Ok, consider this argument for a moment:
We’ve spent more money on jailing offenders in the past few years. We’ve increased police numbers at a significant cost. We’ve installed CCT cameras in various hotspots. And yet, the crime rate hasn’t gone significantly down. Clearly we’ve wasted our money and can stop this tough on crime nonsense and reduce police numbers because spending money clearly doesn’t solve the problem.
Well, if you said no, you’d understand my frustration when people use exactly the same logic to argue that increased spending on schools hasn’t led to significant improvement. There are many reasons why I find this ridiculous.
The first is that the data isn’t showing that we’re “going backwards” as people like to suggest. This is partly caused by the nostalgia aspect of people’s memory of their own schooling. I’m constantly told by people that people could do diffential calculus by the end of Grade Four and that everyone could spell correctly when they went to school because they were taught phonics – or should that be “tort fonnix” – even though frequently the person telling me has trouble with spelling any words with more than one syllable, . But when you take a close look at the results from international tests, you don’t see the sort of slide that people like to suggest. Occasionally, there’ll be a slip in our ranking which may be caused by other countries actually improving rather than standards here slipping. Sometimes there may have been a slight fall in the actual performance from one year to the next, but it’s never been massive and, by itself, it’s too little to make sweeping conclusions. When recently politicians were bemoaning the fact that – on an annual test – we hadn’t made any improvement since 2015, I couldn’t help but wonder how the politician speaking would react if we pointed out that the Liberals haven’t actually made any improvements in reducing the deficit since last year’s Budget. I suspect we’d be told that it’s a long term thing and that it’ll take time.
The second is that looking at the overall picture may not show areas where increased funding is making a difference. For example, you can increase the overall education budget by millions and make very little . Rudd’s school halls wasn’t the disaster that it was painted, but it was highly unlikely to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes for students. It fulfilled a need that many schools had which was more to do with community than education. Similarly, there could be millions going into heated stalls for the polo ponies at the wealthy private school, but it’s the $10,000 that some poor school gets which enables it to start some program that has successful outcomes that may show up in its individual performance but be swamped in the global data.
And, finally, I have a particular frustration when people start talking about how technology hasn’t improved outcomes. As I’ve previously written, kids need to be using technology, not because it will necessarily improve test performances, but because technology is ubiquitous and they’ll be using it everywhere else for the rest of their lives. Yes, of course, it’s good for them to turn it off once in a while and schools should ensure that a range of activities are tech-free. But to argue that we don’t need to teach students about how to use the Internet for research, why Wikipedia is not the only source (unless you’re the Greatest Minister in the World) and allow them to take advantage of all of the advantages of the twenty-first century seems short-sighted. Yes, kids can distracted by technology but, if the work isn’t engaging or the teacher isn’t on the ball, then kids can distracted looking out the window. One of the greatest problems with technology in schools is that there hasn’t been enough support for teachers to learn how to use it effectively. It’s frequently rolled out by some enthusiast who can’t understand those luddites who don’t know how to create their own webpage, while the average teacher fumbles around with a few hours professional development here and there.
It was interesting to hear Simon Birmingham suggest that maybe, just maybe, there are some well-resourced private schools out there which may not need as much funding into the future. Usually the Liberals have maintained a policy which tells us that money doesn’t matter when it comes to education, but private schools need every cent that they’re given and even then, they should be getting more because what would happen if they all closed and the government suddenly had to pay to educate every child! To which, I’d reply what would happen if everyone stopped driving, how would the public transport system cope?
But applying things consistently has never been something that a politician is expected to do. I mean, we frequently have members of the Coalition telling us that a number of people voted for One Nation so therefore we should listen to what they have to say. I can’t remember the same logic ever being applied to The Greens. Actually, when I think about it, they don’t even apply the same logic to the Labor Party who received even more votes than the Liberal Party. (Look at first preference votes and, no, you can’t include the National Party, because as we were told many times by Tony Abbott circa 2010, a coalition is not a properly elected government!)
And Tony Abbott was a great success. He got to be PM and that surely is the aim of every politician. What did he achieve? Well, he’ll tell you he stopped the boats, so that puts him one up on Malcolm Turnbull. Even if you don’t believe that the boats are actually stopped, at least he’s got something that some people will believe. Malcolm, on the other hand, has a firm policy to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality but can’t manage to achieve it, so that’s the end of it as far as he’s concerned, because they took it to the election and were given a mandate for it so they can’t possibly just have a conscience vote. We need to ask the Australian people and then have a conscience vote, just like we did when John Howard changed the marriage act… Oh wait, we didn’t!
Yes, Malcolm has a mandate for everything that the Right want to do, but not a mandate for the superannuation changes or the backpacker tax. To paraphrase a well-known tourist slogan: “Malcolm, beautiful one day, jelly the next!”
Or would Scott Morrison’s “Where the bloody hell are you?” be more appropriate.