I was delighted to attend the Media Sneak Peek of Love Never Dies today at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne. With Andrew Lloyd-Webber in town, the excitement and anticipation is high, particularly after mixed reviews in London. At the media brief we were told Lloyd Webber had composed more music to add to the score in Melbourne this week.
Premier Ted Baillieu says teacher pay rises beyond 2.5% will be linked to increased
productivity and major productivity gains. But how is productivity to be
measured, or indeed achieved? Larger class sizes? Increased teaching hours?
Improved student results? Let’s assume for a moment that better results are
directly attributable to the amount of time spent at school, and that progress
can be measured by test results.
international comparison is illuminating. Along with Chinese, South African, Korean
and Philippine students, Australian kids have around 200 days of school each year. Only
Japanese kids attend more often with a whopping 243 days annually. Kids in the USA (180 days), Canada
(194), Sweden (178), France (180) and the United Kingdom (195) all attend school
for fewer days than ours.
to the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA),
days of school appear to be irrelevant when it comes to educational success. In
all four assessments of 15 year olds carried out since 2000, across 65
participating nations, Finland
has ranked first or second. Last year more than 100 delegations descended on Finland to
discover the secret of their success.
what they found. Finnish students start school at 8 years old. The school year
numbers 190 days of 4-7 hours in length. Finnish students have moderate amounts
of homework, and no private tuition after school. School is compulsory for nine
years and beyond this the retention rate is high. Books for basic education are
free, and school meals are provided to ensure students are well nourished. Finland
spends around 6% of gross domestic product on free
spends 4%, and the OECD average is 4.6%. Only a small number of
private schools receive government subsidies.Investment in teachers is a high
priority with all Finnish teachers required to have a Masters degree. On average
they work almost 3 hours less per week than Australian teachers.
While PISA results from students from some Asian
countries are almost as impressive, these are achieved through high student
workloads. For its 4-5 weeks additional schooling Japan is only marginally ahead of Australia.
when Premier Baillieu talks of ‘major productivity gains’ he is not thinking
globally, but nationally. Assuming productivity is to be measured by results,
let’s take a look at NAPLAN, the national test given to all students in years
3, 5, 7 and 9. Last year students in Victoria,
New South Wales and the ACT were
the top performers in the country, despite the fact spending on Victorian students is more
than $1,100 per student below the national average.
the problem. 'Productivity’ is an economic parameter, measuring efficiency in
production, and implying a comparison of input, such as capital invested, wages
paid, and number employed, with output. But here’s the thing. Educational value
can’t be numerically measured because people don’t inhabit the educational
environment on a level playing field. Moreover capacity to thrive academically
and socially is influenced by many variables, many of which are beyond a
a bunch of kids on an excursion by train into the Immigration Museum. A refugee child will have a different response
to the child with Asperger’s syndrome, or a child with a mild intellectual
disability. The experience for one who has never travelled on
public transport contrasts with the one who spends 4 hours a night on computer
games, or the artistic child, or the train obsessed child, or the child who
only gets 5 hours sleep a night because mum works two jobs. It’s impossible to
determine whose learning has been of greater value, because what we learn
depends on where we have been.
But it’s not just down to the Premier. In Finland teachers are the most highly respected profession, with medical doctors coming in at second place. Victorians have to decide whether education is a priority or not. Ultimately our kids will be better
served by well resourced, motivated and valued teaching staff, than by a
workforce that is constantly receiving negative signals that they are not doing well enough and must
achieve more with less.
Last week my nine year-old accosted me with the perennial
words, “Mum, I’m bored I don’t know what to do”. Looking up from my newspaper I
pondered a whole two seconds before he said – get this – “Hurry up mum, you’re
wasting my time”. When I reminded him I don’t have to provide entertainment
24/7, he replied incredulously, “Yes you do – you’re the MUM”.
If television advertising is any measure, my son’s view is widely
shared. The closer we get to mother’s day, the louder it becomes. After all, if
Nick Riewoldt, grown man and iconic AFL footballer, can take his washing to mum’s
why can’t you? Why, with a hug and grin,
or perhaps a new electrical appliance, she’ll happily pick up after you for
another whole year.
Think about it. Driving kids around for an afternoon of
activities makes me a “great mum”, but teaching a child to read a timetable,
hail a bus and buy a ticket borders on negligence. Just ask Lenore Skenazy.
Suburban mums are literally tied to the steering wheel, but
what we want and need is half-decent public transport on weekends. There’s plenty of evidence that effective transport is a measure
of quality of life, and mothers are getting a raw deal.
Each weekday my two eldest kids get around by using their
own legs, which work perfectly well, and the local bus which runs every 15
minutes in peak.
But with hourly buses on weekends it all falls apart. Consequently,
I spend my weekends in a car.There’s nothing
good about it, save an occasional illuminating conversation, and the chance to erode
the 120 hour learner-driver requirement.
Last weekend I clocked up 164 kilometres, taking kids to
sport in Lilydale, Forest Hill, Ringwood and Heathmont, and a band practise in
Box Hill. Thanks to a Saturday night get-together in Kilsyth South, I made the
same 20 minute trip four times. Add the fact 20% of Melbournians are aged 17
and younger, well, you do the maths!
Centre for Social and Economic Modelling includes living in a household without
a car as a social exclusion risk measure for children. No surprises there. Buses
are the sole means of public transport for over two-thirds of Metropolitan Melbourne,
but scant weekend services mean young people depend on lifts or risk social
Everyone knows kids need to get out and meet flesh-friends
rather than virtual ones, play sport, have part-time jobs, go to parties, and
get involved in creative activities. Strange that when independence is enabled,
one never hears “I’m bored mum, what can I do”.
From where I sit (mostly at the traffic lights) the Public
Transport Users Association campaign, Every 10 minutes to Everywhere looks a treat, with trams, trains, and main road
buses every 10 minutes, from 6am to midnight, 7-days-a-week, and Nightrider buses
every half-hour, 7-days-a-week. Do I think it will ever happen? Do you?
So here’s a tip for Mother’s Day. What she really wants is time,
and that’s something you can give. Here’s
how. Support the PTUA campaign for increased public transport. Then catch a bus
to the shops and buy a long handled claw to pick your own socks up with. Oh and
Nick, learn how to use a washing machine would you please. It ain’t rocket