Page 3382 - Week 11 - Tuesday, 20 September 2005

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advertising campaigns and who are going to have to fix up a lot of problems that we leave for them, need to be able to engage in critical thinking. Mrs Dunne used some very interesting and impressive language. I always like to see rich and colourful language used in this house. She said that we are talking about a cultural catastrophe and that that cultural catastrophe is being caused by our education curriculum.

Our culture is so much larger than what goes on in our schools. Our schools perform a really important role for young people. For many of them it is the safest and most stable part of their day. So if it works for them, then I think we are doing all right. Cultural change is not necessarily catastrophic. Blaming education for a cultural catastrophe, if there is such a thing, is driven by many things, not the least of which is the desire to profit out of our young people’s spending power.

The ACT community can be rightfully proud of its education system and the achievements of our schools. We should be very careful not to talk down our education system. We do have to recognise that much of our very good infrastructure—and sadly it is getting less good every day—is an inheritance from the schools authority days. We used to be able to say strongly, “We have the most innovative education system in the country.” We had a federal government that was willing to invest in that. Now what we are seeing, with self-government, is competing demands for resources and, of course, a federal government that has funding priorities that have not been good for our public schools.

The education system in the ACT is bigger than our public system, but I believe that Mrs Dunne was talking primarily about the public system. In this instance I am going to focus on the public system as well. Mr Stanhope reiterated some of the successes of ACT students compared with students in the rest of Australia. I will not repeat those, but I acknowledge them.

Mrs Dunne has children in the public system. I have a daughter in the public system. I moved to Canberra in the eighties so that my teenagers at that time could attend schools here. While there were individual problems in some classes, and that always happen for everyone, I am grateful that I had that partnership with the schools to help me bring up my children. When I came here I was basically someone who had been off in the bush for years. I would not have known a fax machine if I had fallen over one. Luckily there were people who did. I think that individually we can do nothing but praise the system. It is easy to talk about something in the abstract and say it is not working.

We should look at the traditional curriculum. At the outset, I must say that it is a postmodernist thing to look at a word like “traditional” and say who defines what traditional is, who defines the way people learn reading, writing and arithmetic. We all want our children to come out of the system knowing how to do those things. But when the system consisted of rote learning of times tables and spelling bees, children were not very good at arithmetic and they were not very good at spelling.

Indigenous children have always failed where the traditional curriculum is concerned. In fact, we know that they need a high level of intervention and a very special kind of learning in the classroom. I read of one teacher who found that the only way she could engage indigenous children, for whom school just seemed totally irrelevant, was to sit down with them, let them tell their stories and work with them in writing them down.

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