Education in Australia, emulating principles established in Mother England has always been class-based, and at times deliberately advanced as a method of social control; to keep the lower classes in their place while providing confirmation of the status of those perceived to be “of better breeding”. The expectation was that young people of culture were to concentrate on refinements to prepare them for their privileged role in society, while the lower classes received preparation for a future in their assumed roles; to provide service and labour.
This was seen to be the proper order of things, and so it remained until the latter decades of the 20th Century. Children were streamed according to expectations, girls from poorer families sent to domestic and commercial courses, boys to practical skills and both sexes of middle and lower classes off to work age 16. All opportunities to do anything different resided with those from a more privileged background.
I am the daughter of a factory worker, Dad worked for Hardie Trading in Footscray as a belt maker. He started his working life with Hardie’s when he was 14 years old, and returned to his old job after serving during the war. My mum earned extra money doing “doctor’s books”. I spent most school holidays and most weekends helping my mother by adding up row after row of numbers and entering the amount at the bottom of the small yellow cards, these were the accounts for the doctors’ patients.
Year 10, I was allowed to go into the Professional/Commercial stream, the expectation being that although I was from a working-class background, that I might have the potential to rise to the position of a clerk/typist.
It was not just an expectation, but an obligation that children who were not from the upper classes should leave school, however, I was allowed to stay another two years.
It was never considered that I should ever attend university, so in spite of passing my Matriculation with honours and receiving entrance into the Melbourne University, I did not go. Achieving Year 12 was the extent that my parents could afford.
This is how it was, there were few expectations that anyone from the working classes, would ever do anything differently. Wars change things. The Vietnam War produced the Youth Culture, Gough Whitlam lowered the voting age to 18yrs. Young people of this time saw that they could achieve just as well as any other; that class, gender and supposed expectations were barriers, but not impossible ones.
I base this push for change on the event of the Vietnam War, but I believe that the ideal of equality and fairness has been a part of the Australian spirit for a long time. We like to see ourselves as a country that promotes tolerance, acceptance and equal opportunity, and also that to get ahead in this country, it means an education.
Given this background, our Minister for Education is now Christopher Pyne and he needs to be quoted (The Australian, paywalled):
“The federal government isn’t responsible for school outcomes, as he [Pyne] attacked Labor’s vow to lift the nation’s schools to a world top five standard.”, so said the then Opposition Education spokesman Christopher Pyne in September last year.
As Christopher Pyne has already decided that he has no responsibility regarding the issue of school outcomes, then it seems that the obvious solution is to cancel the portfolio of Education. Think of all the money that Tony Abbott will save.
Below is worthy of a topic unto itself, the complete and utter neglect of our Aboriginal history. When people challenge me on this opinion, I ask name 5 Native American tribes, now name 3 Australian peoples. Our knowledge of our own people is abysmal, there is no other descriptor – yet with a white supremacy overtone, that the little we do know is “too much”.
History study is also under attack with Christopher Pyne, federal Opposition Education Spokesperson wanting to reopen the history wars. In 2010 Pyne attacked Julia Gillard in her then role as Education Minister, alleging curriculum reform was being skewed to “a black armband view of Australian history”, in reference to the curriculum’s “over emphasis on indigenous culture”.
Once again worthy of a topic unto itself, are we a society based on Western civilisation. I somehow think that the Magna Carta, being a document which failed to achieve peace and ended up rebellion sometime around 1215AD (Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord), although worthy of mentioning is only that; worthy of a mention – from another culture and in another time.
The first draft of the history curriculum had not even included the Magna Carta. “We are a society based on Western civilisation …”
Also, and an attitude which might be considered to be ignoring the rest of the globe;
Pyne claimed that school curriculums gives inadequate attention to Christianity, adding subjects taught on Asia and sustainability to his list.
Pyne also confirms that he prefers a very narrow view of Australia’s culture, one based on one-religion, one belief and in my opinion not valid since we became a nation accepting of others. It is also completely unacceptable that our Minister for Education considers that in a secular country that (any) religion should have any prominence whatsoever, other than in a historical context.
I would now like to quote from the Bradley Report:
A key point of the Bradley Review was to highlight the long-standing under-representation of working-class people at Australia’s universities. Working class people represent 25% of Australia’s general population; however, they represent only 15% of students in higher education.
Indeed, working-class Australians are three times less likely to attend university than other Australians.
In response to these inequities, the Australian Government set up the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program in 2010 and doubled the percentage of equity funding from 2% in 2010 to 4% in 2012.
These initiatives have three aims: (a) to increase the aspirations of working-class Australians to go to university; (b) to increase the percentage of working-class people at Australian universities from 15% to 20% by the year 2020; and (c) to support the academic success and retention of working-class students while they are at university.
This is worth highlighting – that as of last year, people from working-class backgrounds are three times less likely to attend university than those from upper-class backgrounds.
From Christopher Pyne, August 26th, 2012:
The Coalition has no plans to increase university fees or cap places, said the Shadow Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne today.
However now in power:
New Education Minister Christopher Pyne has also opened the door to reintroducing caps on university places, warning any loss of quality would ”poison” the sector’s international reputation.
The former Labor government abolished caps on the number of Commonwealth-supported university places, helping an extra 190,000 students to access higher education. This move to a ”demand-driven system” sparked concerns from some quarters about quality suffering.
Let us think about this: Christopher Pyne’s announcement was that the Abbott government may once again cap university places, a reversal of creating tertiary places, which is essential to tackling unequal access to higher education.
Tony Abbott went to the election tackling the heartland, the core working class areas promoting the definitive that all inequities would be addressed – that boats would be turned around, that money would be saved; but there it ended. Did we sons and daughters of blue-collar workers vote for more chance or less chance?
With apologies to the author, who says it far better than myself but to whom I have no link:
Pyne’s announcement then marks the first real breach of the “Abbott compact”; the explicit and implicit deal he made with the Australian people to get elected. The deal was that they would chuck out Labor, if Abbott promised to leave their core social programs — and the progressive impetus behind them — in place.
Addendum: It seems that according to The Australian, our children don’t need to go to university at all which of course is mere self-justification by this newspaper on behalf of the Coalition.
The previous Labor government’s decision to uncap publicly funded places has undermined that principle and should be reversed. It gave a blank cheque to bloated university administrations whose prestige and remuneration depends far more on the size rather than quality of the student body.
Australia would, in fact, be more productive and prosperous if fewer people went to university.
Did we sons and daughters of blue-collar workers vote for more chance or less chance?
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