All roads lead to Canberra


| Kevin Donnelly

All roads lead to Canberra

One of the defining features of left-of-centre parties - exemplified by ALP Commonwealth government over the last six years - is the urge to centralise power and to adopt a command and control model of public policy.

As argued by Friedrich Hayek the central flaw in imposing a top down, statist model of public policy is the mistaken assumption that government can best discern what is most needed to address complex issues or to solve problems that rely on local knowledge and expertise.

According to Hayek, a basic error in such planning is that it ‘presupposes a much more complete agreement on the relative importance of different ends than actually exists, and that, in consequence, in order to be able to plan, the planning authority must impose upon the people that detailed code of values which is lacking'.

The imposition of government regulation and control also strikes at one of the fundamental tenets of democratic freedom; the belief that power resides with the individual and intermediary organisations like the family, church and school and not with the state and its assorted qangos and bureaucracies.

The Commonwealth's approach to school education provides a clear illustration of the socialist inspired desire to impose its collectivist, utopian vision of society on schools and why the government's so-called ‘Better Schools' reforms, are misconceived and destined for failure.

Beginning with Kevin Rudd's Education Revolution during his first tenure as prime minister, the Commonwealth government is imposing a national curriculum, national testing, national teacher registration and certification which all forms part of the ‘National Plan for School Improvement.'

The National Plan for School Improvement is especially dangerous as it represents a significant increase in external control over schools, teachers and classrooms. Based on the specious argument that it will lead to Australia performing amongst the top five nations in mathematics, science and reading tests by 2025, it imposes a host of new accountability measures on government and non-government schools. Measures include: making schools undertake annual reviews, forcing teachers to design individual learning programs for students, setting targets for school improvement and implementing a cultural-left agenda in areas like the curriculum and staffing and enrolments.

Ignored is that such requirements duplicate what many Australian schools are already compelled to do as a result of state initiatives, and that many have little, if any, educational benefit as they are time consuming, drown teachers in red tape and, in relation to individualised learning programs (aka personalised learning) are based on new-age fads instead of evidence based research.

Under the Australian Constitution, the states are responsible for school education, not the Commonwealth government. Notwithstanding that and the fact that the Commonwealth government neither employs any teachers nor manages any schools, since its election in late 2007 the federal Labor government has assumed a commanding role.

States have been sidelined because of their timidity and because of their financial dependence on the Commonwealth government. As a result, especially in relation to Catholic and independent schools, schools are being denied the ability to manage themselves and to best reflect the needs and aspirations of their communities.

While some states, such as Victoria and Western Australia, have recently demonstrated a willingness to act independently, it is also the case that the majority of state based education departments and related curriculum authorities are eager to adopt national initiatives as such authorities champion the same cultural-left, statist view of education advocated by the federal ALP.

As a result of suffering under an inflexible, bureaucratic approach, government schools have been forced to accept off the shelf Building the Education Revolution infrastructure often unsuited to their needs. The waste is made worse by the fact that there is little, if any, evidence that the multi-billion dollar BER program has had any educational benefit.

A second example of the Commonwealth government's bent for enforcing its will on schools and classrooms is national curriculum, which is set to replace the existing eight state and territory curriculum frameworks from 2013 onwards. The flaws and weaknesses in the national curriculum are manifest.

This should come as no surprise, given many of the individuals, curriculum bodies and professional associations involved in designing the new curriculum have been in charge over the last 20 to 30 years of falling standards and failed innovations like whole language and child-centred learning.

Stronger performing education systems overseas adopt a rigorous subject centred curriculum model where the essential knowledge, understanding and skills associated with the disciplines of knowledge are centre place.

Not so in Australia where, over the last 20 years or so, schools in the majority of states and territories have been forced to adopt what is termed an outcomes-based education (OBE) model of curriculum and pedagogy.

OBE places the child centre stage, enforces a process approach to learning, defines what students should learn in terms of hundreds of vague and generalised outcome statements and embodies a cultural-left, politically correct focus in areas like multiculturalism, the environment, indigenous studies, gender and the class nature of society

In more successful overseas systems teachers are also experts in their subject and the belief is that they should act as teachers instead of being, as in Australia, co-learners with children and forsaking their authority by acting as ‘guides by the side'.

In Finland, for example, a nation whose students are amongst the top performers in the Program for International Student Assessment tests, teachers, in the words of a Finnish academic Hannu Simola, are ‘pedagogically conservative' and forsake new-age fads like open classrooms and child-centred learning in favour of traditional methods like whole class teaching with the teacher at the front of the classroom.

During the period that OBE became the official orthodoxy literacy and numeracy standards across the nation's schools - despite the additional billions invested in more teachers and smaller classes - flatlined and students' results in international tests, especially amongst top performing students, have gone backwards.


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