Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reflections from Australia - Part 1

I recently had the opportunity, as part of Woolf Fisher Fellowship, to visit Australia and look at the educations systems in two States. I visited schools in Sydney to explore the NSW system and similarly Brisbane to get a sense of the QLD system. The majority of schools I visited were state schools, though I did visit John Paul College, a privately funded school in Brisbane. The contrasts between state and private were obvious, not in the quality and enthusiasm of the teachers, nor noticeably in the nature and attitude of the students, but in the infrastructure and resources. John Paul had wireless internet throughout the school, all teachers had an IWB, their own laptop provided by the school, permanently mounted data projectors, class printers and every student has a leased laptop. The nature and type of lessons that could be supported through the available technology was markedly different from other schools. Linked with the observation is the alarming fact that some 35% or so of Australian students attend private schools. Furthermore, while private schools have typically been secondary there is now a significant growth in private primary education. For example, John Paul College had about 1000 students at its primary campus with approximately 700 in the middle school and slightly less again in the senior school. The growth in private education stemmed somewhat from under-resourcing in the public system over the last couple of decades. My concern is that this movement towards a private system could become a reality for New Zealand. With National due to form a government any day now I have fears that the funding required to allow state schools to meet the needs of 21stC learners may be a distant hope, though I would dearly love to believe they will make good of their promise that they will "Future proof schools with better ICT facilities and integrated ICT access within the teaching spaces throughout schools" - I just have my doubts
. Lack of decent funding to state schools, coupled with John Key's recent promises of increased funding for private schools, serves only to widen the gap between state and private schools. Contrary to Key's beliefs, extra funding to private schools does not provide more access to other less well-off kiwi families, it just means the ‘haves’ become ‘have-more’s. NZ Governments need to seriously consider their investment into state education to ensure all students have free education that meets their needs and caters for diverse learners. This will need to involve funding in infrastructure and resources – such as broadband with decent bandwidth, computers for students and teachers (and not just a lease scheme, but properly funded), along with creative vocational programmes that are not confined to school timetables, but are appropriately funded to allow students relevant educational pathways. Without this NZ risks following the same path as Australia, which only left States scrambling to find ways to address the issue through the creation of selective schools and academies. In my mind these seemed only to add another tier to the school ‘class’ system [though there were some great things going on too, that's for my next blog post]. It is a right of all citizens to have a first class public education system and this is necessary for the future of the country. The sooner governments begin to recognise this the better. We watch and wait for action...

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