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Evan's take on education this election

Evan Hadkins' archive is here.

Now that the election has been called I suspect we are about to hear a lot of talk about vision and the future.  Most of it, of course, will be tosh.  So I want a way to get past the rhetoric to what our politicians really think the future will look like.  This is education policy.

Why education policy?  Because every year we, as a society tell thousands of children what we think the world will be like 13-20 years hence.  We tell them what they need to know and the skills they will need to thrive in this future.  The children I refer to are those starting school.

So here is a tour of the future as our politicians see it.  Because the campaign looks to be shaping up as a presidential one, I'll start with the minor parties in an attempt to give them some kind of attention.

The Greens

The Greens have a long list of beliefs about Education Policy - 18 in all.  They then have a list of what they want from Early Childhood through to Tertiary Education.  What's more they have measures - what they will do - attached to what they want.  

The emphasis is on the provision of free education through the public system.  It is about restoring support to the system which has been taken away by the Libs.  There is the proposal to increase teachers' pay and to raise the level of education among Aboriginal people to the same standard as the rest of Australia.

The Democrats

The Democrats Policy goes from pre-school through to Tertiary.  They propose professional development programs for teaching, addressing wider issues in schools (values education, bullying, special programs for gifted children and others).  Their policy is directed to supporting and giving more money to the public system.  The Democrats have more detail on tertiary students - down to the level of scholarships being tax free.

The Nationals

Their education policy is decidedly brief.  As the others say, they want a world class education system for Australia.  The two specifics they give are improving access to education for those who live away from major population areas and giving them good accommodation when studying away from home.

They support the 'right' for parents to educate their children privately.  Like the others they mention catering to those with special needs.


Labor promises an education revolution.  There is a discussion paper and speeches on their website.  They see education as being important for economic reasons and that we are in an international competition with others.  They propose increased funding targeted at the most needy schools.  They propose a national curriculum in key subjects (maths, science, English, history, literacy and numeracy).

While advocating support for the public system they assert their desire to take no money from any school.


Stuff by the Liberals' policy is harder to find - it tends to broken up between the different state branches.  However from their time in office it is clear they approve such things as: the 'right' of parents to educate their children privately; want performance pay for teachers as a way to improve performance, want greater private funding of universities; and desire a set national curriculum in some subjects such as history, literacy and numeracy.


1. From reading the policies you get the impression there is not much difference between the parties.  Some are more strongly for state education but there is no hint from any of them that they would actively oppose it.  All acknowledge the importance of the development of individuals.  All profess the importance of education to Australia.

2. The Greens and The Democrats assert much more readily that education should be free.

3. To someone who thinks the future is unpredictable, except to say that it will be different, it is a pretty unimpressive collection.  To describe any of the party's policies as radical would be a gross overstatement.  None contemplate major alteration to the current system.  This is either reassuring or deeply disturbing depending on what you think the future is going to look like.

4. None attempt to place the policy in any sort of "Futures" perspective.  This is wise: we can be sure that the future won't be how we think it will be.  And the party's opponents will be sure to jump on the failure to predict the future.  It does mean though that there is little reason to challenge the status quo and work incrmentally with it - which is effectively what all the parties do.

My Opinion

It is all pretty depressing.  None of them have the guts to propose a distinct direction for Australia (other than motherhood statements about education being important for individuals and the economy).  Not one of them (zero, zip, nada, none at all!) mention Global Warming or Water Shortages in the context of education.  Not even the Greens.

From reading the parties' policies on education you would get the idea that in 13-20 years things are going to be much as they are now.  I think we can be sure that this will be wrong.

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Think Laterally

This would be a huge improvement I think.

Think laterally for real education

It's irrelevant how or where the money is spent in education, just like health you can throw billions at it and still get the same outcomes as now. For our system to continue, we need to change our approach to every aspect of society as clearly they are not working, education is one area where it's a miserable failure for the majority of people.

Education until 12 years of age should be about how society, the world and you work, to live in and cope within it, mental and physical health, how to maintain it along with the normal general coping skills . Until 16 years old, education should be about preparing to live in the system and all the skills needed to do that. From 16 to 20, they should undergo work experience in every facet of government, including the legal system, defence and emergency services. If they were to do a few weeks or months in every department, as well as have the opportunity to work in society part time. At 20 they would have experience in many walks of life and would have travelled their state and country working. And could then go on to higher education or a career of their choosing. We would end up with responsible youth, who would understand how society works, experienced in emergency services, bureaucracy, health and caring, local government, defence, social services, policing and the court system. That way you cut youth and all future crime, unemployment and always have a new, changing public service with a growing and available skills base. Teach children to live first, let them experience the system, then they can choose their path in life. It would sure change the way things work in society and relieve the burden on all our struggling support systems.

Educating the Education Lobby

As I was quietly mulling over the Constitution last weekend, as one does, I was surprised to discover that there is a way for the Federal Parliament to take over the railways and waterways.   At Federation, however, the two main responsibities (as we would now regard them) left to the States were roads and education.   Naturally, the expansion of the tied-grants mechanism has changed that somewhat but it still means fundamentally that education and roads are a State responsibility.   I can see good reasons for education remaining so.

Could we, therefore, get on with the real debate?   How do we pay for it all?

Education Lobby

$35b would provide a lot of schools and teachers salaries.

That is it is a political question: what do we value?  That extra milkshake or two a week or . . . ? 

Public Good

Thanks Paul W.

Of the parties the most unapologetic supporter of the public system (at least on their public policy) is the Greens.

I too see education as a public good.  Was it Clinton or Carter who said: if you think education is expensive - try ignorance?

I have known some people who have moved overseas to work.  In no case was it chasing dollars.  In every case it was because the work was only available overseas.

The Howardists' preference for private education I find appalling.

I would, however, like to see considerable difference in the way education (so called) is done at present.


There was a far stronger commitment to things public from Labor and Liberal, but since the seventies progressive ideas and people have found it harder to find a place in either of the big parties. The social libs left or were drummed out of the Liberal party  to find a home with the earlier Democrats and Labor progressives left in droves for the  Greens.

Economic rationalism or  Neoliberalism have proven more conducive to lubrication of  the opportunist politician/developer nexus, regardless of wider good or ( more likely ) damage done to the economic and social fabric. Once this ideology had at least the virtue of novelty, or at least plausible deniability. Shabbier by the day like an old drunk , it seems now it will eventually go the way of  Stalinism, but not before it has done enough damage to create a fertile soil for future dysfunction and resulting authoritarianism in our society and the world in general.

"Private Gain; Public Pain", as they say.

Education - a public good or an expendable afterthought?

Yes, the difference is that the progressives see education as a necessary public good. Other things need to fit in with it, rather than it being an expendable afterthought to the Howardist ransacking of community assets.

Education is actually the basis for genuine business success in the sense of creation rather than mere paper shuffling. And the contempt with which "thinking" is held in this country is evidenced in the unremarked departure of people, ideas and new technology offshore, isn't it?

Some feel this particular example as something to be remedied through a tweaking of the tax system, but I think it is far more complex and relates to a cultural problem against ideas encouraged by populist politicians on both sides.

But particularly bad is the Howardist demand for private education as prior to public education. Public education is neutral ground for both social class and ideas, whereas private education seeks to reinforce the class prejudices of previous eras. In the crankiest private schools there is a bias against Darwinism, for example (in favour of dogma), and the indoctrination process is explicit rather than implicit. We go beyond socialisation to individuation, in fact.

Evidence that knee-capped populist education is not an accident but part of a deliberate counter reformational social dumbing down comes with the parallel dumbing down of that other source of ideas, the media.

If the history of Habsburg and Bourbon absolutism is any indication, the future does not augur well for the West.

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