According to the educational experts, Australia is well on its way to becoming ‘the stupid country’ thanks to a wide spread neglect of public education and a widening gap between its best and worst performing school students.
The warning comes from an influential educator, Chris Bonnor, who until last year represented 466 principals as the head of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council.
He is making this hard hitting argument in a new book, The Stupid Country: How Australia is Dismantling Public Education , co-written with public school advocate, Jane Caro.
Mr Bonnor, was a principal of Asquith Boys and Davidson High Schools through the 1990s and until 2005. His book claims that populist education policies are diverting attention from government neglect of schools, particularly those located in disadvantaged areas.
He says the federal Government’s focus on issues such as performance pay for teachers indirectly blames schools and teachers for problems in student performance. Rather than tackling the real educational problems linked to economic disadvantage, the book says the Government is suggesting there must be something wrong with schools, creating ‘an easy and populist agenda for politicians’.
‘What passes for educational policy then degenerates into competing plans for more testing, accountability, standards and anything else that addresses community anxiety, real or otherwise,’ the book claims. ‘It all sits easily with calls for more police, longer jail terms… (and diverts attention from) problems that can’t be boiled down into simple policies or blamed on teachers.’
The reality is that Australia’s top students perform well compared with those from other developed countries but our poorest students are behind their equivalents in similar countries. Mr Bonnor said this gap was set to worsen because of the growing inequity between the economically disadvantaged and well-resourced schools.
The federal Government plans to increase its funding to private schools by 30 per cent over the next five years to $7.5 billion and by 10 per cent to $3.4 billion for public schools.
In an article written by Jane Caro for On Line Opinion, she says about 66 per cent of Australian students attend public schools but private schools receive between 40 and 80 per cent of their incomes from the public purse (in some cases, this may be a higher percentage of their income than that of some public schools).
‘Combined with the ability to set their own fees, regardless again of the amount of public subsidy they receive, this has enabled many private schools to amass resources far beyond the wildest dreams of most public schools,’ Ms Caro said. ‘Some of these schools now have students who enjoy educational resources 62 per cent higher than those available to any public school student. And thanks to a no-loser clause in the SES (socio economic status system) their subsidies can only go up, never down.'
The Stupid Country: How Australia is dismantling public education
Chris Bonnor, Jane Caro, UNSW Press, NSW, July 2007, 256pp, $AU29.95 ($AU27.22 ex tax)