SCHOOLS: by Dr Kevin DonnellyNews Weekly
Can Rudd be trusted again on education?
, July 20, 2013
Kevin Rudd coined the expression “Australia’s education revolution” during his first term as prime minister and has long considered education a key policy issue fundamental to future prosperity and wellbeing.
In the context of the forthcoming election it’s reasonable to expect Rudd, once again, to put education centre stage and to argue that an ALP government is best placed to strengthen schools, raise standards and improve teacher effectiveness. The reality will prove otherwise.
Not only is Rudd’s record on education during his first term as prime minister characterised by costly, ineffective and wasteful policy initiatives; but, in addition, the Australian Education Bill 2013, passed on June 26 by the Senate, is inherently flawed, counterproductive and educationally unsound.
In the 2007 election campaign, Rudd boasted that computers were the toolbox of the future and that his government would deliver them to schools across Australia.
Five years later and the consensus is that the billion-dollar program is plagued by obsolete computers, unaffordable maintenance costs and a growing realisation that IT is not the educational panacea advocates once claimed.
The multi-billion-dollar Building the Education Revolution infrastructure program is also a prime example of how not to implement public policy. As a result of being rushed and poorly conceived it led to mismanagement, shoddy and substandard buildings and cost overruns.
It’s also true, notwithstanding the promise to raise standards, that literacy and numeracy results have not improved as a result of Rudd’s education revolution.
Since 2008 there has been no statistically significant improvement in the majority of Australia’s NAPLAN literacy and numeracy tests.
As the new Prime Minister, Rudd has inherited a Gillard-inspired school funding model and National Plan for School Improvement, embodied in the Australian Education Bill 2013, that will have a profound, deleterious impact on the nation’s classrooms.
Submissions by a number of independent and Catholic school authorities to the Senate inquiry into the bill argue that it is confusing, opaque and based on faulty data. They are also critical of the fact that most of the funding will not kick in until 2018-19.
As noted by Victoria’s Denis Napthine and Tasmania’s Lara Giddings, two premiers from the opposite ends of the political spectrum, the education bill also unfairly centralises control over education, denying schools the flexibility and autonomy needed to raise standards.
At a time when the consensus is that autonomy, diversity and choice in education are proven characteristics of stronger-performing education systems and schools, best represented by Australia’s non-government schools, the education bill flies in the opposite direction.
Principally it represents a command-and-control model of education policy that destroys the ability of schools, especially independent and Catholic, to chart their own course, innovate and best reflect the needs and aspirations of their communities.
The ALP, represented by Rudd’s education revolution and, more recently, Julia Gillard’s national crusade, cites education as one of its strongest and most successful policy areas.
The reality proves otherwise.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is director of the Melbourne-based Education Standards Institute and author of Educating Your Child: It’s Not Rocket Science! (available from News Weekly Books). This article first appeared in The Australian, June 29, 2013.