Home Roland Rocchiccioli WHAT has become of the state school system?

WHAT has become of the state school system?

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There was a time when it was one of the best in the world. Now it seems it has slipped behind to such a parlous degree that secondary students are being forced to deal with paper shortages.

Q&A ABC-TV – Monday night – provided a salutary insight into what is happening in some of the large country secondary schools. Australia has always been a city-centric nation. I remember students from my primary school days who would have led quite different lives had they been provided with the opportunities. They were ignored. In particular, Lucy Tognali, who was the church organist at the age of eleven, could easily have had a successful career in music, had she been given the chance.

The government and the education department of the day chose to favour the city schools. For years, Governments have ignored regional areas.

Until I came to live in Ballarat I was unaware of the chasm which exists between city and country – albeit major regional. I recall, John Howard always referred to the country areas as the bush. It is a pejorative term, and should not be used when talking about life outside of the metropolitan area.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham has been taken to task by a high school student who confronted him over whether it was fair to continue to direct Commonwealth funds to private schools, while their public counterparts could not afford to print their resources on paper.

Geordie Brown, from Oxley High School in Tamworth, said the education system was “failing” students and teachers, arguing it was unjust to public schools, who are still actually in need of more funding, to put them to the side, and still give funding to private schools: “I’m not saying eliminate all private school funding, but I think there does need to be some reductions.” The Government’s proposed needs-based system will benefit some schools more than others. Geordie and Senator Birmingham were joined on the panel by three other high school students Nadia Homem from Burwood Girls’ High School in western Sydney, Arthur Lim from Moorebank High School south-west of Sydney, and Lauren McGrath-Wild from the Presbyterian Ladies’ College in western Sydney — as well as deputy federal Labor leader and Opposition education spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek.

Tony Jones had to step-in to hose down a fiery back-andforth between Ms Plibersek and Senator Birmingham over the Government’s $23.5 billion Gonski 2.0 plan which passed the Senate in June. Ms Plibersek argued, correctly, that some wealthy private schools would benefit, unnecessarily, under the scheme.

Education is a hotly debated issue and there were a series of interruptions between the panellists. At one moment, Senator Birmingham was interrupted “very respectfully” by Geordie. He said: “I want to put this in perspective for you, because I’m from a rural and remote area. I go to a school which has to put really strict conditions on each faculty based on how much paper they can print out of a printer, because we don’t have enough funding to print resources on paper. It’s not acceptable; from my point of view it’s not acceptable for you to sit there and to say something like, ‘If Labor were in government we’d be in this situation’, because at the end of the day, the Australian public elected you as the Government, and you are in a responsible position now to fix these problems. You weren’t elected to play the blame game.” The audience applauded but one wonders whether it will make any difference. It is so much easier to blame than to accept responsibility.

Children are our greatest natural resource, and they should be heard. It is an outrage that students attending public schools are not afforded the same facilities as their fellow students at private schools. There was a time when private schools, in particular Catholic, were not given any government assistance. I am not suggesting a return to the bad old days, but I do believe there should be some even-handedness, and good sense, in the distribution of government funding.

Geordie is correct in what he says. It is time to stop playing the ‘blame game’, and to get-on and fix the bloody problem. It has been going on for too long. Life is difficult enough for our young people. They are entitled to be given every assistance which will prepare them to be working members of the community when their time comes.

Simon Birmingham holds a Masters of Business Administration from Adelaide University. According to his biography, he does not hold an education qualification and has no classroom teaching experience. I do not subscribe to the theory that one needs to be a murderer to play Jack the Ripper; however, education is a very specific area. It requires classroom experience to fully appreciate the nuance of the area. The now disbanded Education Department was divided into two separate areas: general and professional. The general area was administration – clerks and secretaries et al. The professional section was staffed by former teachers and principals whose vast experience helped devise policy and administer the schools. Perhaps we should look to a return to a system which satisfies the needs of the students and the teachers – after all, that is what we are supposed to be doing! Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30.

Contact: rolandroc@bigpond.com