The federal ALP opposition is gearing up for elections and last week announced its commitment to public education would add up to an extra $14 billion over the next decade plus an extra $3.3 billion between 2020 and 2022. Excellent news for the public education sector which has been steadily demoted to the position of poor cousin of the private and “independent” schools by LNP and ALP policy for many years. Is it enough? The CPA asks why can’t a rich nation like Australia do better for all its children?
Public education in Australia has been on the back foot for so long it is now massively under-resourced and under-capitalised. This has been a deliberate political agenda presented by sectional interests and their political representatives in the LNP and the ALP as people’s “democratic right to choose”. Whose right and whose freedom of choice are the questions that have been off limits.
An effectively two class education system has been sold to the unsuspecting Australian taxpayer as a democratic value, “freedom of choice”. In this context “freedom’ translates into freedom for the wealthy and the Catholic sector to receive disproportionate taxpayer subsidies to enable their freedom to choose. Meanwhile public education funding is being steadily cut.
Last year the Turnbull government cut $1.9 billion from public schools over the next two year period and at the same time it increased funding to the Catholic and wealthy private schools by many billions. Where is the freedom of choice for public school families and their children? Freedom of choice is an ideological sleight of hand that masks the diversion of working people’s tax dollars to subsidise the freedom of the wealthy and politically strong sectional interests.
The quiet but deliberate privatisation of our education system has opened the way for big edu-businesses to move in and to increasingly exercise control of the education agenda. The stripping of the NSW Department of Education of its consultants is an example of this. This was done under the guise of the devolution of school decision making, “Local Schools, Local Decisions”.
“Local Schools, Local Decisions” allowed the NSW Department of Education to stop funding consultant support and professional development to NSW public schools at central and regional levels. It effectively opened the door for these support services to be farmed out to the private sector and re-packaged for sale to schools at premium prices by private consultants and contractors. The value of the public education dollar depreciated and local schools’ budgets now had to stretch even further.
The insidious entry of multinational edu-business companies like Pearsons into Australian education has occurred simultaneously with, “Local Schools, Local Decisions” and the introduction by the Gillard ALP government of the league tables “My School” website. Over several years these businesses have become dominant players in providing testing and assessment materials and resources.
They are making large profits out of NAPLAN and their vested interest in NAPLAN is possibly the main reasons it has not been ditched. NAPLAN has lost all educational credibility yet it continues. Many argue that this contradiction is due to the interest Pearsons has in maintaining its profits from resourcing, marking, designing online tools etc for NAPLAN.
The NSW Teacher’s Federation is campaigning for the public education sector under the “Fair Funding Now!” banner and are appealing for the community to get behind a wide-reaching pressure campaign in the lead-up to the federal elections expected early next year. This campaign is important and is essential to put political pressure on all political parties to maintain and extend funding for the public school sector.
At the same time the lasting political solution lies in demanding and winning support for one public education system, fully resourced and funded to meet the needs all children equally. Accepting the steady privatisation of education at the expense of the public dollar and the public school child is unacceptable.
The Communist Party of Australia stands for a single, nationwide needs-based public education system, fully resourced and funded. We say – take the money from the overfunded military budget. Over two percent of GDP is allocated to the military budget, without parliamentary or public debate. If we can afford two percent of GDP for military spending we can afford public education.