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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 8 Hansard (14 August) . . Page.. 2869 ..

Education Directorate—Part 1.3

MS LEE (Kurrajong) (3.52): The education portfolio is not only significant in terms of the size of the financial outlay but of critical importance in what it sets out to do and the responsibility it undertakes in preparing young Canberrans for life. In monetary terms we spend upwards of $2 billion a year on education in the ACT, second only to the health portfolio. On that basis, if for no other reason, it is incumbent on all members of the Legislative Assembly to critically assess the value of that investment to ensure that it is money well spent.

The budget papers tell us that the purpose of the education directorate is to deliver "high quality early childhood education and public school education in an accessible and inclusive environment". The estimates committee report informs us that the education directorate gives access to quality teaching and specialised learning programs and wellbeing supports, and that it regulates and registers home education and early childhood and non-government schools. That is a broadbrush outline of the functions of the education directorate, and during the hearings all of those issues were touched upon. However, if the intent of the estimates process is to get behind the budget line items and delve deeper into the rationale for decision-making and policy announcements, and to get an understanding of where the directorate or the minister might be heading in future years, it certainly failed to do that.

I fear the estimates process is becoming more what we are not told than what we are told about. For example, the minister and her officers were at pains to talk about "investment underpinning strategic direction" and "leadership strategy". But did we get the detail behind these phrases? We heard about the "conversations"—and I have to put that in quotation marks—around the future of education and the phases of engagement, whatever any of that really means. And we heard about what is rapidly becoming the most overused phrase in the ACT education lexicon: "equity in education".

What does equity in education mean? To the ACT minister for education, it apparently means every high school student having a laptop. But what does the evidence tell us? Equity in education is often viewed as equivalence or sameness. A more useful way to view equity is through the lens of fairness. The Cambridge Dictionary defines equity as "the situation in which everyone is treated fairly and equally". The implication is that equity depends on equality of treatment. But an interesting 2017 article by Yale researchers Stamans, Sheskin and Bloom points to evidence that in general people value fairness over equivalence. There are situations in which people view equal treatment as fair, but other situations in which they view unequal treatment as fair. This suggests that when it comes to equity, fairness trumps equality.

In school education, an equitable system could be defined as one in which all students are treated equally; for example, a system in which all students are given the same opportunities, exposed to the same school curriculum, taught by teachers with equivalent expertise, held to the same learning expectations and provided with equivalent levels of resourcing and support. I assume that is the interpretation the minister has chosen to take.

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