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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (21 April) . . Page.. 1088 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

The amount of money raised through fundraising by schools and parents has also increased markedly, so that public schools have come to rely on fundraising to provide essentials for schools. We have had this debate several times in this Assembly, particularly around voluntary contributions and sponsorship. I have always expressed concerns about this, because it is clearly not going to improve equity of access to education when public schools vary according to location because of their fundraising ability. Students in the ACT will have different choices according to their ability to pay. The latest newsletter from the P&C people made that statement very clearly. Expensive electives that are made available to students are not being picked up by children who come from families which do not have a high income, so we are already seeing growing inequity within our public education system.

I would like to raise in this discussion about future options for education the committee work that was done in the last Assembly by the Social Policy Committee. In its inquiries that committee looked at a number of issues related to education. We looked at how schools work as community organisations and facilities. We are having a discussion on drugs tomorrow and these issues will come up again then. In the last Assembly we looked at violence in schools, the closure of the School Without Walls, services for people who have a mental illness and services for children at risk. All these issues are very important in this broad discussion about what schooling does in our society. I obviously do not have time this afternoon to go through what was highlighted. I think members are pretty aware of those sorts of issues anyway, because we have had many debates in this place about them.

If we do not look at how schools sit in the community and how we can integrate other services with education, we are losing an opportunity. It is not just about ensuring that we have a high-quality, free public education system. It is also about what that education system looks like and whether or not we can improve the plight of teachers, who more and more are being given the task of social workers, which is unfair. It is not effective or efficient either. If we are interested in outcomes, we need to look at these broader issues as well as at whether or not we close schools. It is quite appalling that that is all Mr Hird focused on.

MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education) (4.01): I thank members for their comments. Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, as you indicated, we certainly can be very proud of our education system. We have put in train a number of things which place us in a very good position for options for education into the next century. Of course, we hear about the Y2K bug. That deals with information technology. I think we lead the country in such areas as information technology. We have provided modern computers for every teacher in the government school system and will make up to 20,000 computers available to our students by 2001. All schools in the government sector and I think all but five or six in the non-government sector have been connected to the Internet. There might be one government school which is not connected, and that is by choice.

We have introduced literacy and numeracy testing for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. We have gone even further by considerably boosting support mechanisms to our schools by introducing literacy support teams and literacy plans in all our schools.

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