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Business Council on education « Previous | |Next »
August 27, 2007

The Business Council of Australia has stepped beyond its traditional economic, taxation and workforce concerns to intervene in education debate with its Restoring our Edge in Education: Making Australia’s Education System its Next Competitive Advantage, paper prepared by Australian Council of Educational Research head Geoff Masters.

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Martin Rowson

The BCA argues that high-quality school education is crucial to our future innovation, productivity and standard of living and it identified two main problems with the school system that required immediate action.

The first is that the number of young people who fall behind in their learning during their school years, and achieve only minimal educational outcomes. The second is the shortage of young people with the knowledge and skill required for effective participation in modern workplaces.

Presumably, teenagers achieving only the minimal educational outcomes means that there is a shortage of young people with the knowledge and skill required to effectively participate in work. Sounds a good diagnosis, doesn' t it?

So what does the knowledge and skill required for effective participation in modern workplaces mean?The BCA adopts a conservative educational approach to public education as it favours the three R's rather than literacy as in media or critical literacy. Why so? People in the workplace need a solid knowledge of the basics not the capacity for critical thinking. That kind of education (ie., one for for democracy and participation in public life) is seen as "esoteric".

The 3 R's as vocational education is hardly a well educated workforce or a high quality education, is it? It strikes me as a working class education provided by public schools to fill working class jobs. Presumably the high quality education is provided by the private school system.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:10 PM | | Comments (12)
Comments

Comments

Shows you how rickety it's all become, when even that lot get naffed off about it.
Jogs my memory as to tonites 4 Corners concerning the medical profession under seige.

Another example of framing. Frame the education debate by drawing attention to the failing kids. The other frame is the postmodern communist teachers union filling our kids' heads with deconstructions of the Simpsons instead of the dates of important European wars.

It's garbage. The 3R approach won't teach kids why they need to suck up to BCA members if they want a job with one of them. And 'why?' is the first question they ask about anything. It won't make them stay in jobs they hate and it won't make today's young women accept the limits their reproductive potential sets on their career prospects.

And the BCA joining the conservatives on the education bandwagon won't change either education or what kids are actually like these days.

The BCA can join Kevin Donnelly all they like, it won't change anything. It's just bloody annoying to keep hearing this tripe.

Ask any real live 12 year old why Monty Burns would want to stop them learning how to think for themselves.

This is one of my pettest pet hates. Does it show?

Lyn,
I read an interview with Michael Chaney, chairman of the BCA and chancellor of University of Western Australia, and chairman of the National Australia Bank. Hence he links raising education standards for the working class to building a more robust and internationally competitive economy.

Chaney says that he is concerned with the stories from business leaders of young employees ill-prepared for work and complaints from academics about students who arrive in first year ill-equipped for university.

Fair enough. These are real problems. And they need addressing, in a systematic manner. I'm not sure that the states are doing this.

Chaney goes from these problems to say that the core issue is writing and numeracy. Why this is held to be the core issue is not made clear. Chaney then adds that the schools are failing young people, who are either unemployed, working part time or not being educated. This is his concern and , presumably, what he wants to address.

So why does this situation of failure arise? Chaney says:

the root cause of this failure is deepseated and is cultural. As a people, Australians undervalue the importance of education, especially in contrast to the prestige in which it is held among the dynamic culture to our north.

Luke Slattery, who conducted the review for the AFR, says that a sense of compassion informs the BCA's new educational policy--'a deep concern for the students who are falling off the educational radar, dropping out of school and training.

Consequently, Slattery continues, for national educational participation to rise in any significant way, it must improve for disadvantaged and struggling blue collar groups, whose demands for education is in decline.

It's hard to disagree with this. The problem is limiting education to the R's, and dismissing the need for a critical literacy that enables us to think for ourselves. Note the lack of mention of a need to have any IT literacy--- so the struggling working class students remain on the wrong side the digitial divide.

Where's the compassion in that? It sounds like an old fashioned (1890s) conservative Catholic social philosophy to me; plus a Christian Brothers education for the kids of the battlers on struggle street.

The changed nature of work has a lot to do with this I think. You can't start out filing and stuffing envelopes any more in white collar work. Most office job ads expect familiarity with MYOB at least. Work readiness means a whole different set of skills.

From personal experience I can tell you it's not easy to employ a young trainee or apprentice either. We weren't looking for literacy and numeracy, just a couple of kids looking to learn a trade. Apart from red tape you need to be at the upper end of profits, but to get from the lower to the upper end you need workers you can't afford yet. We've ended up sharing our new employees with other tradies in the same boat, which works well for the kids but is a paperwork nightmare.

Also, it's just not realistic for schools to be able to prepare kids for every possible job.

I maintain a deep scepticism of big business' concerns for the undereducated. As you point out, not mention of critical literacy or IT skills. When they start showing concern for kids' life skills, not just drone skills, I may change my mind.

Lynn,
I think that the key here, as you say, is the changed nature of work arising, I would suggest, from the effects of the global economy and the shift to an information society.

Most of the conservative stuff is about kids not being able to read and write in the traditional sense of working in a pre-digital economy for low wages. They want the unemployed kids to have the 3Rs so they can do casual work in the checkouts in Coles or stacking shelves Woolworth's supermarkets. This is deemed to be better than being on welfare.

However, they don't have the skills and education to move onto a better job in the office.

Presumably, the next level up is the trades but this involves computer and business skills.I presume this is where TAFE steps in.

I presume that kids that leave school early--eg., in regional Australia and working class Australia--- cannot afford TAFE course fees.

So they subsist.

Lyn,
does your comment:'Another example of framing. Frame the education debate by drawing attention to the failing kids' refer to the conservatives concern for the declining standards of education in Australia, which they claim is due to the progressive education and curriculum advocated by the left-wing educationalists.

I can see that the conservative educationalists, such as Kevin Donnelly, are out to undo the progressive curriculum.

What are the conservatives replacing it with? Chaney's 3 R's or Donnelly's liberal/humanist education based around great texts, traditional discplines and the standards approach of challenging examinations?

Is all this part and parcel of the push for a national curriculum by Julie Bishop? And Howards' push for the teaching of a patriotic history that instils national pride school children?

Gary,

Schools are now part of school/business/TAFE networks that aim to get as many kids as possible into trainee setups during their senior years. The idea is that nobody leaves school early. The TAFE bit is free while they're still at school.

In some cases it works quite well, but there have been a lot of employers who have used this as a source of cheap or free labour. There's no onus on the business to pay the kids for work they do during school hours, and most of them spend at least one school day doing on the job "training". The TAFE part isn't always what it's cracked up to be either.

You only need a couple of shonky cases to convince kids that the whole system is rubbish. You only need to ask them to work for free for one day to get their backs up.

We guide our new employees through everything they need to know business skills wise, and plenty more they don't need to know. It's an old fashioned approach I think, setting them up to run their own businesses one day, but they'd rather work for us than someone who tells them nothing which seems to be the standard.

Nan,

Yes. It's all very culture wars. Maoist long march through our education institutions and all that guff. Start the argument by pointing to failing kids and take it from there. It annoys hell out of me. We fail to note that unless schools get more resources, every minute a teacher spends trying to help a failing kid is a minute some other kid isn't getting.

There was an interesting post at Road to Surfdom recently. Apparently Donnelly is among several of his kind unhappy with Julie Bishop lately. They seem to think she's incompetent. Fancy that?

Lyn,
yes I remember the event the post at Road to Surfdom refers to.

Donnelly was quoted in the Australian's Higher Education pages saying that Julie Bishop was no "cultural warrior" and lacked the conviction to reform the dominant education culture, characterised by a lack of academic rigour, political correctness and a focus on outcomes at the expense of standards.

Consequently, the ALP has taken some of the territory from the conservative agenda etc etc

Isn't there a bit of a conflict going on when you're worried about poor outcomes, but don't want a focus on outcomes?

It's a waste of time arguing with Donnelly. If he can't see what's wrong with the idea of postmodern communists there's no helping him. God forbid that anything should come between him and his dream of a nation of plumbers, checkout chicks, photocopier repairmen and Australian Idol contestants who share an enduring love of Shakespeare.

Lyn,
what does Donnelly and co mean by 'outcomes' as opposed to 'standards'? 'Outcomes' to me is a qualification gained through studying a course; a qualification that shows you have acquired a set of skills.

What's Donnelly's problem with that? What does 'standards' mean? Examinations?

Donnelly doesn't think Bishop rabid enough?
That's like winning Tatts lotto, then grizzling, cos'you didn't win it last year instead this year.
How ideologically nutty do pollies have to be before these think-tank wingnuts are even half- satisfied?
Ravensbruck, here we come?

Nan,

Outcomes based education works towards the best possible outcome for each student. It's child-centred, so if Shakespeare doesn't work for some kids there's no point trying to force it down their throats. The point is to get them literate regardless of how that outcome is achieved.

It also takes individual capability into account which is why the old A to E report cards disappeared. Ranking kids like that labels them for teachers, peers and the kids themselves.

When Donnelly talks about standards he's talking more about the old grades system and the sausage factory or "egg carton" model of education. But he's also talking about the old high/low culture distinctions, where stuff like Shakespeare is automatically valued over rap song lyrics regardless. Standards has a double meaning.

There's been a tendency away from exams and towards evaluating learning as it progresses. Some people just can't cope with the pressure and even the brightest can fail a big exam because of it. Others can rote learn to pass exams but have no idea of how to apply their learning in other contexts.

I don't see any of this as particularly progressive, so much as bleeding obvious.

Paul,

It's scary to think of the society they have in mind for us. On the bright side though, when you're talking about education you're talking about trying to force this stuff on today's generation. I wouldn't wish that even on Donnelly.