The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

Imposing a national curriculum will stifle innovation

It strikes me as odd, that in free-market philosophy, competition is paramount, for it encourages innovation, efficiency and excellence. Yet somehow this doesn’t apply to educational curricula. The Howard government’s desire to impose a national curriculum and perhaps nationalised Year 12 examinations bears more resemblance to Soviet social engineering than a progressive free enterprise economy.

From The Age today:

BUSINESS groups have backed a Federal Government push for a core national education curriculum, saying it is impossible for employers to hire on the basis of current school reports.

Macquarie University vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz…said different state curriculums and assessments made it harder for universities to know what students had learned before they began higher education.

(Schwartz is a keen advocate of more closely aligning universities with the needs of corporations and industry.)

In a free-market economy, education is presumed to have utility only insofar as it produces sufficient work-force fodder to fuel relentless economic growth. Forget the ‘how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty’ of Shakespeare, or Kant for that matter. The logical consequence of regarding education as an economic input is the reshaping of the education system for just that purpose. If the whole 13 years of education can evaluated with numerically standardised scoring, ranking and reporting, so much the better. Business personnel departments can draw a line under the list of prospective employees using a spreadsheet. But there is no guarantee that it produces the best employees, given that character, personality, aptitude, outlook, perseverance and determination, for example, are in no way reflected in a standardised score. Rather than fostering originality and innovation, we have are creating stifling uniformity.

I’m not sure why we currently have an obsession with a national curriculum, other than providing a distracting sideshow to the Howard government’s appalling neglect of public education over the last decade in the slow process of privatising education by stealth.

Every State already has standardised curricula and there are also national curriculum statements. To suggest that there are sufficient differences to warrant yet another mega-federal bureaucracy to implement a single national core curriculum is disingenuous. It is important that State authorities retain the flexibility to adapt and develop curriculum policy according to their needs.

Back in the 80s, governments of all political persuasions embraced the notion of retaining as many students as possible to complete Year 12 They were less motivated by the desire to produce a more highly skilled workforce than to deflect the growing problem of youth unemployment. Until then, Year 11 and 12 education was merely a preliminary requirement for attending University – matriculation as it was known. Everyone else went and got a job.

Retaining all students until Year 12, regardless of academic ability, desire or suitability to formal schooling, required that curriculum was broadened beyond traditional academic subjects, with the consequence that end of year exams were no longer adequate as a means of assessment. Outcomes became the method of determining what students had achieved. The Universities fought against this trend and eventually prevailed. The Year 12 ENTER score (Equivalent National Tertiary Entrance Rank) now provides a nation-wide ranking of student assessment performance.

Almost all University places are offered purely on the basis of an ENTER score – a standardised ranking system. Universities like it, because they can offer places to anonymous individuals just by using a database calculation. They needn’t bother about interviews or evaluating a person’s character, aptitude, and ability to succeed at University. Thus Year 11 and 12 education in Australia has been severely distorted to make it easy for Universities to select their students. What might constitute the best education for the individual students is of little consequence, even if it impacts the economic and civic health of the nation.

Now we have employer groups demanding the same thing – reshape the education system to make it as easy as possible to select employees, without any regard to the educational needs of the individuals and communities concerned.

Employment is an important consequence of education of course, but it is by no means the only one. Yet the education agenda is being determined by the needs of business, by politicians wanting to reduce taxation, by people trained in business management – at the expense of focussing on best educational practice by people who are professionally trained to so do.

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Filed under: Economics, Education, Politics

6 Responses

  1. The Editor says:

    Damn straight, Slim. Nothing’s sacred when governments go looking for a dog whistle.

  2. As I’m sure you’re aware, I agree wholeheartedly.

    On the issue of ENTER scores, Universities like the short cut, but they suffer from it. The ENTER is an amazingly poor indicator of how a student will fare in the university system, at various degrees, or with the different learning environment.

  3. Our Dear Leader is not interested in people having a traditionally-considered-decant education. I’ve made some notes about how a traditional Eton|Oxbridge education (including Herodotos and Gibbon) would scuttle Howard’s education agenda and prescriptiveness at The History Wars.

  4. Iain says:

    Whilst I agree with your suggestion that retaining more students at school into grades eleven and twelve has not been such a productive idea, which has done nothing but pervert the purpose of high school teaching. I wonder just what you think the purpose of education is when you say this:-
    Yet the education agenda is being determined by the needs of business, by politicians wanting to reduce taxation, by people trained in business management – at the expense of focussing on best educational practice by people who are professionally trained to so do.

    For it seems to me a humble parent that the purpose of education IS to make the upcoming generations capable of becoming productive members of society and that means that they must be capable of sustaining employment. So it makes sense to me that those who are to provide employment should have some input into what skills students need to have.
    Finally I want to say that in the same way that we do not expect that a mechanic may be the best person to design a car There is no reason to believe that teachers are necessarily the best people to decide just what it is that students are to be taught in our schools.

  5. slim says:

    I wonder just what you think the purpose of education is when you say this:-
    Yet the education agenda is being determined by the needs of business, by politicians wanting to reduce taxation, by people trained in business management – at the expense of focussing on best educational practice by people who are professionally trained to so do.

    Education cannot be defined simply in terms of training for employment. While this is an important aspect of education, (and indeed, current curricula are informed by consultative processes involving business and industry) education should also prepare a person to participate in civil life, as a functional individual, family and community member with an informed appreciation of culture and history and well-developed abilities for analytical and critical thinking. Indeed, education should prepare a person for life, not just an occupation, which as we know will change or even disappear.

    I was recently watching a BBC Regency costume drama and was struck that for the aristocracy, one completed a degree, and then considered what occupation or profession to take up. Education was clearly about producing a well-rounded individual, not an occupation.

    Those who provide employment already have an adequate say in education – I do not accept that their’s is the only valid consideration. Indeed, the entire tertiary sector is now biased toward training, rather than education, even at the expense of research and development which equally underpin our capacity for economic prosperity.

    Your analogy of teachers as mechanics servicing cars is symptomatic of how our society is actually devaluing and commodifying education. Each car is precisely engineered according to its design, and the role of the mechanic is to stick to the design. A more valid analogy would be with health care and medicine, which require particular skills and experience to determine what is likely to be effective in each case – understandings which are subject to ongoing refinement and research.

    Teachers may well not be the best people to decide what is taught in schools, but they are certainly the best situated to decide how it is best to teach and learn. Equally, business organisations and politicians with narrow and ideological agendas are not the best people to decide just what it is that students are to be taught. That is why curriculum development is a consultative process incorporating representation from all sectors of society, including parents of course.

    There has been a concerted campaign undermining the teaching profession, mostly by people antagonistic to public education and seeking to shift blame for shortcomings arising from inadequate government support, provision and planning onto overwrought teachers.

    It is time that teachers were given due respect for their knowledge, experience, intentions and professionalism, much like we accord other professions such as nursing, medicine and the law.

  6. Iain says:

    Education cannot be defined simply in terms of training for employment. While this is an important aspect of education, (and indeed, current curricula are informed by consultative processes involving business and industry) education should also prepare a person to participate in civil life, as a functional individual, family and community member with an informed appreciation of culture and history and well-developed abilities for analytical and critical thinking. Indeed, education should prepare a person for life, not just an occupation, which as we know will change or even disappear.

    This is not some thing that I disagree with Slim but the question becomes one of the weighting that one gives to each aspect doesn’t it?
    I was recently watching a BBC Regency costume drama and was struck that for the aristocracy, one completed a degree, and then considered what occupation or profession to take up. Education was clearly about producing a well-rounded individual, not an occupation.
    Sure but that was after they had mastered the basics like literacy and numeracy

    Those who provide employment already have an adequate say in education – I do not accept that their’s is the only valid consideration. Indeed, the entire tertiary sector is now biased toward training, rather than education, even at the expense of research and development which equally underpin our capacity for economic prosperity.
    I tend to think that you are wrong here when so many school leavers are clearly unsuited in their skills and attitudes to actually working for a living. When I applied for my first job I had to add up three columns of numbers and get the right answer (without a calculator) how many school leavers could do the same these days? The workplace needs school leavers who have a command of the basics. In my opinion the reason that tertiary study is now biased towards training is to accommodate the students who should really not be there in the first place.

    Your analogy of teachers as mechanics servicing cars is symptomatic of how our society is actually devaluing and commodifying education. Each car is precisely engineered according to its design, and the role of the mechanic is to stick to the design. A more valid analogy would be with health care and medicine, which require particular skills and experience to determine what is likely to be effective in each case – understandings which are subject to ongoing refinement and research.

    Slim have you actually looked under the bonnet of a modern car lately? I chose the Mechanic as my metaphor in this instance not because I think that they are mindless grease monkeys but because a modern mechanic has to be a fine technician to maintain and repair the machines that we all rely upon.My intention was to suggest that teachers are like wise fine technictons.

    Teachers may well not be the best people to decide what is taught in schools, but they are certainly the best situated to decide how it is best to teach and learn. Equally, business organisations and politicians with narrow and ideological agendas are not the best people to decide just what it is that students are to be taught. That is why curriculum development is a consultative process incorporating representation from all sectors of society, including parents of course.

    Hang on here Slim in your first breath you say that teachers may not be the best people to decide what is taught then you say that they are better than business and politicians. That is a bob each way in my book 🙂 Ultimately the people who must decide what is an adequate education is, in the first instance, the parents who delegate the education of their children to the teaching profession and as they reach maturity the students themselves. Politicians are elected by these parents and I think that as our representatives they are right to represent what we, the parents of the upcoming generation want for our offspring.

    There has been a concerted campaign undermining the teaching profession, mostly by people antagonistic to public education and seeking to shift blame for shortcomings arising from inadequate government support, provision and planning onto overwrought teachers.
    Actually I think that there has been a great deal of concern in the community about things like “outcomes based education” and attempts at social engineering from ideologues in the teaching profession. I send my daughter to a public school and I am married to a teacher so don’t think that I am antagonistic to public education, but I do think that the direction of education is not beyond criticism.

    It is time that teachers were given due respect for their knowledge, experience, intentions and professionalism, much like we accord other professions such as nursing, medicine and the law.

    Respect can not be demanded or given unless it is earned, sadly for the teaching profession, many take the same attitude as the one that you exhibit here wishing to be seen in the same light as the medical and legal professions; when they should be perhaps a little more modest and accept that teaching is an honorable profession more akin to that of a skilled technician.

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The Dog’s Bollocks

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The Dog's Bollocks: "Bollocks" is one of my favourite words, and this is now one of my favourite blogs and I've only been reading it for five minutes. – John Surname

This is the person who tried to analyse Hayek. This is actually a person who needs a shrink. – JC

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