Page 779 - Week 03 - Tuesday, 1 April 2008

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What will education be like 40 years from now? I can’t tell you. Nobody can. But I can tell you that it must be totally different because if it is the same as it is today, we’re dead. Current approaches will be irrelevant, marginalised, the world will be different. You may want it to be the same, but it can’t be the same.

That means that we are not able to envisage what our schools should be like, but we need to know that we have a system that is responsive and a system that has the research capacity to be on top of the latest, so that we can take up the challenge of a globalised world and a world where information that is outside the school can be more powerful than that which is available within it. These are, indeed, very large challenges.

The introduction to the Victorian Auditor-General’s recent report into improving Victorian schools states:

How well young people perform at school has a major impact on their self-esteem and future life changes. Education is also a major contributor to future economic prosperity and to social cohesion.

Indeed, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said:

I make no apology for saying that education is the best economic policy.

It is a bit of a concern when we have to justify the economic worth of education to get the resources there, but, indeed, we have to also acknowledge its role in building our future economic prosperity.

In this context, the achievement gap across all ACT schools, which is, I am afraid—and it is better to acknowledge these things than to deny them—almost the worst in Australia, and not getting any better, is enormously important. Students from the lower socioeconomic levels are not doing better than their peers in the rest of Australia, whatever this education minister might claim, and we have not got enough in place to help them catch up.

Why is the ACT government not developing a strategy to address that gap in consultation with the different school systems, with parents and community, with academic research institutions and with the federal government? Then, when it comes time to look specifically at the public education system, we need the disaggregated data to tell us who is leaving the ACT government schools and who is staying. We need qualitative research to tell us why they are going and what they imagine they get when they go. We do not have that information, and it was not available in the report that provided all this challenging information, because it did not disaggregate information from the two different systems.

It seems that the ACT government, while keen to talk up its investment in bricks and mortar, is not collecting information that would help it target resources where they are needed. You cannot manage a school system if you do not identify the changes that are going on, the emerging needs and the innovative ways to meet them and the mix of people out of whom it is made.

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