Page 3357 - Week 09 - Wednesday, 20 August 2008

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It is almost paradoxical. Unfortunately, that need did not give them political strength, but it probably gave them a lot of strength in terms of social and educational equity. But we will not know, because those parents remained silent. Those parents may have been disengaged with the educational process all along and did not speak up. I have no doubt that that is what, in the end, made the difference between those schools that closed and those that did not.

As to the decision to turn some of those schools into early childhood schools, I regret that a school like Narrabundah primary school is going to lose the social capital that it has in its community. Mr Barr would have read the article in the paper the other day about children who are attending programs there that are not replicated in nearby schools and that the nearby schools are not likely to replicate. I have mentioned the culture shock, the cultural differences, between Narrabundah primary school and the schools that its students are going to have to attend. I have mentioned families that cannot or do not drive and who currently walk to school in Narrabundah. Will their children go to school if they have to go to Red Hill, Forrest or Telopea Park?

These things are important, but you might not find those parents jumping up and down and making an electoral fuss. They rely on us to do that for them, and that is what my job is here. It really disturbs me that my concerns have been answered slickly: “There will be bus routes.” There are children who are just marginally going to school now while it is handy and they can walk. They are not the ones who are going to make it to that bus stop on time and whose parents are going to get out of bed and give them breakfast. They are the kids who matter to us, because they do not have their own advocates. I could talk at a great deal more length about that, but I will not.

We all welcomed an hour of language teaching a week for all students, but it is only a tiny start. It is a bit like exposure to another culture, or the geography of another country. Children might be able to count to 10 at the end of it, and I have spoken at length about that. In our global world, the ability to speak another language has become crucial, otherwise we will stay in our language silos or we will expect the imperialism of the English language to see us through.

I have talked about class numbers. I think that we need a much more creative approach to that. I do not think it is enough to just go in there and say, “Okay, all primary school class sizes will be such and such.” We have been told class sizes have to be fewer than 20 children to really make a difference, and I think that there are groups of children that would benefit hugely from being in small groups and teachers who would benefit from that as well.

I would argue that we do need to have more teachers, but we should allow schools to use those teachers flexibly. Team teaching would make life an awful lot easier for a lot of teachers who have very difficult classes. If you are spending all your time dealing with the one child who makes a lot of noise and who is disruptive, then I am afraid that an awful lot of other children are missing out. There are many classes where that happens. If you have two adults in the classroom—they do not both need to be teachers—you have ways of dealing with that, not to mention the sheer support which teachers often lack. It is also a way that we could utilise specialists in science, specialists in the arts and specialists in other areas.

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