Hart - Australian Perspectives
Karyn Hart, Australia
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ms Karyn Hart is the President of the Australian Secondary Principals Association (ASPA).
This is a recent address she made to principals in Western Australia.
During the two years of my ASPA presidency I have had the pleasure of visiting a large number of countries, as well as visit each Australian State and Territory and experience first-hand the problems and difficulties we face here and overseas. It has, quite honestly, been a humbling experience.
We do, in fact, have a number of similarities with overseas countries and, of course, a number of differences. To present all of this information to you would be a complex presentation, so instead I have chosen to compare Australia with any Third World country and explain to you the similarities and differences.
Each morning I read the newspaper in order to know what educational development has taken place in Australia. This, of course, fortifies me for the day ahead and enables me to know what policies and plans the national scene has in mind for education. I’m sure that you experience something similar on a State basis.
The maintenance and upgrade of buildings is of major concern in all countries. While government schools struggle with the problems of painting, upgrading and maintaining their buildings, those in non-government schools up the road advertise their new buildings and name them after the people who have donated generously to the school.
Overseas, in less fortunate countries, earthquakes, floods and war diminish whatever resources they may have had to begin with. Their buildings are usually mud huts, at best, and in many cases, non-existent.
While in Australia we grapple with policy, protocols, email, Internet and its problems, as well as Y2K, those overseas look desperately for funding for electricity and become excited when they are able to announce at an international meeting of principals that they now have a telephone on their desk.
However, when it comes to personnel, we all face the same problems. There are huge shortages throughout the world in teaching. In Australia alone, we have shortages in five of the key learning areas and this will not disappear. State and Territory numbers sent to the Commonwealth are misleading as they simplistically represent the total number of teachers on their data base, versus the number of children in education.
What they don’t tell us is the database in out-of-date, and therefore inaccurate. Evidence of shortages is currently being collated by ASPA, and will provide factual evidence for the Federal Minister. While I acknowledge the Federal Government’s initiatives in beginning a Quality Teaching professional development program, it should be noted that not all States and Territories also include this as part of their priorities.
For how many years have we sought professional development for those staff teaching Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses? For how long do we have to continue to request this at the expense of those in non-government schools which, by their numbers, are given more money for VET than government schools and are therefore are able to access places in industry for the few in their schools who choose to take it?
Overseas, their difficulties are less complicated, and sometimes more urgent. Staff in some countries have not been paid for three months - yet they continue to turn up to work and assist young people with their future. In all schools, playground duty does not exist as staff, including principals, spend their break time at markets selling goods to supplement their meager income. What is interesting is that not one teacher has given up their job.
The ‘Adelaide Declaration of Schooling’, now known by many as the Chardonnay Declaration, deals with many curriculums issues. While the Australian Federal Government deals with literacy, numeracy, benchmarking and accountability, State and Territory Governments try to work through a plethora of information pertaining to the diminishing numbers of students in the government sector.
Perhaps, if the Federal Government would like to look carefully at their spending allocation, it may assist. In vocational education, for example, all funding is based upon student population irrespective of who is actually doing VET. Therefore government schools who do have numbers of students undertaking VET courses will be disadvantaged. This is obvious when the example I can give comes from this State. However one cannot ignore the amounts that States and Territories give to the same program – if they give at all. To deny an equitable access for young people because of politics is one thing Australia is very good at doing.
In turn, overseas countries again deal with how much paper, pens and books they are able to find for their students and how they can attract other countries to assist them.
Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention the drug problem. As the Chair of the National Committee, and also a representative on the Australian National Council on Drugs, I have learned a great deal – not only about our problem – but also about the different ways we can assist each other. What I can say about this problem is that there is no simple solution.
In every country throughout the world we are dealing with a major crisis. There is no such thing as ‘drug proofing’ because if there was we would all have done this years ago and would now be able to rest easy. To say it will never happen to us is only a wish at best. The major problem is that developing countries use drugs as a way and means of existing. To stop this occurring means that governments from around the world need to agree.
Parenting is an issue where there are obviously differences. In our country middle to lower middle income earners are becoming more frustrated with the economy. Parenting becomes more difficult as we create even more classes of society in which to operate. In less developed countries, the eagerness and anticipation towards education is matched only by the determination of parents that their young child is able to access this. If this means walking a distance of fifteen kilometres to a school, they will do so.
In Australia the reasons for decisions are based solely on whether or not votes will make a difference. In other countries corrupt governments use force to enact policy.
To finish I would like to borrow some information I heard from the Reverend Tim Costello, when he compared the generations in our country.
Our grandparents did not believe in purchasing anything except for cash. They valued education and worked extremely hard to ensure that their children had a future.
As parents we use mortgages, hire purchase and visa cards as the norm. We ensure that we create more classes of society through this process and we work towards the future to enable this to happen.
Our children know that unemployment is most possible throughout their lifetime. They also know that poverty is growing and believe they may become a part of it.
They live for today and nothing more.
What is encouraging is what I see in schools and what I believe is the most important aspect of government schools. We add such value to young people that we need to celebrate this on a more regular basis. We are not good at acknowledging how well we really do. This should be our goal for the future.