in a wink to make it easier for institutionalised school pupils to learn to love learning and to achieve at top levels.

However, we now have National Testing in schools. This negative, fear-laden approach was introduced in a ‘ruddy blush’ with malice-before-thought and she, who must be obeyed, said, “This will be; and there will be no argument.” Wham!  All schools now exist in fear and trepidation that they will not do as well as their neighbour in the one-hit tests. The tests are based on the premise that what can’t be counted does not count. Schools change their M.O.. It’s the only thing to do.

I voted for Julie’s mob for special reasons, the main one being that I did not think that it would introduce what her predecessor  Brendan Nelson had proposed… namely wide-scale fear-driven testing in schools. It is so unlaborlike; apart from being immoral, unethical and unprofessional.   Okay!  Some thousands of teachers and I made a bad mistake, and now have some tricky decisions to consider next time.The major parties seem to support totalitarian imposition of  their peculiar ideas.  Which present-day politicians or political groups are truly concerned about the kids and their natural love for learning…and  can do something useful about it?

Now enceinte, our schools’ controller was naively persuaded by local measure-freaks and pundicrats, and a NY lawyer, all with very limited school experience, to test some fundamentals and then make public pronouncements about the comparative worth of schools based on the results.  Pity.  Just suppose that the motivation for revolution was based on raising children’s learning abilities.

If we had to have a genuine revolution, just suppose some thought was given first to the structure of schooling in Australia before anything else was tried.

Just suppose, for instance, that all Aussie children start primary schooling at the same age. Parents who change states would be relieved. Under our present totalitarian centralism it should not present any problem to order such changes and declare that all children are able to start school in the calendar year that they turn [say] six of age and not before. Educationally progressive countries legislate for a starting age of seven years, but such a proposal has been dodged here by politicians and educrats for a long, long time. You see, some parents get anxious when their children turn five years of age and they haven’t thought things through. They frighten pollies and schoolies with their anxiety. There are many who want to get their children into institutionalised learning places as soon as they can. They can be helped. Since Australia’s early child-care provisions are presently rich in offerings, a gradual introduction to schooling can now be offered; or children can enjoy early learning for its own sake before they enter Year 1 to prepare for their Masters Degree; or just have fun with their childhood.

Just suppose state departments of compulsory schooling are considered useful and necessary to care for those who are forced to go to school. If a national starting-age was introduced with the rapidity of the introduction of national blanket testing, such departments could be established forthwith: –   Years 1 to 12 Departments  holding hands with pre-primary efforts at the lower end and with vocational efforts at the upper, but no closer. National guidelines would be respected through the year levels.

Just suppose it was decided that all states have the same lengths of schooling and that a child enters primary schooling at Year 1 and remains there for seven years and then moves to High School. At present NSW and ACT call the first year at school, Kindergarten; Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland call it Preparatory; South Australia  tags it Reception; Northern Territory calls it Transition ; Western Australian Pre-primary. Believe it. It almost seems as if the states once had a contest to sneak some children into schooling earlier than is wise and to find the most creative name to call the year. It has become so confusing.  And…believe this… by the time all children have had three or four years of regular schooling, it is difficult to distinguish in achievement levels, attitudes to learning etc. in the pupils, what kind of developmental experiences they have had.

Just suppose that a large part of each school day is required for an “…insistence and reverence for language, science and mathematics.” That’s what Obama has called for, but his educrats are so possessed by testing,  it certainly wont happen while they are in control. We  all know that achievement in lower-order cognitive skills that are part of these learnings is directly related to the time spent on them, so why not have a good look at school time-tables?  Useful, encouraging, fear-free, fun-full skill development contributes to higher-order fondness for all learnings. Mathematics, for instance, is one of the most beautiful of subjects and its creative joy can be pupilled as such when we dismiss fear and educrat-sponsored-dislike of it. Trust me. The wonders of language and science are just as fascinating. Why destroy the fascination of any standard learnings to satisfy a political platform?

Just suppose all the curriculum rubbish is cleaned out and the remainder re-ordered. So much has entered the school curriculum over recent years  that it is the wonder of the age that teachers have done what they have done; and have maintained amazing achievement levels in so-called basic elements as well as they have; and each child has reached a level of competence in subjects and learnings that their parents never encountered nor achieved.

Just suppose our teachers were selected from the most outstanding school graduates who, above all, have been identified as having the qualities that good teachers require. A four-year Masters Degree [as in Finland] during which the wide range of teacher strategies would be practised and understood. This study/practice would be rigorous, lengthy and intense.  Teaching research as detailed by Australian Michael Dunkin and his compatriots would be studied for the intricacies of the teaching act as well as the work of great philosophers of teaching and learning from the time of Socrates, through Rousseau, Montessori, de Bono, Piaget and others to Goodlad and Bassett.   Practice and theory would live together with intense respect for each other. Slackers will be advised to change to another course as early in their academic life as possible.  It would be widely known that teachers are exceptional people and are paid accordingly.

Just suppose, as a final suggestion, that we had tax incentives for those who give reasonable amounts of money direct to their children’s classroom in a public school to purchase resources that are needed to make each room as resource-rich as possible. The same degree of tax incentives could be offered as those received by those who send their children to a private school. If Mum or Dad gave say $1000 direct to each of their children’s teacher each year to establish a resource-rich classroom, they should receive some financial benefit. This would not cost Mum and Dad as much as they would pay to send their child to a private school, but each classroom in which  their child was located would be  better than most. Worth examining ?

Just suppose we cared for kids and their schooling…