Education: All Things Being Equal

Education: All things being equal ...

“I believe that children are our future Teach them well and let them lead the way Show them all the beauty they possess inside Give them a sense of pride …”

The lyrics of the song from Whitney Houston are a good reminder of the truth, and our human reality.

Australia is a wealth country, a country dubbed “the clever country” and “the innovation nation” by previous leaders. On occasions these titles have been true. For example, I remember when my university education was free; but then half-way through my Journalism Degree, policy changed, and I had to pay for each unit via the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS-HELP).

We have a lot of educated people in Australia, and in theory we should be leading the world in equality of education. Unfortunately, however, we are not leading. A report from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), indicates that Australia’s education system is ranked as one of the “most unequal in the world” for both boys and girls.

According to media reports, government funding for private schools in Australia has increased at nearly five times the rate of public school funding over the past 10 years. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights tells us that Education is a basic human right. What we do not know, however, is who is given what, and why so many children miss out on their human rights in Australia, a first world country.

Education is not a privilege; it is a human rights because it lifts people out of poverty. Education is one of the greatest tools to combat disadvantage; the driving force in a productive and prosperous nation.

These are the reasons why Australia needs to reassess and address our policy and relationship with free public education. Only when we have equality in how our schools are funded will we begin to close the gaps. As a start, private schools must have a funding cap in line with our public schools.

Inequalities in our education system, however, go deeper than just funding. Equality of opportunity, argued Mason (2006), is far more complex than just having access to an education because outcomes are not equal, which points to consideration of economic, cultural, and previous academic achievements in the overall context of an individual. Education is one of the most challenging projects of social development (Pranevičienė & Pūraitė, 2010).

Education is not just about reading and writing. Schools are where our children grow. They grow together, as people, as friends, as lovers, and as a community. Our students are individuals, not just data sets. They are diverse and eclectic. They are resilient and fragile. But most of all, they are all spectacular! All children need and deserve our support.

They deserve support founded on evidence, not ideology!

Reason supports religious freedom but not religious privilege.

Being a part of our children’s education is a privilege and a huge responsibility. Reason strongly and passionately advocates for qualified mental health workers in our public schools, not religious chaplains.

Many of these chaplains are working with good intentions, but the road to hell is also paved with good intentions. How can chaplains whose churches are filled with discrimination and abuse really be capable of fostering the importance of consent in relationships in our children?

Evidence based Consent Programs need to be rolled out nationwide and our children need to learn from professionals that have the skill-sets, the knowledge and the ability to present evidence based learning with the tools required for students. Teachers and chaplains should not be advocating abstinence and suppression!

Our students have a voice, and they have rights, but they don’t have a vote; it is up to parents to consider their future; remember senators make our laws for six years! It is time we demand our education system is fit for purpose. A system that is inclusive and equitable. A system that is an investment in our future and not seen as a public sector ripe for budget cuts.

A UNICEF study examined disparities across high school, primary and pre-school in 41 nations (members of the OECD and/or the European Union). UNICEF focused on ‘reading scores’ and concluded that Australia was ranked in 30th position, which confirms that being in a wealthy nation did not guarantee equality in education. Especially when our education system has been used as a political football.

We do not have to reinvent the wheel. But we do have to repair its broken spokes. We have to look toward the evidence of educational success stories. Finland is a good example, showing investment in our teachers pays massive dividends. (And we know how much Australians love our dividends!)

Every parent who helped their children with online learning, through Covid and beyond, has a new understanding of what teachers do. Just how much energy and commitment it takes is now much clearer for parents. Imagine having to multiply your daily load with 20-30 students?

Teaching is a vocation, but it is stressful and demanding and the low pay received by the majority is appalling and unfair. Research shows that more than half of teachers reported being very or extremely stressed and were considering leaving the profession. Early career teachers, primary teachers, and teachers working in rural and remote areas reported the highest stress and burnout levels.

Teachers are our frontline workers in support of education. Our government, education system, and general society needs to respect the incredibly valuable contribution teachers make to our children, economy, and society. We need thriving teachers. Thriving teachers lead to thriving students. Thriving students lead to a thriving society!

“The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

(Vice President Hubert Humphrey, 1977)

Successive Australian governments have failed this test. But it does not have to be this way in the future.

By any measure, Australia is a wealthy country. We can easily provide for every child to have an education that meets their needs and that of our society. An education that can, directly and indirectly, help those who are sick or in need, those in the twilight of life and those in the shadows of life.

We are told we are “The Lucky Country.” But who needs luck when we could be “The Clever Country,” and “The Creative Country” and “The Innovative Nation.”

Both sides of politics say these are the goals we are striving for. All we need is the political will to actually do it.

We certainly have a perfect Reason to do it: children are our future!

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