Comment: Gonski switch risks teaching schools bad habits


Education Minister Christopher Pyne has committed the mistake of bad teaching: placing his ideas first, and forgetting the needs of the students, writes Craig Hildebrand-Burke.

It’s now over three years since the previous government commissioned a review into the funding of schools that was chaired by businessman David Gonski, and two years since the final report was delivered.

Under Julia Gillard and then Kevin Rudd, the previous government worked to secure agreements with the different education systems across the states and territories to sign on to the Gonski report’s model for funding. Despite initial obstruction to the model, Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne announced the Coalition’s support of the funding in August this year, only a month before being elected to government.

Now as Education Minister, Christopher Pyne has reneged on the Coalition’s promise, stating on Monday that all funding agreements made by the previous government will be renegotiated. Considering that the Gonski report was commissioned to implement greater equality in education across Australia, it seems galling that Pyne would throw all funding into doubt under the aims of ensuring ‘a school funding model that is fair and equitable … for everyone.’

Furthermore, Pyne stated that it would be too difficult to change any funding for the next school year, and therefore any possible changes to education funding Australia-wide could only be considered beyond next 2014.

The time between successive Australian governments wanting to implement a fairer education model for schools, and the reality of that actually happening, is increasing. Education has become politicised too easily and for too long, and those that matter most are being affected for the worse.

The renegotiation of funding will cause more confusion and doubt in schools across Australia. When this is coupled with Pyne’s committed decision to review the problematic Australian Curriculum in early 2014 - the education of all students nationwide will be jeopardised.

As both the funding models and curriculum have progressed through reports and drafts, so schools and teachers have hot-footed from one model to the next, one trend to the next strategy. As governments change, so do ideologies about education, and Pyne has made no secret to his preference for chalk-and-talk teaching - practice long considered outmoded and unsuitable for 21st century education.

The method of chalk-and-talk - where a teacher dictates the learning and the students ingest the material - has long disappeared from dominant practice as methods have moved more toward student-centred learning through inquiry. However, as any teacher would attest, there is no one model to teaching that serves all students - effective teaching adapts to the needs of the students in the classroom.

So too should funding for schools. Pyne has committed the mistake of bad teaching: placing his ideas first, and forgetting the needs of the students.

Education should not be treated as a broken election promise. Schools should not be treated as vehicles for delivering a government’s agenda, whether it be history or languages or technology. Too often the ability to teach students is removed from the control of the teachers and placed in the hands of those far-removed from classrooms.

The Gonski report recommended changes to funding that would greatly enable schools and teachers to reduce the inequality between different systems, between public, independent and Catholic schools, and those dealing with economic and indigenous disadvantages. As Ben Eltham wrote yesterday: ‘Pyne has never believed in needs-based funding and has consistently opposed the Gonski process.’ With the Education Minister’s statements on Monday, we are left no closer than we were three years ago, and with no definite horizon in sight.

The shame about all these failed attempts and constant dismantling of one policy for another is that they damage that which education seeks to support: the students. The students have been forgotten, just as education has been consistently devalued by one government after another. Funding has been put on notice by Pyne, and so too curriculum. Teachers and schools are in a holding pattern, and the students of Australia are left learning that education is about dictation - of curriculum and of funding - rather than equality and opportunity.

A poor lesson we are teaching them, those who are our future.

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