Friday, May 10, 2013

Education sucks

At least that's the message being sent by the Australian Government and Opposition to the Aussie taxpayer by cutting $2.3 billion from the sector's budget.  

But University funding cuts sound like a good idea don't they? Everyone knows academics are overpaid and underworked and it's not as if the cuts will affect everyday Aussies is it?

I'll mainly focus on teaching in this post, and what can happen when the best and brightest aren't consistently and actively encouraged to enrol in education courses and aren't supported when they graduate. 

Some teaching graduates, who have taken out a debt to pay their uni fees, are employed on short term contracts or can only get part time work. Those who'd love to leave home and show their independence are unable to do so on these types of contracts, no job security leaves them feeling insecure and vulnerable.  They're unable to feeel confident to sign a lease on a flat let alone think of buying a home. Even worse, they come to see themselves as part time teachers, employed to plug a gap and with no real commitment to a school which appears not to value them. Is knowing that you'll start off your career with a debt and job insecurity, as well as negative public perception, a way to attract excellent candidates into what should argueably be one of the most respected professions? 

In Australia we already have the situation where mature, good, experienced secondary teachers are not having their contracts extended, simply because they're more expensive to employ than a recent graduate. This is one of the things which happens when funding is taken away from the secondary education sector - get rid of the experienced professional to hire the less expensive teacher to enable the school to balance an ever tightening budget. Unfortunately it also leaves schools without a strong, diverse pool of experienced teachers to mentor the recent graduates. 

In universities there's already increasing pressure to find cost savings; this happens by cutting academic jobs, reducing face to face teaching time and course options, and increasing class sizes. We know so much about learning difficulties, brain maturity, how to engage disengaged young people so they feel valued. We understand the ramifications of keeping students in school and working on meaningful and worthwhile projects. We know how society benefits when education works well. Yet education is consistently undermined, not only at university, but throughout all levels. 

The outcome will be that young people from disadvantaged or rural backgrounds are less likely to enter, not only teaching, but other professions as well, if they're not adequately supported and when there is uncertainty surrounding courses and funding. It's not a wise way to attract the best and brightest into any profession. We end up with a less diverse group of professionals across a range of sectors and this does affect us all. Some groups become over represented, others under-represented - this has repercussions in local communities as expectations lower in response to continuing uncertainty and erosion of support.

Yesterday I saw a video showing an articulate, intelligent young man reacting strongly to an apparently lacklustre, lazy teacher. 

I wrote the following on G+ in response to the footage:
"what breaks my heart is that scenarios like this are all too common. It's easy to criticise the teacher (and rightly so sometimes) but we don't support them - its possible to graduate from uni with a huge debt and only get offered part time work or a one year contract. That's not the way to attract the best and brightest. You have to be incredibly passionate about a job to remain keen when you're treated like a temporary and expendable product. Experienced, mature teachers can be passed over in favour of recent graduates who are cheap to employ. The result is what happens in this footage, intelligent, disengaged, pissed off kids and adults in front of them posing as teachers.

...  our kids are our most precious asset and too often we treat them like shit. The government condones and encourages scenarios like this by constantly squeezing the education sector as if it's nothing more than a sausage factory that could be more easily and cheaply be outsourced to the lowest bidder." 

Meanwhile mining companies are being subsidised to the tune of around
$2 BILLION. There are loud wails of distress, outrage and well orchestrated and highly publicised panic, when there's any suggestion of cutting off this obscene level of funding to incredibly wealthy companies where the profits often go offshore. Personally I find this scenario obscene. Our taxes are supporting mining companies, some of which are owned by overseas interests, rather than going to support our own children and the sector which we trust to educate them. 

What is our overall vision for Australia? At present it certainly looks like both the Australian Government and Opposition values supporting multinational companies financially, far more than valuing and promoting the education of our young people.

Photo from East Side Gallery - Berlin 2009


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