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Panel Discussion - Politics and teaching in the nineties: Implications for classroom teachers

The following papers are the texts of most of the presentations from the June Panel Discussion held by the Institute at St Joseph's College, Gregory Terrace. The papers are made available for those Institute members and others who were unable to attend on the night. Papers* are available from:

Ms Julie Brown - Coombabah State School
Dr Roy Lundin - Queensland University of Technology
Lorrie Maher - Association of Independent Schools of Queensland
Robyn Sullivan - Queensland Department of Education

* The views expressed in the following presentations are those of the individuals and do not necessarily represent those of their organisations.


Presenter: Ms Julie Brown, Coombabah State School

Teaching in a state school has always meant that the government and the politicians in it are our bosses. Our wages and our conditions are decided by the same people who run the state government. In the lead up to every state budget in the past twelve years, I, like many other grass roots Queensland Teacher Union members, have lobbied and cajoled local members of parliament to give education a greater slice of the budget cake. I was on a local school delegation only yesterday to my MLA to discuss the Remote Area Incentive Scheme which is the QTU priority programme for this year. In these pre-State budget activities, QTU members and teacher unionists around the country have always written letters to the editor of their local paper, sent in media releases about their visit to their MLAs and generally tried to put pressure on their local parliamentary representative to properly fund education in their state.

In the federal sphere our national union the Australian Education Union has lobbied most effectively to have the commonwealth government have greater monetary input into State education via tied funding for such programmes as the National Professional Development Project and the revamped Disadvantaged Schools Programme. Before the last federal election the AEU had figures to show that up to 40% of funds spent in some schools were federal funds. That figure makes us realise just how devastating the Federal coalition's budget cuts could be for schools. Our federal union is presently trying every political trick in the book to have education avoid getting "the cuts".

However the mighty dollar is not the only way politics come into my classroom. In the 1990s I believe there has been a shift in what politicians perceive their role in education to be. Previously education was mostly left to the Department of Education and the education community. The 1 990s has seen the politicisation of the curriculum, with politicians of all political persuasions and in all states seeing themselves and selling themselves as experts on curriculum.

Where did they get this idea?

Certainly, many would think they are mistaken. But why do they think they are right? I believe it is easy to tug on voters heartstrings by mentioning schools in election material. For some reason politicians have become quite adept at convincing voters that what they thought might have been a decline in standards, often based on an isolated incident when the young shop assistant couldn't work out the sum of two purchases without using a calculator, was actually occurring.

I don't want to enter the debate over whether literacy and numeracy standards have dropped, and I don't think they have. However before I move on to explain how that debate relates to politics in the classroom, I want to tell you what the primary school I went to did, and many other schools did, with the kids who weren't very bright. They dug the gardens, they carried the little milk bottles out into the sun so the milk could be just curdling when we had to drink it, they did the jobs that the janitor/ grounds people do now, but they weren't paid. The inspector never even saw them and they certainly didn't sit for Scholarship. So how comparisons can be made with the overall standard of what we turn out today, mystifies me and I sometimes think all that curdled milk might have effected the brains of those who do think they can!

Leaving that issue aside, I am convinced that politicians find great comfort in saying they will ensure schools go back to basics, just as they like to stand on law and order as a good vote winner. The shift in the past few years has been a shift in concentration from resources to standards. Politicians and now education bureaucrats are obsessed with telling teachers that they must be accountable. Certainly when you look at the amount of money States and the Commonwealth governments spend on education ... around one quarter of some budgets ... you can understand this economic rationalist way of thinking.

I should let you know I am quite a student of the latest key word for teacher bashing. It used to be "you must be professional" however after a while I worked out and most teachers worked out that the cry to be more professional was always followed by the demand for us to do MORE for less. Now we hear "accountability' is what we should be constantly conscious of. It always amazes me that these cries for professionalism and accountability are predicated on the idea that we're not already. I also note they appear to be one way streets. I have to be accountable but the education system doesn't ... or does it?

I'd love to see someone prove that an education system that imposes impossible time-lines and makes cruel demands on teachers to implement new assessment systems and in the process loses some of its finest teachers is being accountable to a public that understands that experience and teacher health are valuable.

I think the politicians have got it wrong. They have convinced themselves that the way to improve standards is to take control of what is taught themselves. After all they couldn't trust teachers, they basically are untrustworthy, the education community is a bit sus too, so no, they'll do it.

But why do they presume to think they can?

I think it's because education suffers from an over familiarly problem. Where people only go to the dentist once year and don't have much exposure to the dental profession, some parts of the general public and politicians themselves think that because they went to school and their children go to school and they always buy coconut ice at the local school fete that they know about education and what's best for schools. The corollary would be me doing a root canal procedure on someone because I've had it done to me! Any takers??

I think they have it wrong because all the research data we have suggests that those closest to schools i. e. parents, grandparents, guardians, care givers think schools are doing a great job and are particularly positive about their own child's teacher. (ANOP 1986, reconfirmed in Queensland Curriculum Review 1994). It is those I call "the disconnected experts" who keep saying there's a problem. During the recent federal election campaign Radio National did a program on the education issues in the campaign and the coordinator of the programme said that many of the federal candidates she had contacted had said that it wasn't an issue for their constituents. Our own federal union and the state unions as well had a lot of difficulty getting education even on the agenda during the campaign. See, that is often our problem, there is a satisfaction rating out there that makes it difficult to get the general voters hot and sweaty about it.

Politicians have started talking about how to lift standards and their solution is to assess more. I have no problem with the light sampling techniques we have used in the past to monitor our outcomes and I have come to appreciate and value the outcomes based diagnostic assessment we in the early childhood part of the school are being asked to use. However the statewide testing model used in other states and on our year six classes in Queensland is a real worry. I think it is based on the idea that you can't trust teachers to tell you how kids are going and so you test them LOTS to find out. After all an objective test maker can tell you much more from a one or two hour test than a teacher could or so the theory behind such tests suggest. What is dangerous here is the confusion politicians have about assessment, they can't see the difference among:

  1. evaluating how the system is doing
  2. reporting to the child/ parents about how she/he is doing in comparison with other children and
  3. diagnosing the child's weak points.
Politicians believe testing is a panacea, parents will love it and in fact if you test kids often enough they'll get smarter, just like if you measure a child's height often enough she'll grow taller. Actually it may surprise many of you that I do believe kids will become smarter if we test them more... they'll become smarter at taking tests. Anecdotal information from colleagues of mine who teach and have taught for many years in schools in Asia say the test, test, and test again system favoured at their schools means that they teach very little and kids become adept at getting through tests but learn much less overall.

Before you get the idea that I think interference in what we teach from politicians is new I should admit that I've been teaching long enough to remember the withdrawal of MACOS (Man a Course of Study) from Queensland schools in January 1978 and the banning of SEMP (Social Education Materials Project) the next month.

Actually 1978 was a big year for political decisions about what we could or could not teach in our Queensland state schools. The then Education minister, Val Bird rejected a kit of articles and clippings on the nuclear power issue prepared by the Department of Education. Rona Joyner had success in opposing the presentation of a particular teacher effectiveness course that same year and secondary schools were told "The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith" and one of Solzhenitsyn's books were not suitable reading for their students.

While I acknowledge these events as examples of how politics came into our classrooms then, I believe they were tinkering around the edges compared to the experience of most teachers today. Our working life has been invaded with curriculum and assessment changes that have been directly imposed by politicians.

Let me give you an example that had influence on my own working conditions. Early childhood teachers are currently immersed in Developmental Continua and the Year Two Diagnostic Net. On the reference group for this Year Two assessment tool were the usual stake holders, teachers, unionists, education advisers, departmental staff and ... a person from the then Premier's own department, the Office of Cabinet and when there was consensus from the education stakeholders decisions only proceeded if the Office of Cabinet also agreed. Yes politics comes into my classroom.

Presenter: Dr Roy Lundin, Queensland University of Technology

1. The Second Reformation

The first social Reformation involved technology - the printing press which made the Bible accessible and affordable to all people. This had the effect of breaking down the power of the clergy and was really the beginning of mass education.

The second Reformation which we are now experiencing also involves technology - the Internet - which will, potentially, provide everybody with access to all knowledge. The notion was put forward many years ago by H.G. Wells in his book World Brain, a discussion of the future of education. For several years, also, the American Society of Information Science (ASIS) has had a special interest group on the World Brain/World Encyclopaedia.

This is all part of the 'transformative agenda' and is likely to be met with excitement by some people and fear on the part of others.

The transformative agenda in classroom practice involves, among other things:

This agenda implies increased decentralisation of power to schools and teachers, and technologies can play an important part in this devolution.

The changes in the educational agenda are running hand in hand with the convergence and proliferation of information technology and telecommunications. Whereas previously the various technologies were single function units (e.g. audioconferencing, computer conferencing, satellite television, videoconferencing, interactive multimedia), these are now converging so that communication, both synchronous and asynchronous, can involve integrated, interactive multimedia online.

2. The Shift in Power

Politics is about power: power to influence decision making, power to set policy and power of practice (Cumming, 1994).

The shift in power in education is most evident in higher education where the move has been variously called 'open learning' and 'flexible learning'. Whereas previously, the institutions have had control over the curriculum and the administrative requirements, the learners are demanding greater freedom to negotiate their own learning programs and improved access to learning opportunities. This shift is also moving through TAFE and into the school sector, particularly high schools at this stage. Again technology is providing increased flexibility in how, when, where learning can take place.

3. Applications of Technology

There are three major areas where the use of technology will affect teachers: With regard to the curriculum, teachers are now at the crossroads of either grasping a professional role or becoming glorified technicians. The professional act of teaching involves diagnosing learner needs, determining the learning objectives and then matching the strategies and resources to those needs and objectives. Technologies are simply another set of resources. However, it is likely that this will lead to an increase in the clustering of schools, not necessarily in the same geographic location, to share teaching expertise and curriculum specialisations.

State level and interstate level of curriculum delivery is also evident in Victoria and NSW where, for example, a satellite receiving dish has been placed on every sch ool. The two states collaborate on the delivery of LOTE. (Interestingly, several Queensland, Tasmanian and South Australian schools also tap into these programs.)

Another example is the use of the Internet by students for their studies and research and the indications by Optus and Telstra that they will provide cable links free of charge to over half of the schools in Australia by mid-1997. Every State and Territory already have their own Internet networks (e.g. SoFWeb in Victoria). Education Network Australia (EdNA) is to be the national carrier set up by the State and Commonwealth Ministers (MCEETYA) and has the potential to increase access to shared curriculum nationally and internationally. The use of the Internet by students has been referred to by a University lecturer as 'feral learning'.

Teachers' professional development will also benefit from the use of the existing and emerging technologies. Again, there is a move on the part of State and Commonwealth governments to look for applications of technology to improve access and equity. The Queensland Regional Equity of Access Project (QREAP) is an example of this (Mandeville, 1995). Also, the recent new Queensland policy to put computers into the hands of teachers is a move to increase expertise in the application of the technologies.

Combining the new telecommunications technologies can provide powerful models for access to and participation in professional development programs. For example, the QUT Faculty of Education is conducting four DEET-funded workshops on School-Based Curriculum Decision-Making to be delivered nationally by live, interactive satellite television for the third year in 1996. Special guest presenters from various locations in Australia are brought in by videoconference to be part of the panels. Participating teachers interact with the panel (both in the studio and remote sites) and each other by telephone and facsimile. Following each workshop, those participants with access to the Internet will be able to continue discussions in a Forum on oz-TeacherNet (http://owl.qut.edu.au:80/oz-teachernet/) [verified 31 Jul 2005 at http://rite.ed.qut.edu.au/oz-teachernet/]

It is more likely, as the Internet facilities become universal, that professional development will be more 'just-in-time' rather than 'just-in-case'. That is, if a teacher has a problem and places this on an Internet listserver it is possible to have dozens of responses within a 24 hour period from all over the world. Furthermore, tertiary institutions and private providers are increasingly placing courses online through, for example, such agencies as OpenNet.

In terms of access to the infrastructures, teacher groups need to consider the value of developing strategic alliances with other major power groups, e.g. Health. The Queensland government has placed a satellite receiving dish on every hospital in the state for professional development of health workers.

The third area of application is administration. This can involve all levels of application from the use of videoconferencing for interviewing principals to the use of the Schools Information Management System (SIMS) for reporting school statistics. Mandeville (1995, pp 45-47) identifies several benefits in this area, including:

It would seem that teachers, both individually and in groups, can look forward to the use of information technologies and telecommunications to grasp new powers and participate in several innovative ways without leaving the workplace. There can now be distributed members of Boards and Committees whereby members participate by some form of teleconferencing or online communication rather than needing to leave the workplace.

References

Cumming, A. (1994). Politics, Policy and Practice. In Empowering the Professional: Politics, Policy and Practice, keynote addresses from the 24th Annual Conference of the Australian Teacher Education Association, Inc., 36 July 1994, edited by M. Fogarty and L. Ehrich. Brisbane: QUT for the ATEA.

Mandeville, T. (1995). Demand for and Benefits of ISDN-Like Services in Regional and Rural Queensland. Brisbane: The Communication Centre, QUT.

Preston, N. and Symes, C. ( 1992). Schools and Classrooms -A Cultural Studies Analysis of Education. Melbourne: Longman-Cheshire.

Technology can...
Presenter: Ms Lorrie Maher, Association of Independent Schools of Queensland

The overt nature of political intervention in education in this country over the past decade, at both national and state levels, has been characterised by economic imperatives rather than genuine enhancement in education provision. Government Ministers have time and again been left to implement agendas set by cabinets, treasuries, and government leaders. State governments have been held to ransom for their shares in initiative funding in the efforts of the federal government to achieve industrial and economic reform. Even the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has participated in the game with their attempts to force universal acceptance of Asian languages and studies in the school curriculum through the national Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools (NALSAS) program and announcements regarding an education network for Australian schools (EdNA). The translation of national imperatives at the state level has been constrained by funding issues. The cabinet of the previous Queensland Labor government must have considered at least four draft versions of papers addressing the roles and responsibilities of the two Departments involved in vocational education and training in their efforts to rationalise resources. Government demands on the Board of Senior Secondary School Studies (BSSSS) to limit the number of board-registered subjects (and indeed prescribe appropriate board-registered subjects) and enforce a convergence model which has been called into question by many educationalists are embedded in a wider resourcing issue.

There is little wonder that classroom teachers, the practitioners, are frustrated, sceptical, disillusioned and concerned for their students. Government media releases extolling great things to come are met with a litany of questions. - Who has made this decision? Is the Minister speaking in his/her mantle of universality or is it a selective edict? When will it be implemented? Will it eventuate or will it be superseded by yet another good idea at the end of the political term of office? What commitment is there to adequate resources and professional development? And most importantly, What does it mean for me ?

The implications for classroom teachers of political agendas for education are as varied as the items themselves. In a highly politicised education context teachers are justified in their concern for initial and ongoing security of employment. A reform agenda which involves aspects of teachers' work, the curriculum taught and assessment and reporting methodology has infrastructure, workload and resource implications. Other speakers will cover many of these implications but there are some which are of specific importance to the separately incorporated institutions as opposed to systems. Let us start by considering some broad politically driven systemic decisions.

When the Mr P. Comben was Queensland Minister for Education, he announced that all teacher professional development and curriculum linked in-service activities were to be held out of school hours he was speaking in his role as the head of his Department and so was referring to state school teachers. It was unfortunate that when all intersystemic activities including those funded through partnership projects under the auspices of the National Professional Development Program (NPDP) were scheduled after school and on weekends, such a decision excluded those independent school classroom teachers who work longer school days, have extracurricular commitments and those for whom weekend attendance impinges upon religious obligations. The Ministerial announcement of funded teacher professional development programs linked to the gaining of industry related skills and experience for teachers involved in the implementation of new 'converged' BSSSS subjects was yet another instance of the Minister speaking in his departmental guise.

Where state school teachers are withdrawn for periods of up to six months for such training funded by an NPDP program which to all intents and purposes should have been prepared on a partnership basis it become evident that the federal Minister is also sanctioning a project which has an exclusion clause. Where does that leave classroom teachers in independent schools? Whatever happened to the Key Competencies as developed by the committee chaired by Professor Meyer apart from the careless dropping of the appendage "for work entry? Classroom teachers look around guardedly in case one day an instruction will arrive requiring the measurement and reporting of outcomes in these.

Profile assessment has workload implications for all teachers. However, when the state government announced that the national key learning areas (KLA's) as defined at an Australian Education Council Meeting in Hobart in 1989 - "the Common and Agreed Goals for Australian Schools" known as the "Hobart declaration" - would progressive be implemented in Queensland in terms of an assessment program called "Student performance Standards" many independent school teachers had already spent extensive time and effort in reorganising their curriculum, often on a P- 10 basis as many independent schools are combined schools, to reflect the national curriculum profiles. Should they start again or just wait for the dust to settle? Now the Queensland Schools Curriculum Office (QSCO) whose original tasks included acting as the secretariat for the Queensland Curriculum Council (QCC) and managing curriculum development for students of compulsory school age is under political instruction to review and suggest modifications to SPS. Maybe those schools and their teachers who elected to watch and wait should be applauded. As well as significant workload implications for classroom teachers profile assessment particularly across eight KLA's also brings with it support and resource implications for the non-systemic school. Confusion arising from uncertainty of access to support documentation, in-service and moderation activities with their state school colleagues, inclusion or exclusion of non-government school teachers at school support centres which surrounds the Year 2 Net, the Year 6 Test and SPS. This year the validation texts for the Year 2 Net were delivered to state schools before Easter.

Unfortunately the distribution to independent schools was not finalised until two weeks ago with only one copy of one of the texts being available to each school regardless of the enrolment of the school. Early childhood teachers in independent schools who are at the chalkface and not in high levels of the bureaucracy could be forgiven for questioning the authenticity of political demand for all Queensland schools to administer the Net. If the Mr Comben and later his successor Mr D. Hamel were sincere in their statements that this was an essential element of the Shaping the Future program, which is the implementation of some of the recommendations in the report of the curriculum review chaired by Professor Ken Wiltshire, then government funded resources should have been provided to all teachers in participating schools. Differential funding and resource provision would seem to indicate otherwise. To ensure successful implementation in independent schools and also a common understanding of diagnostic and record documents arming with students transferring from the government school system to an independent school, their classroom teachers will need equal access to training and ongoing support.

Significant implications for classroom teachers and their ability to contribute to the curriculum development work outlined in the proposed legislation for the Queensland Schools' Curriculum Council (QSCC), a statutory body with responsibility for the compulsory years exist. Independent schools have contributed an inordinate amount of resources, both financial and classroom teacher expertise and experience to the BSSSS and its predecessor the Board of Secondary School Studies (BSSSS). While this has involved hardship to school management and has certainly involved many, many hours of contributed services on the part of classroom teachers, the secondary school structure has to some extent made it possible. It is another matter when the issue is focussed on primary schools where classroom teachers have total curriculum delivery responsibility for their students. Does this mean that only teachers with administrative responsibility and lesser teaching loads and those who have had the opportunity to demonstrate curriculum development and writing expertise such as teachers who have been withdrawn from the classroom for periods with systemic replacement policies can participate in this vital area?

Some implications which have already been highlighted in the infancy of QSCO are concerned with non-discriminatory access to participation in the management and work of this office. Selection and secondment procedures should not favour presumed prescribed formats. Secondment procedures should reflect both systemic and non-systemic administrative procedures.

Classroom teachers await the outcome of the political thrust of the federal government to national registration of teachers and the development of a framework of competencies which describe the work of teachers. It was astonishing but not altogether surprising that the national solicitor-general created a constitution for the Australian Teaching Council (ATC). So strong was the political imperative that this entity gained a life that within thirty six hours of the state representatives agreeing not to agree and go home it was fait accompli It is unfortunate that the efforts and commitments of the ATC secretariat are now to no avail as the new federal Minister with responsibility for schools, Dr Kemp, has announced that funding has been provided to wind up this body. For those classroom teachers who believed in the worth of a national body and supported political direction with three years of personal subscriptions, who join educationalists at all levels in the endorsement of the final report of the work on defining competencies for beginning teachers and who have personally or through their colleagues participated in the highly successful professional development schools for teachers, what motivation is there to believe that political intervention in education is mo re than a transitory occurrence.

A draft code of conduct for school students travelling on buses explicitly defines the professionals involved - the bus drivers, the bus operators and school Principals. Perhaps a government program to refund ATC subscriptions would help to alleviate the implied political devaluing of the practitioners - the classroom teachers and acknowledge their professionalism.

Presenter: Ms Robyn Sullivan, Queensland Department of Education

Fellow educators. I have been asked here tonight to address the question of 'Politics and Teaching in the Nineties: Implications for Classroom Teachers'.

Before I begin to address this issue, I believe it is incumbent on me to make perfectly clear the meaning I give to 'politics' in this context. Politics for the purpose of this dialogue is not to be confused with party politics. Others on the panel might have that perceived luxury, but I do not. I am sure you will appreciate that public servants have no business making public comments about properly elected governments. Instead, the meaning I give to the term 'politics' refers to government policies and practices, broadly defined. In making reference to these government policies and practices I will do so at the highest level of generality.

Two definitions of politics remain with me from my years as a student of Political Science at the University of Queensland. The first is 'Politics is the art of the possible'. The second is Lasswell's definition 'Politics is who gets what, when and how'. I suggest that it is equally valid to replace politics with the term 'education'.

For the classroom teacher, 'Education is certainly the art of the possible', and we as professionals identify with any proposal that 'Education is who gets what, when and how'.

This apparent interchangeability of nouns actively signifies the contemporary intertwining of the two concepts. All social policy is ultimately grounded in politics and politics is the inescapable context for education.

Education has a fundamental impact upon the material and intellectual health of society... It is the most pervasive agent of change, and the means by which we conserve and enrich the diversity of human culture. It is also the engine providing the skills which advanced societies require. Business Council of Australia, 1993
It has become almost a cliche to refer to the rapid changes occurring in our society. Yet while we may not notice change on a daily basis, a little bit of thought can produce a list of dramatic and far-teaching changes. If we look at the world scene, we see that whole political systems and ideologies have disintegrated. Perhaps the most stark example is the demise of the Soviet Union. Mental and physical barricades which divided people and nations have collapsed. The destruction of the Berlin wall is the classic example. Changes in economic and social arrangements have been no less dramatic.

Accordingly, the role of government has changed significantly as it attempts to come to terms with a new world order. Because of globalisation, governments in the nineties have been pre-occupied with economic restructuring. Various commentators, of whom Anna Yeatman is a good Australian example, have made the point repeatedly that economic restructuring has reached meta-policy status. Put simply, economic policies are the benchmarks against which all other policies and practices are being evaluated. Education which traditionally was considered to be part of broad social policy is no exception. Indeed, education is considered to be a major source of powering this economic transformation.

The stress on economic considerations is not peculiar to Australia, nor is it peculiar to nations which are struggling to get ahead. Currently, powerful nations such as the United States, Germany and Japan are also moving in this direction. As Bob Lingard argues in the recent Department of Education Environmental Scan:

In most countries that make up the developed world, economic restructuring has become the highest political priority.
Back in 1870, Australia was regarded as the richest country per capita in the world. Last century, Australia's long-term future looked assured because Australia had vast reserves of natural resources which would see us through for the next 100 years at least. We still have those natural resources but they no longer promise present or future wealth. They have declined in value and they are not in short supply. For example, Japan has very few natural resources but is still an economically rich country. Many South American nations have a plentiful supply of natural resources but they are often pejoratively described as banana republics'.

Australia is now part of an international trading regime that is brutally competitive. The cutting edges in the international economy are high technology products, services and intellectual property. In this environment, the new source of wealth is not natural resources, capital nor technology. Rather the new source of wealth is education. Lester Thurow, the chief education adviser to President Clinton, makes the point nicely in his recent book, Head to Head: The Coming Economic Battle Among Japan, Europe & America. Thurow says:

Man-made comparative advantage has replaced the comparative advantage of Mother Nature.
The nation's man-made comparative advantage (skills and knowledge) is directly linked with the quality of the nation's education system. High educational standards for ALL is the only way a nation will maintain and improve its standards of living.

This belief in the power of education to determine the economic health of a nation is alive and well among some Australian commentators. In an insightful discussion paper titled, Creating an Education Nation, Simon Marginson et al. assert that:

The twenty-first century will be the education century, ... The changes of the last decade, which has seen the spread of the personal computer to every corner of life, the rise of the Internet, the doubling of retention to year 12, the massive increases in university enrolments, the competency based training reform are but taste of things to come.
They conclude
We cannot predict the future, but we can be sure of three things. First, the pace of change will be white hot. Second, the mobility of goods, people and ideas will continue to increase, so that changes at the global level will have an increasing impact on us. Third, education and skills in education will determine whether we become followers and prisoners of the future, or whether we make our own future for ourselves.
In summary, two trends are apparent. First, virtually all governments, regardless of their location on the ideological spectrum, have decided that economic policy is the main game in town. Second, governments believe that a significant way to achieve their economic goals is through education.

I want to stress at this point that education is not just about jobs or the economy. Schools and the education they provide have tasks and responsibilities that go far beyond the economic aspects of life. We should never forget, for example, that schools are places where culture is transmitted where friendships are made, where a sense of personal identity is fashioned and where notions of adulthood are acquired. Schools have a responsibility to transmit basic values such as respect for others, honesty and fair dealing, concern for truth, tolerance and commitment to learning. These tasks and responsibilities are the glue that holds a society together.

Even the Business Council of Australia in their 1995 paper, Australia 2010, acknowledges this function of education:

Finally, it might be commented that a more focussed and targeted education and training system is not in conflict wit h the so-called 'civilising' role of education: a highly skilled population that has opportunities to work productively will inevitably seek out those cultural and artistic activities that an educated mind desires. (p. 103)
The cornerstone of any quality education system is the classroom teacher. Any classroom teacher, by the way, who thinks they can be replaced by a computer probably should be. Nevertheless the power of the classroom teacher is sometimes underestimated. All here present know that when the classroom door is closed the teacher rules supreme (that is if the students allow). In the short to medium term, classroom teachers can decide, and often do decide, to ignore developments in the wider world.

As members of QIER, you may be interested in some work supervised by Professor Richard Smith, Professor of Education at the Gold Coast Campus of Griffith University. This research indicates that both the preferred teaching style and perceptions of the wider socio-political context of most teachers is frozen in the era of their preservice education. As the average age of our teaching workforce is 43, I leave you to identify any mismatches between professional values, teaching strategies, and world views of these teachers and the contemporary society in which they live and teach.

The majority of teachers who volunteered for this study also indicated that they were not interested in any 'big picture' issues - individual professional standards and survival skills were seen as far more pertinent to their daily work. Before we cast any aspersions on such denial activities we should note that American social commentator Faith Popcorn has listed cocooning, clanning and clicking as the key survival strategies of this decade.

Nevertheless we must acknowledge the arrival of new technologies, internationalisation, equal opportunity for women, reconciliation with indigenous people, environmental problems, and AIDS to name but a few.

Many teachers don't like thinking about the future because they find the future too frightening. They want to place a moratorium on time; to cancel thought; to minimise action; to hanker for the certainties of the past; to eliminate doubt because doubt causes unwanted mental anguish. For my part I find doubt an unpleasant state of mind, but certainty is a ridiculous one. While it is possible to see the four walls of the classroom as constituting the world this situation will not last for ever. The nation, the profession, and teachers as individuals will suffer if they do not confront the cultural changes that are already upon us. Culture might be a soft concept but it has a hard impact.

Some classroom teachers, for example, seem to be oblivious to the fact that governments are now committed to open competition in virtually all aspects of economic and social life.

The Centre of Policy Studies at Monash University describes this development thus: The appropriate role of government is limited to those areas and activities where it can be demonstrated that there are positive net benefits from governments intervening in private sector activity. This is to say, to ensure that government intervention is justified requires not only that it be demonstrated that private markets work inadequately (as they doubtlessly often do) relative to some ideal standard, but also that it be demonstrated that political decision-making will result in better decisions. Governments should ensure that a service is provided. This does not mean that the government should provide that service.
The current Commonwealth schools Minister has also frequently stated that he wants schools exposed to market forces. He believes that schools ought to compete for students. He argues that parents should be able to make choices about their children's education and that those parents ought to be given outcomes information so they can make informed choices.

Schools have survived as social institutions because they have delivered what the broader society wanted.

As educators, we have largely seen our role as somewhat isolated from the world of work and the economic well-being of the nation. Crudely put, it was our job to provide the basic skills and knowledge and it was someone else's job to decide how those skills and knowledge would be used. While schools of the future will still be required to provide basic skills, we will be held accountable for the kinds of skills we develop, the quality of those skills and their relevance in a global society. Many of you will know that the Wiltshire Report recommended that there be a future orientation in the curricula we develop. This task can only be achieved if we, as educators, become more future oriented ourselves. We need to be better educated, better read. We need to have views that go beyond the school gate. If we do not provide educational leadership within the broad community, then we will be regarded as irrelevant and powerless in important debates. We will become technicians and not professionals.

Please cite as: Queensland Institute for Educational Research (1996). Panel Discussion - Politics and teaching in the nineties: Implications for classroom teachers. Queensland Researcher, 12(1), 38-55. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qr12/panel-discussion.html


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