Education policy program — call for responses

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The operation of democracy requires an acceptance of rational authority, an intelligent consideration of alternatives, a willingness to participate, and an ability to transcend personal interests for the common good. (Schools in Australia.1973)

The Centre for Policy Development will cover eleven critical areas in the education portfolio.

Each of the papers in this series will work from the assumption that governments and political parties have a responsibility, as they put forward policy analyses and proposals, to demonstrate ‘rational authority’ in this process. Our goal is to map out desirable policy options, comparing and contrasting these with the present positions. We hope to encourage more active participation in policy development through identifying what is ‘in the common good’ for all Australians.

The first two papers in this series are overviews that act as an introduction to the series, spanning the sectors of education and training. We invite responses to them.

Topic 1 – Why parents are anxious about their children’s futures and how our education system might respond

Substantial political and economic changes over the past 25 years have created in most parents a high state of anxiety over the ‘best’ path to take for their children. Parents are especially anxious about schooling, since the educational requirements for labour market success now mean that low levels of educational achievement are demonstrably linked to high rates of unemployment, while higher educational qualifications appear to reduce the risk of economic insecurity.

Young people’s modes of entry to the labour market are far more complex and risky than in the past. More than half of all full-time jobs for teenage males and more than two thirds of all full-time jobs for teenage females disappeared between 1977 and 1995. During the 1980s Australian families responded to this message and high school completion rates doubled. Yet over this same period, politicians of both the left and the right imposed strict fiscal controls on social and educational expenditures, and public high schools, particularly those serving poorer communities, have been left without the resources they need to keep pace with changing demands.

In apparent compensation for public sector shortfalls, Australian private spending on education has increased at twice the rate of public spending over the past ten years (OECD 2003). One component of this increase relates to increased family outlays on higher education through HECS and full-fee university places. The other relates to the increasing dependence of middle-class families on private schools. Among OECD countries, Australia’s system is unique in the degree to which parents are ‘buying out’ at the school level and also (increasingly) making substantial payments at the higher education level. This raises questions as to what Australian families have a right to expect from governments in terms of high-quality public education at all levels of the system.

We will begin publishing responses to Topic 1 from 10 May 2006. if you intend to respond

Topic 2 – Values and Australian schools: towards an inclusive and respectful society

Australia ‘s long standing tradition of free, secular, public schools represents an attempt to provide an inclusive education, respecting and representing all children and their families and emphasising social cohesion around shared values. Educating children in relation to diversity and difference is crucial if we are to provide a supportive social context in which all children can be validated and reach their full potential in their future lives.

Yet over the past 30 years, Australia has moved down the path of funding separate schools for groups with distinct class, religious and cultural affiliations. Parents are asserting rights of ownership and choice including the right to send their children to schools that will educate them in ways that are consistent with the particular cultural and religious values that they profess.

Australian children come from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds and different family types yet one thing all parents want for their children is a safe school where their children will be treated with respect. There are many different types of families in contemporary Australia – they are not all the same and they may have different values.

One thing they generally have in common is trying to do their best for their children, regardless of their ethnicity, religious affiliation, or family type. This needs to be acknowledged and respected. It is also important to address the discriminatory practices that are perpetuated by children throughout all levels of their schooling. Practices such as bullying continue to be experienced by approximately 70% of students in Australian high schools.

Bullying practices are not just informed by individual personal differences, but also by such forms of discrimination as racism, sexism, homophobia and classism. These issues are not just relevant to a perceived minority, but operate to restrict and regulate the lives of all children. The pressure that children of all ages experience to fit rigid and often unrealistic stereotypes can have major consequences for our society, leading to aggressive behaviour, youth suicide, depression, homelessness and substance abuse.

These are social issues with which our society needs to be concerned. A key question that needs to be debated is how the rights of all children can be protected. While privately-operated schools may represent enclaves that are closely aligned with the distinct values of some families, it is also a matter for concern that these schools have untrammelled rights to pursue distinct religious and cultural values that may not promote a respectful stance towards all the communities that contribute to the diversity of our nation.

Responses due by 5 June.

A schedule of future topics can be viewed here.

The Centre for Policy Development calls for articles in response to these two topics from the Centre for Policy Development subscribers, educators, policymakers and parents.

Responses should be written in the form of an article. They should be no more than 1000 words and they should put forward clear policy proposals in the form of recommendations. We are interested in solutions, not just problems. They should be emailed to writeforpolicy@newmatilda.com.

We intend to collate recommendations at the conclusion of each topic which will contribute to the development of our education policy.

Special thanks goes to Lindsay Connors and Margaret Vickers for their role in developing the plan.

Nick Carney and Miriam Lyons
The Centre for Policy Development Policy
writeforpolicy@newmatilda.com

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