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“POOR WHITE TRASH”

Call me old fashioned, but educating the nation’s children is the job of schools, right?

Well, actually Mark Latham would call me old fashioned.

mark-latham-2In the current Quarterly Essay, the former Labor leader (right) outlines his ideas for the education revolution we have to have, saying that families that adhere to the “leave it to the school” approach are heavily disadvantaged.

“In the conventional wisdom, schools are seen as places where children do most of their learning… Schools, at best, are a useful addition to the learning continuum. At worst, they are places where students muddle through, making only marginal gains in knowledge and life skills.”

Calling Australia an “education backwater” based on recent international standards data, Latham executes a top-down excoriation of the way children are educated in Australia, focusing on the comprehensive system.

Public schools, he says, have become a production line for internationally substandard results.

By Latham’s reckoning, the system is a chronically-underinvested disaster: teachers are shockingly underpaid, university entry requirements are lax, substandard teachers are allowed to hide in a “sheltered workshop environment” so that it is impossible to get rid of underperforming staff. He does have his extensive ideas for reform, and you can read more about them here, but parents are taking up the slack.

The question is: should they?

“Having been involved in and studied public education for many decades, I believe the current system is adding only minimal value to students’ capabilities. Most of the gains in individual learning capacity are fashioned in the home. Parents’ aspirations for their children are a stronger determinant of student achievement than the institution of schooling itself.”

Parents’ aspirations for their children are a stronger determinant of student achievement than the institution of schooling itself.

homework

Right now you might be wondering if you have to reassess your aspirations for your children.

Think back on your own childhood – what aspirations did your parents have for you? Were they low, unbearably high, or completely non-existent?

And at what point do parental aspirations switch from inspiration to stressful burden?

Couched within the concept of the Asian century (“If Australia has a future in the so-called Asian Century, it is certainly not in maths”), Latham’s message points to the Asian model of education, citing statistics about the success of students with a language background other than English (LBOTE).

For example within the NSW selective system, which is based on academic excellence, the schools’ LBOTE cohort is at 88.2 percent – “a near monopoly.”

Explaining the success, he writes: “Asian parents are highly devoted to the education of their children: assisting with homework, organising extra tuition, forever encouraging excellence. In selective entry, this is their winning advantage — a family-based contribution underpinning high-level achievement.

homework-2“By contrast, families which adopt a “leave it to the school” approach are heavily disadvantaged.

“No matter which Sydney primary school they attended, pupils from a non-Asian background are less likely to attend the best government high schools.”

Pointing to the immobility of kids from poorer families, he says: “Visit any suburban public-housing estate in Australia and this debilitating trend is obvious.

“The former Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew’s prophecy about poor white trash in Australia has found a new resonance.”

Of course here we cue the memories of The Tiger Mother – Amy Chua, who wrote the controversial book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which she advocated, in a nutshell, very little fun and a hell of a lot of extra work for schoolchildren.

Writes Latham:

“After-school tuition is one of Australia’s fastest growing industries. High and middle-income families are seeking to compensate for the failings of classroom instruction by using professional services outside school. Students from low-income backgrounds are at a comparative disadvantage. Often this is a double jeopardy: parents who do not assist with homework and do not have the funds to pay for special tutoring.”

The government, says Latham, needs to introduce a means-tested tuition voucher scheme “ensuring that poor families are not left behind in the race for academic achievement.”

 

What do you think? Should parents face up to the mounting stresses of having to supplement their children’s education?

And an ever bigger question: should academic achievement be seen as a race, a means to an end, or is it an end in itself?

 

 

MORE ARTICLES BY LUCY CLARK

I Feel Bad About Veal

The Sexy Lie

I’m Not a Feminist, But…

“I Wanna Be a Babe”

 

lucy-clark-2*Lucy (Editor of The Hoopla) is a journalist and editor with almost thirty years experience in newspapers and magazines in Sydney, London, and New York. She has been published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Daily and Sunday Telegraphs, Vogue Living, Australian Art Review, and Gourmet Traveller. Most recently the Books Editor of the Sunday Telegraph, she has also contributed to the non-fiction books, Australia Through Time, and What Women Want. You can follow her on Twitter: @lucykateclark.

 

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61 Comments

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Mum2Four

    We live in an area with 5 of Sydney’s top ranking Selective Schools within a 10 km radius. I have 4 children, 3 of school age and they all attend local public Primary and High schools and are very happy there. One child got a Selective School spot with no coaching at all and declined it.

    The local mainly Asian kids who are trying out for a Selective School entry have no childhood IMO. They face up to 7 hours a DAY of coaching, do not have time to play or socialise and they will one day look back and feel as though they missed out on a valuable experience of a carefree childhood. Some have confided in my children that they face some sort of punishment if they get less than top marks.

    Having said this, I see what Latham is saying,too. I have taught High School in Sydney’s most disadvantaged areas and see kids struggling with little parental involvement and interest. They generally did not reach their potential. I was one of them and was very successful but I would be in the minority.

    • Reply March 28, 2013

      Janet G

      I live in the suburb of Marrickville in Sydney’s inner west and my two girls go to Marrickville High School and Marrickville Public School. Both are highly multicutural schools which welcome diversity of culture.

      To my great delight, I have found all their teachers to be diligent, enthusiastic and have a concerned view of their charges’ welfare. The environment is supportive and definitely allows those who wish to achieve academic excellence the scope to do so.

      As I do not have the funds to have my children tutored, I make sure that they do their homework and always have their assignments in on time. I support the P&C and support the teachers in any way that I can. Mark Latham may have a few issues of his own to deal with here. Speaking of white trash, just stop trashing your own party, Mark, and do something positive for a change.

      • Reply March 28, 2013

        Mum2Four

        Marrickville may be very different to some Western Sydney schools where I taught and where social and discipline issues impacted terribly on everyone’s learning and welfare and there was little parental support.

        • Reply March 28, 2013

          rcoley

          Marrickville High School is not much different from schools in Western Sydney. It has a very low socio-economic student population. Even though it’s in the Inner West which is a prosperous area of Sydney, the students that go there are not the children of the middle class that populate the area.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    DP

    Look, I possibly could have to much to write on this issue so excuse me for being brief.
    Had a child at school who asked a lot of questions. He had one teacher that encouraged another that set him out of the room. Saw it as ‘ Disturbing the class’. That became the popular answer, OUT side. .
    We took over after school answering his questions . He went for maths 4 to maths ONE and now is doing well at Uni in Physic and Maths.
    He would have gone downhill if we left it to the school. It is our duty as parents to watch our kids education levels and also the way they interact. No blame game here as some may have been annoyed by his question asking. So we just stepped in because we were AWARE and pleased our son showed the interest , & effort.

    My parents and my husbands parents sadly did not do the same for us. For me it was more important to work in the family business than study at school. And my parents never showed concern of our education levels. And that has affected me in more ways than one. One being trying to answer the question my son asks.
    But in my eyes, it is in the searching we do together and the skills of finding out answers that is more about the education , than always having the right answer . Its a way of showing him many other skills also than to just rely on someone else ( in this case a/the school teacher)… !

    • Reply March 28, 2013

      Mum2Four

      You sound like me, DP. My kids compare me to the girl in the Roald Dahl book, Matilda! I was Dux of my High School and won a 4 year academic scholarship to USYD and my parents barely registered.

      Our eldest son has learning difficulties so I have had to help and support him and the school. You are your child’s advocate. In some schools I worked, few parents ever helped or turned up to Parent Teacher evenings….

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Hiroya Sugita

    I can understand Mark Latham’s frustration. However, his idea will add enoumous stress to both children and parents.
    I would also like to point out that brilliant high school students do not necessarily lead to brilliant uni students or adults. There is always danger of burnt-out.
    Japan has basically pursued the Asian model but the standard of university education is awful. This model is incapable of producing innovative, original and critical thinkers. I suspect the same goes to China or Singapore.
    I guess important thing is balance. Surely certain amount of home education is necessary. Public education should be funded much higher and teacher’s standard should be raised. But I will not recommend increase in after school tuition which is very good at technical improvement in tackling exam questions but not much beyond that.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Caro

    First time lately I’ve agreed with Mark Latham on anything.

    But he’s right. To get your children through the state school system with any level of success, you need to do much more than simply leave it to the teachers.

    One case:

    I know of a little boy who is struggling at his Victorian state primary school in a composite class (mixed grade 3 and 4) – as a grade 3, and struggling to read, he’s simply getting lost in there.

    The school is so underfunded and small that (apart from prep) it ONLY has composite classes – which, incidentally, are all staffed by first and second year teachers, fresh out of uni and on the lowest of salaries, so they don’t have the expertise to help him.

    He has only lately started showing some improvement – because his parents are now paying for after school tutoring for him.

    What if they didn’t have the funds, or the good sense, to do this? Where would he be then?

    • Reply March 28, 2013

      CB

      I second this.
      Composite classes are a crock, and need to be stamped out.
      They can benefit the older kids, and push those with a natural aptitude, but can leave those kids who are struggling even further behind.
      And how can one teacher teach two grade levels accurately and properly? How? It just doesn’t compute, each class will only be getting 50% of the teaching that they should be getting.

      • Reply March 28, 2013

        Irene Buckler

        Take it from me – and thirty years in the classroom – EVERY class in primary school is a composite class. All classes require teachers to tailor the curriculum to suit individuals and group learners, combining two years makes no difference.

        • Reply March 28, 2013

          DD

          High marks in Standardised tests do not equal educational success … Neither does attainment of a place in a selective school. It’s not at all surprising that 88.2% of students at selective schools are from a language background other than English. It would be interesting to see the statistics on the background of all the students who sit the selective schools entrance exam. I imagine it would be similarly high for LBOTE. Traditionally it is Asian families who value this type of highly competitive system. That doesn’t mean they are right. I want my children to be happy, well-adjusted, compassionate, critical thinkers … That isn’t measured by NAPLAN.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Sally

    There does seem to be so much extra pressure on our education system. Families seem to expect too much of teachers: to be good role models, to encourage healthy eating, the list goes on with things that really should be happening at home in the family. In all this the focus starts to fall away from what school is for, teaching children academic skills which will enhance what they have already learnt about the world through their families and communities. So it is no wonder our school results and standards are slipping when all this extra stuff is being crammed into 6 hours a day. Back in the real world I think some sort of ‘referral and government subsidised’ access to outside tutoring for children really in need is a fantastic idea.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Doug

    I have two daughters who have sat the selective high school entrance exam. The whole coaching culture is pervasive and insidious. The people that we know (my wife is Asian so we have a lot of contact with the Asian community) some use coaching because they know that they don’t have adequate English to help their kids with their homework. But the bulk send their kids to coaching purely to get the numbers in the public tests and exams. This is nothing to do with education. Their children are certainly not dumb but what the coaching does is give them a few marks advantage which gives them a place ahead of somebody else. If you opt out of the system you miss out. The result is kids with no leisure time, little exercise and few social skills. School should be a place both to teach and to excite the children to learn. The endless repetitive tasks in coaching that make the students faster in the tests kills that desire. Numbers are not education.

    • Reply March 28, 2013

      Mum2Four

      Doug, my youngest daughter’s teacher said that some kids in her class are attending 7 HOURS of coaching a DAY every day and come to class tired, de motivated and lacking excitement for learning. They chorus, “We did that 2 years ago!” when she tries to teach a new concept….

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Jane

    Hiroya, you have hit the nail on the head when you say the important thing is balance. Children need to be well-rounded, with a range of extra-curricular activities, opportunities for socialising, family time, down time, and a bit of home study as well as the hours spent at school.
    I also think there is a happy medium between ‘tiger’ parenting and parental disinterest in their child’s schooling. Parents can assist with homework, be involved at school as a volunteer or on committees, keep in touch with what learning activities their child is doing in the classroom, keep open lines of communication between school and home without resorting to arranging hours of coaching for their children. It is well documented that students whose parents are involved in their schooling are more successful. I don’t think this shifts the responsibility of education to parents, but I do think it suggests a team approach between home and school.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Kris

    Caro – I don’t think you can blame the composite classes entirely. My son’s school has only two classes, both composites – K-2 & 3-6. He is now in Yr 5 & is a brilliant reader & voracious reader – much like his mother.

    For me, the school is all about the teachers. We are very, very lucky that our little school has some very dedicated and wonderful teachers who insist on a big focus on the basics of spelling, reading and math.

    The quality of the teacher makes all the difference in the world for some kids. Some kids will thrive no matter what, others will always struggle.

    Parents & teachers need to work together to fix the problems – it is not an either/or situation. Teachers should identify the kids that are having problems at school (whatever form the problems take) and it is then up to the parents to do what they need to to address the problem – whether it be extra tuition, glasses, medication etc.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Lee-Anne Walker

    I think Mark Latham misses the point which is unfortunate because it’s a really important subject. In an ideal world parents would support their children in an equitable public system, ensuring uniforms were clean and ironed and homework was done on time. Everyone would be happy and all children would flourish in this benign environment. However, schools aren’t equal – nowhere near it! Many areas are under-resourced – disadvantaged parents and schools struggle and children are the casualties. And so the polarised, two-tiered education system in Australia marches on. As an English teacher in state schools in Sydney, it dismays me to witness this trend and yet the debate is strangled in side-line issues. No, children should not be coached and hot-housed unless there are specific learning problems which need addressing. Coaching children is unnatural and in most cases an unnecessary pressure on children, as well as a burden on parents who often can’t afford it. I don’t even think it works because it focuses on rote learning, not critical thinking. Children may achieve the marks to go to uni, may even get through their courses, but it’s doubtful they’ll be the critical thinkers we need to make a better, more compassionate society in Australia.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Jane

    So true Lee-Anne. Which is why Gonski’s recommendations are needed so desperately.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Kiki

    A youth worker for 17 years I have supported and provided counselling to numerous students and their families who have struggled with academic performance as they found it difficult in keeping up with their Asian student counterparts.

    The non-profit organisation I work for provides free homework help assistance to students who are unable to afford pricey tutors. There is a huge demand for our service, albeit it is relied upon volunteers (normally teaching students) to provide the tutoring and the waiting lists are long.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Dinky Di

    Mark is right in one respect, that some parents do not place enough value on education but, at the same time, there are many other factors involved in encouraging learning.

    Achieving success is one of the biggest. Allow a kid to achieve success and you can stand back and watch them make every post a winner. But, by the same token, if you allow them to fail time after time, you can drain every bit of self-esteem and aspiration out of them.

    School funding is another. A kid who has half or a quarter as much per day spent on their education is going to do it tough. Also, a kid whose problems aren’t addressed early in their education will tend to fall behind. Finally, teachers who don’t value each and every kid as much as they do their own is going to neglect some. This includes teachers in wealthy private schools who tend to forget about the needs of those in public schools.

    The solutions? 1) As a society, our children have to see us praising the value of education several times every day using every medium possible. 2) We must allow every kid to achieve success and to feel first rate. To give them all a chance to develop self-esteem and to encourage them. The effort we put in to this will pay us back one hundred fold. 3) Fund every kid equally on a per student per day basis. Not so that the richest private schools in the country lose money but so that the poorest public schools get just as much. 4) If a kid has a problem, don’t punish them and don’t judge them (or their parents), help them. Bring out the best in all kids, don’t allow them to wallow. That will only bring out the worst in them. 5) Don’t segregate kids on the basis of intelligence, wealth or religion – segre-cation – that only gives (some) teachers a reason to think that some kids are more able or deserving than others, which is the ultimate form of discrimination.

    All kids are born perfect. The society they live in determines whether they stay that way.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Lab Elf

    Instead of coaching, why can’t homework centres be set up at the schools maybe using volunteers. Kids who want to complete their homework and assignments but are held back by lack of a place to study, or resources at home, could then go home with all of their day’s work done. A child who had extra difficulties with literacy or numeracy could get some individual attention. I would be prepared to help out if a school in my area wanted this kind of help.

    • Reply March 29, 2013

      Heather

      Good point Lab Elf. I’d support that idea.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Sharon

    I take a partnership approach to education with my kids. I emphasise the value of education, we read, discuss ideas, and homework has priority over recreation when they get home. They both attend the local public school, both require additional support due to Aspergers, and I could not be happier. The dedication of the teachers, their flexibility in finding ways that help my children manage in the busy class environment has been wonderful. But I take my role as a parent who works hard to prepare them for the school environment seriously as well. School and home work together to create a positive learning philosophy. For me its about the culture of the school from the top down and the culture of home environments that value the life possibilities a good education can offer.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Rhoda

    Mark Latham definitely has a point.

    My own children muddled through somehow with teachers who did a very mediocre job of it. Their primary schooling was done in classrooms with multiple grade levels. They had one good teacher between them in the 7 years they were there and she only stayed a year. I had to teach my children to spell for heavens sake. I knew one little girl in grade 6 who couldn’t read and it was only because she hadn’t learn phonics and didn’t get that sing, bring, thing all rhymed. Once taught phonics she bloomed into one of the best readers in her class.

    Raising the standard of teaching should be a priority. And 10 minutes a day on rote learning the basics would help them on their way. No big deal. Many kids have problems because the basics aren’t taught. It’s stressful for parents otherwise and I don’t know how it can be managed when both parents work because there’s no time.

    We are paying through the nose for education and it should be of a high standard and available at school. It not always is.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Louise

    What I love is that there are so many school experts – yes …. everyone went to school so they know! What is interesting is that many Asian countries are moving away from wanting to teach in a rote manner – yes their PISA and TIMMS scores are good however the schooling model does not teach young people ‘how to think’ . These countries are recognizing this and are now seeking to change their didactic approaches. They are looking at what we do however we are still following a ‘failed or failing’ path and there is evidence everywhere that this is happening. These countries are generally good at ‘reproduction’ but not good at ‘production’ ie innovation and creative ideas. Latham needs to read Zhao’s latest book on ‘World Class Learners’ to really understand the complexity. The work of Milton Chen and Howard Gardner and so on. Schools require parents as learning partners, to take an interest in what children are doing (spend more time with them) and better resources ie more money into public schools – these places have traditionally been where the innovations in education are generated. Gillard and Garrett have good intentions but their advice sets are not sound. I speak as a parent of 2 children, a former high school and primary school teacher, I hold a PhD in education and am a teacher of beginning teachers in a university. I am worried about what I see in schools and universities at the moment – we must not keep following our current path.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Julie

    Tiger parenting is not the answer. This is why http://julieboyd.com.au/what-lies-beneath/ – because extreme pressure can have dire consequences and it is people like me, who deal with suicidal kids, who have to clean up the mess these parents create.

    A piece I wrote for the Hoopla last year called Back IN Your Den, Tiger Mother is here http://thehoopla.com.au/dentiger-mother/

    Having said that, and having been intimately involved wiht the education system for more than 30 years, Mark Latham does have a point, or two
    – kids learn attitudes and values from their parents
    – kids learn bullying and negativity from watching it
    – our education systems have become places of syncophantic denial where to you can only get a job in policy if you are sucking up to the right people.
    – most teachers are committed to doing the best for kids, but there are some out there who need a damn good shake.
    – kids learn. FULL STOP. It’s WHAT and HOW we want them to learn that is the issue.
    – the purpose of education is not to get high test scores, the purpose of education is to create intelligent, thinking, considerate, human beings who will contribute to a healthier society.
    PArents have a major role to play in achieving that, so do politicians!

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Joni

    I find myself nodding and agreeing with everyone’s points on this topic. I have not been a fan of Latham’s but he is saying something that needs to be said.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Joni

    PS We need a LIKE button on the Hoopla, I LIKE all the points above.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Irene Buckler

    Latham is right that after-school tuition is one of Australia’s fastest growing industries. However, the coaching industry does not compensate for the failings of classroom instruction, it has created its own layer of ‘compulsory’ education by successfully marketing the competitive edge that most parents crave for their children. From humble beginnings – offering remediation for failing children – coaching colleges have so successfully targeted aspirational parents that they now have the numbers on their side. Nowadays, so many students are tutored, preened, coached and prepared that, as Latham points out, those whose parents cannot or do not wish to buy the “coaching-path-to-top-marks-package” are, indeed, at a disadvantage. However, it is worth noting that, once again that while, as Latham points out, our international rankings in PISA testing have fallen, but the biggest slide is at the top. Our best students have lost ground compared to their international counterparts and this drop coincides with the rise of selective schooling which is dominated by the clients of coaching industry. Conscientiousness has a place, but when it is valued and recognised over creativity and innnovation, the result is mediocrity.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Christine Gates

    While you treat teachers like disposable FTE numbers (Full Time Equivalent) on short term contracts, with limited classroom support, overloaded with red tape and inane documentation that has nothing to do with quality teaching in classrooms THEN you can’t expect a great education system.
    PLUS great points have already been made

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Louise

    Agree Irene – chronological age and what is actually before you in a classroom can often mean there can be 8-10 years difference. A good teacher always tailors what he/she plans to the learners’ needs.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Annie Also

    Parents are vital.
    We were told all those years ago that our kids had ‘no hope’ as their dad was on a DSP and I was his carer.
    Their dad is an amazing brain and has so much knowledge and passion for History and English. I enjoyed getting my HSC at night school in biology, geography, history and English. We helped them all the best we could, in their little pathetic school…then their overcrowded, underfunded, under resourced high school.
    We helped them with common sense, common knowledge and curiosity. We encouraged reading at an above age level, and discussed many ideas, philosophy, politics, ethics.
    Our children had many things to overcome within the village attitudes and the township hoplessness.
    We soldiered on.
    We had two kind teachers who gave our children (coz they seemed interested) extra private tuition free of charge. We had one who was ‘gifted’..we did not know at the time…but she was motivated, passionate and bright…and was the guinea pig to ‘acceleration’ trial of the high school. She was hated by students and the majority of the staff…she grit her teeth and worked hard.
    Son got to ANU, bright girl got to Sydney UNI ( the hatred continued as she was in subsidised housing and working AND studying with NO support…we lived 7 hours away) and youngest got to UNE.

    If we had depended solely on the teachers, the public school system and the attitudes of those around us they would still be here in our village instead of living around the world after achieving their dreams…( bright girl got Honours Degree and son has completed his Masters….youngest has more qualifications than I can say).
    Something needs to be done, but I doubt it is only ‘tuition’…parent attitude AND parent ‘being there’ sure helps!

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Helen

    My son’s education was destroyed by the inconsistencies of the education system. I personally read to my son right from when he was a baby so by the time he was attending school, he already knew the basics. Thank heavens. I helped out in his classes for the first 4-5 years with the reading for those children whose parents didn’t help them and whose reading abilities were very poor. The teacher’s never had time to help these students. My son has always been intelligent and was rated in the top 1% of the state in the NAPLAN testing in year 4. He was placed in programs designed for intelligent children, but unfortunately at the expense of his basic maths skills and any school work he missed whilst attending these extra programs. His teachers were very complacent about allowing him to finish the work he missed. I used to hound them continuously to allow him to finish his work. The extra programs did him good in learning lots of useful things so I was reluctant to take him out of these programs. Another problem he had from year 5 – 7 was the constant changing of teachers. In year 5 he had about 5 different teachers, plus temporary ones on odd days. There was no consistency in teaching because of this and some personality clashes were inevitable. This was the beginning of the downfall of my sons education. The next 2 years were hell because of the same problem of too many teachers and no consistency of teaching styles. High school was hell because programs are not designed to allow for imagination and exploration. He has been removed from the state education system and is being put through a certificate program run by a community group to allow him to go to TAFE. He was in danger of dropping out of high school so at least this way he may be able to salvage something of his education to be able to get a career of some kind. I do not have many good things to say about the state education system at all. Teachers should not have to teach many of the things that they do. In many cases they have to teach too much. Get back to basics; reading, writing, maths,art/music and some physical exercise and sport. leave all the other things to extra curricular activity. The most important thing, train teachers better and stop the revolving door of teacher’s in the classroom in primary school.

    • Reply March 29, 2013

      Heather

      Helen, there are some good ‘alternative’ schools around, specially in the secondary sector, that cater for students who don’t fit the (sausage machine) mould. Have you investigated these? Sounds like you have a son who might hate secondary education, but could blossom at university. And if that’s the case maybe the TAFE sector isn’t the answer for him.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Rhoda

    Parents may not be familiar with the pedagogy but they do know what works and what doesn’t with their own children. Those I talk to now feel that schools need a redesign in more ways than one. It’s very obvious that the old model of one teacher to a classroom doesn’t work unless that teacher is particularly capable and committed to the task. If the experts can find a better model than schools might have a chance of properly educating the next generation.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Beth Tamm

    As a middle class white female I feel so unsupported and let down by the education system. It sux to be white. Everyone thinks we are doing fine, but there are only so many parenting books you can read, and if you can’t find out what other whitey families are doing about tutors etc because you were away on holiday, then how would you know? How dare those Asians get ahead on us with their core family values of pride & freedom in education, working hard to take care of your own, and striving for success. Thanks for bringing this to my attention Mark Latham. Why didn’t anyone tell me we need to be personally involved in our kids’ education? Doesn’t the one teacher individually tailor the lesson to each of the 30 students, within the 50 minute lesson? I’m sure the teachers only teach the curriculum and don’t put any of their personal values & experiences onto the way they teach. Surely I can just trust that their values won’t undermine what we teach in our home. I want my children to be successful, but you know, i need time to myself too. I tried googling exactly how many hours one-on-one time a child needs to succeed but there were so many responses and they were all so long to read …

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Slim

    Good points, Rhoda. Schools do not operate in isolation from the rest of the world. The research of John Hattie provides a wealth of evidence as to the best influences on student learning and effective teaching. Our school (as are most, if not all, Victorian state schools) is changing how we teach, with promising results and much higher engagement levels for the students. Sadly, the latest pronouncements from Federal Shadow Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, express the desire to return to more didactic, ‘chalk and talk’ teaching, a greater emphasis on ‘values’ (whatever that means) and less on critical thinking. Industry bodies advising the National Training Framework repeatedly demand students with critical thinking skills and the flexibility to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. The Culture Warriors on the Right regard Critical Thinking with disdain. Sadly, a Coalition Federal Government will seek to diminish or remove it from the National Curriculum.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Maureen P.

    In a perfect world, all things would be equal. State schools would be the epitome of first-class education, teachers would be well-paid, those special-needs children (at both ends of the Bell curve) would be catered for. Parents would be well-paid for whatever job they had and support for those families who needed it would be readily available…

    But it’s not a perfect world and I wonder how much more the whole issue is to those parents in Nikki McWatters article about ‘struggle street.’ They’re worrying all the time how to provide their children with the basics for living, let alone supervising homework and organising tutoring. How can they step up and play an active role in school life? Browbeaten on a daily basis, how can they get any sort of equality in education for their children and is it even a priority? With children who have so little, (and try to hide it to fit in), coping with so many worries, how will they learn optimally?

    Mark Latham makes some good points which would address some of these inequities. And those of us who didn’t tick one of those boxes for Nikki’s qiuizz, let’s stop complaining about how hard it is and how much tax we pay and get on with putting our money, our time and expertise where it will do the most good!

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Deb

    rThis is such a big and important topic that I, like most people who have experienced schools from all angles – student, teacher and parent – must confine my comments. So good to see from these comments that many people understand and experience the complexities as they play out in ourselves and our children. Ideally, school and home is a partnership between family and school. That worked for me in my second parenting experience, as a single mother and I used to feel that I felt that my school, it’s after-school care, it’s community and I were a team working to give our children the best education in all aspects that we could. It worked for my child and I played my part in the primary school parent organisations. It was hard to maintain that connection in the high school years – again felt as a student, teacher and parent. Those high school years could be made better for everyone involved, I reckon. That’s the point at which many children are taken from the public to private system, re

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Nel Matheson

    I would venture the opinion that there is nothing to be gained in this area by comparing ethnicity of students. There are glaring problems with our educational system, and some of the problems are highlighted in the comments above. Most parents are aware of exactly what their children face, and provid geat support. As also stated above, there are some parents who have neither the resources or the motivation and these children really need to be identified and helped. How – no idea! Has the problem become to big for any state or federal government to tackle? Grouping children by chronoligical age, rather than ability, classes way to big for any teacher to do more than babysit, lack of interest by most parents to become involved, disciplinary difficulties, psychological problems and inadequate resources for these, poor facilities, and of course the funding issues, are all areas of maor concern. And that’s before the cirriculum is examined! One hell of a mountain to climb. If only it was that simple, Mark Latham.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Sally

    I somewhat disagree with the ‘tiger’ parenting approach. What children need is for parent’s to support and take an interest in what they are doing in all aspects of their life and take the time to get to really know their child. How they learn, what makes them tick, how they think etc. Then they are able to work in a collaborative way with teachers to achieve the best outcomes for that child and how to best support them at home. That is how I see taking an interest in their education. I recently had my eldest child’s Kindergarten parent -teacher interviews and the teacher was stunned at how well I know my daughter. Why is the fact that I’ve taken the time to truly get to know the individual’s that each of my 3 children are and to support them in a way appropriate to each child such an unusual thing, that is what worried me.

  • Reply March 29, 2013

    JImbo

    This debate is all about parents vs teachers. It ignores external influences – such as gangsta rap and the cult of crime, as promoted by Channel 9, 2DayFM and virtually all media consumed by the young. In the 1980s and 1990s the alternative culture was largely affirmative. progressive and feminist. Now it is hedonistic, hypersexual and misogynist (and in some areas, reinforced by religious extremism). There are some areas in which public school kids have no hope whatsoever. No offence, but any parent who allows their child to attend Granville Boys High should be reported to DOCS.

  • Reply March 29, 2013

    Tess

    That the selective school system has been hi-jacked by students with an Asian background and coaching colleges; and parents who can’t or don’t supplement their child’s school education with help at home are two different, but very important issues. In the first, the testing for selective schooling needs to be overhauled so it’s more equitable and non-formulaic – so that creative, critical thinking can thrive in selective high schools. Secondly, regardless of all the examples of wonderful parenting offered here, the reality is some parents don’t have the knowledge, experience or wherewithal to help their children. Some simply cannot lift themselves out of their own circumstances, or life experiences, to help their children. Some primary schools have programs to encourage parents to get involved with their student’s education and the school community, and this is a great place for the govt to direct funds.

  • Reply March 29, 2013

    ai

    There are also many wonderful teachers in the public system, but the system does not seem to reward them. This is part of our experience with the NSW education system.

    My daughter started school at one of the ‘best’ non-selective high schools in Australia. She was continually told that she was NOT university material. I was then fortunately transferred overseas (we were about to pull her out of said school anyway).

    The revolting teachers who kept giving her that message (which was at the very least tolerated by said school) might be interested to know that she is just about to graduate from a prestigious UK university with double honours degree (in 3 years). SO MUCH FOR NOT UNIVERSITY MATERIAL.

    If we had taken a back seat, and not encouraged her to keep going and that it was the teachers that had the problem and not her – well who knows.

    Parents have a valuable role to play, even if it is just encouraging and giving a good example.

    What is unacceptable is that there are many parents who cannot help there children academically, through their own lack of education or ability. They may be great and encouraging parents, but don’t have the experience to help their child with algebra or French, etc.
    These children are currently grossly disadvantaged by the public school system – and that is a huge failing of the Australian school system and really needs to be addressed.

  • Reply March 29, 2013

    Jack Richards

    I was a High School teacher for twelve years. I left because I couldn’t stand the way the system operated.

    I recall Speech Night when there were twice as many awards for swimming, netball, athletics or football as there were for academic achievement.

    There was little possibility for advancement, no career path as such, and the whole show was run on ideological grounds rather than doing the job. I was once admonished because my English and History classes were “too academic” and (this will really shock you) because I taught “grammar”!

    In 1989 I started at new school in a big town in the Central West of NSW. I was allocated a Year 11 class for HSC English. There were 21 students in the class and not one of them could read to any functional level. I was supposed to teach them Shakespeare! They couldn’t read a comic with any comprehension and I was supposed to teach them King Lear in Middle English! It was impossible.

    Apart from that, there was no effort at discipline, every class seemed to be in constant uproar, and my efforts at actually doing my job by controlling my classes resulted in complaints against my methods (even though they worked) which were supported by the Principal.

    That was it for me. One Friday I thought to myself “there has to be more to life than this” – so I went up to the Principal’s office, gave him my chalk and duster and told him “I Quit” – and walked out never to return.

    I got another job on half what I was earning at the top rung of teaching – but matched my old salary after 6 months, and had doubled it after two years.

    I wouldn’t recommend teaching to anyone. The salaries are comparatively lousy; there is no social standing for the “profession”; there’s little respect from the students or the community; there is no career path for the majority of teachers; the “methods” are far too ideologically driven; no-one ever wants to tackle the hard issues; there’s an element of parents who encourage their children to be disruptive and school-yard bullies; and everyone who has ever attended school thinks they are an expert on what should be taught and how it should be taught.

  • Reply March 29, 2013

    Carolyn

    To Jack ( above). I’ve just retired from a 40+ primary teaching career. Wondering if your last paragraph was directed at High School teaching? I hope not, because that’s life for teachers in Primary too!
    I truly wonder if in 10 years’ time, there will BE any teachers left? Upon reflection, perhaps we won’t be needed at all, given Mr Latham’s ideology and the current technology based curriculum delivery. Hmmmm… any robot could do that!!

  • Reply March 29, 2013

    Rhoda

    Commiserate Jack. You’re probably one of many. May I just say that the parents who stick their bib in are most times doing so because they can see the system doesn’t work for their children. Frustration kicks in. I suppose it sounds like a cacophony to those on the front line but ‘experts’ are locked in the halls of academe and the walls must be soundproof.

    To reiterate – the one teacher lecturing to a classroom is now obsolete.

    • Reply March 29, 2013

      Jack Richards

      @ Carolyn. If one looks at the “respect” and the salaries teachers receive in places like Germany, Finland, Japan, Taiwan, China etc and compare that with what happens in the Anglophone, it’s no mystery why education is failing here, the USA and the UK. Did you ever have people tell you that you didn’t know what a “real job” was like – seeing as how teachers “only work 6 hours a day and get 12 weeks leave”? Have you ever had people tell you “anyone could teach – there’s nothing to it”. I did, and a lot more times than once. I usually taught 5 classes over Years 7-12 at all ability levels in three subjects i.e. English, History and Mathematics. I came to teaching late after leaving school at 15 and doing a trade as a welder/boiler-maker – which I later taught in TAFE. For a time I worked for the “Pipeline Authority” as a pressure-vessel welder when the line was being laid from Moomba down to Sydney. It was a tough job, but not nearly as tough as teaching High School in the western suburbs of Sydney or in big country towns. Maybe I was heavy-handed, very demanding, and a martinet – but maybe that came from a job where anything less than perfect on a high-pressure gas pipeline could mean a catastrophic explosion. And then I’d have some jerk tell me I didn’t know what a “real job” was.

      @ Rhoda. I can’t remember a single occasion when a parent stuck her/his bib in (for some reason it was nearly always women) where it wasn’t motivated by a desire to push some ideological barrow – or they were just plain nuts. I can recall the religious cranks who complained about books like “Catcher in the Rye” and “The Treatment and the Cure”, plays like “Equus”, “The Removalist” and “Waiting for Godot”. They weren’t going to have their kids subjected to all that “communist” subversion and perversion. I had one kid hand me his copy of “The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith” with a note scrawled by his father about how he was sick of hearing about “stinking boongs” and wouldn’t have his son reading such a book.

      Parent-teacher night was always an experience. The parents of the outstanding students always turned up to have their egos polished and to bask in their child’s reflected glory; but the ones I wanted to see never turned up. Then there were the ones who turned up to “have a go”. If they were men, they were usually pissed, if they were women they always came in their Sunday best and wore an expression of determined but beatific calm. They were always either religious nuts, far right types who yearned for the “good old days” or far left ex-hippy types who thought the kids should be allowed to learn at their own pace as personal interest directed them while running nude through the forests playing bongo drums.

      I had a wonderful experience in about 1984 when the father of a good student came in to attack me over my mathematics class. You see, I taught the metric system, and old Max had concluded it was a communist plot and that the Imperial system was far superior. I listened to him for a while and asked him if he understood the Imperial system thoroughly, “Of course, I was brought up on it” he said. So I asked him: how long is one link in a chain; if I gave you four pegs to peg out an acre, how long would a side be; what’s the difference between an avoirdupois ounce and a Troy ounce; how many gallons are there in a hogshead; what’s the difference between a 5/8 SAE spanner and a 5/8 Whitworth; and what’s the difference in weight between a long ton and a short ton? He didn’t get any answers right. I pointed out the basic idea of metrics and he admitted that, maybe, it had some merit after all.

      I had some great classes when I was teaching and there were a lot of great kids I remember fondly – and who remember me and still send me Christmas cards. But I’d never consider going back (too old anyway) and I’d never recommend it as a career to a young person.

  • Reply March 29, 2013

    lyndal

    This would have to be Lathams most sensible statement….but he should look at the “ideals” of his Fabian Socialist Labor party….Dumb down society….break up the Family Unit….create havoc in Law and Order….the rot started with Whitlam

  • Reply March 29, 2013

    Jane

    So wonderful ideas and sentiments, but a couple of points missing. I was fully involvedin my kids’ schooling (in state schools) – tuck shop, school council, helping littlies’ with reading etc – but my kids’ learning yo-yo’d depending on their class teacher for the year. The same happened in secondary school, only by then my kids were fed up with me being involved and rebelled, putting in less and less effort until they barely got through with a pass. If I cited examples of friends doing well I’d get replies such as: “It’s OK for her to study; she’s Vietnamese.” There was a culture of learning not being cool, but acceptable if you’re parents pushed you.
    Now my kids have discovered the joy of learning on their own and are loving tertiary subjects – but it’s taken a few years for them to come around. They are also warming to the idea of voluntary work.
    In the mean time, I still don’t see any Asian parents turning up for working bees at the school, and this negative attitude to voluntary work is being passed on to the next generation.
    So do we want a country full of academic, insular folk, or do we want self-motivated people with compassion for others?

  • Reply March 30, 2013

    Maureen P.

    Under Whitlam, Lyndal we had free tertiaty education. How can that be seen as an effort to ‘dumb down’ society? Mr. Abbot probablt took full advantage of that, but it doesn’t happen now, does it? Create havoc in law and order? Break up the family unit?

    You must have lived in fear and terror under his government, just as I did under the government of Mr. Howard. I just never knew what he would do or say next. Would my son be called up to go to war to find those weapons of mass destruction? I was always alert Lyndal, and extremely alarmed.

  • Reply March 30, 2013

    Rhoda

    LOL Jack, I’ve spent my life in the bush. Parents there wouldn’t know an ideology if they fell over it. Simple souls. Different in town I guess.

  • Reply April 1, 2013

    Melinda

    I’d like to point out that the LBOTE kids achieving the high percentages come from families in their own countries whose parents were successful enough to have the opportunity to work and raise their children overseas. Comparing the children of these families, which are the elite to start with, against the full range of Aussie kids is comparing apples with oranges. How are our ex-pat kids doing in Asian countries compared with the entire population of those countries? I suspect you’d find they were doing very well.

  • Reply April 2, 2013

    Julie

    Those who think teachers are the problem need to take a look at this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72NKWIJCXew&feature=youtu.be

  • Reply April 2, 2013

    Rosie

    Giving more money to disinterested parents may not make any difference to their kids education. It may be the children themselves who want to do well, or don’t care.
    My parents weren’t really that interested in our education but trusted us to do well, and guess what, we did.
    I am basically the same. I trust in the ability of my daughter’s teachers. We do all the reading and the hot words homework, but even so she is having trouble with reading and writing. So much so she cries about it and says she wants to read beautiful stories but can’t (yet).
    Her teacher has placed her in a special reading group, without any prompting from us. Which is the way it should be, not outsourced because we don’t trust the teachers!
    The respect needs to go both ways, parents to teachers and government to teachers.
    I don’t believe Mark Latham is right, he sounds like the ex-premier of Victoria’s echo.
    The money needs to be invested in the state schools in the first place. Better pay for teachers, better contracts for teachers, more money for the school buildings and grounds.
    I passed a beautiful primary school this weekend near Mornington and knew immediately it was a private school. You NEVER see a well maintained, modern state primary school!
    The way parents can get a better state education for their children is to support the school and let the government know it needs to as well.
    Extra money for private tuition is not going to achieve that.

  • Reply April 2, 2013

    helen b

    As an ex-teacher, I was trying to stay away from this topic, but I just couldn’t resist.

    Firstly, the premise of this article is:
    ‘educating the nation’s children is the job of schools’
    This is where I take issue.

    Educating the nation’s children is the job of everyone in our society and begins with ‘THE FAMILY’. Remember???? that insitution of nurturing, warmth and yes…TEACHING!

    Who teaches the child from the day it is born – the parents and everyone in that child’s world.

    Children learn from the example of everyone and everything in its world. The child learns through the senses…sight, sound, touch, smell. It learns how to behave, develops values and attitudes towards everything, based on it’s experience and understanding. The child is like a sponge soaking up everything.

    The premise that the school is responsible for the child’s education is an absolute cop out and a negation of parental responsibility in the education process. This is exactly why schools/teachers are overwhelmed by the continually increasing demands being placed on them since the 1970’s. Schools have become the dumping ground for society’s problems. And now society is turning on them.

    Every time there’s a ‘problem’ identified by the social commentary, there’s a demand for more education and it’s put onto the schools. How do you think schools can keep accommodating the shortfall of society’s inadequacies. There is only so much time in the day. And teachers are as human as any parent. They have their strengths and weaknesses. Just like parents, they are not specialists at everything.

    But no! The parents are calling the schools out for not doing what they themselves couldn’t achieve. The behaviour problem is one of the biggest challenges and that behaviour learning starts at home. How many 8 year olds are ‘running’ their parents’ lives?

    Since I started teaching in the late 60’s, the curriculum went from ‘the basics’ to an expanding brief of environmental education, mass media education, personal development education, bicycle safety…that’s just a few for starters. There was a constant stream of new curricula that emerged from social issues of the day. Yes, I was a fierce supporter of environmental education and personal growth and development. But, we still had to teach the basics.

    In the 70’s, it was decided by ‘the powers that be’ that every school develop their own curriculum. Well, I don’t know how many teachers went through divorces as a result of this process. Hours and hours of additional workload reproducing what generally was much the same as the school up the road. And of course we needed to understand and get further training in curriculum development. On top of classroom programming, marking and assessment, it was a huge workload. In those days, Primary teachers didn’t have any time off class during the week for additional responsibilites in the school. I was amongst many teachers studying part time/externally in the academic sphere, so even more work. Then, of course, we’d all be doing submissions for programs to get Disadvantaged School Funding. Whew!

    I could go on and on with this subject letting off steam.

    However, let’s turn our attention to parents and how their participation has changed. In the past, parents weren’t involved in schools except for special events. However, generally, parents were more likely to be home in the afternoon/evening and supervised and/or took an interest in homework. There was greater respect from the parents for the work we did and there was more respect from the kids.

    Schools thrive on good relationships:
    During the 80’s and 90’s I experienced close and regular informal interaction with the parents of my students. Many mothers worked part time or from home so made themselves available to offer their expertise in the classroom. As did some fathers. I am not just talking about listening to kids read. Any subject is relevant. These years of ongoing partnerships between parents, the child and me, were the happiest years of my career.

    I believe the relationship between parents, child, the teacher and the school is a key component in advancing the child’s values and atitudes towards education and the ongoing love of learning. More than that, the teacher and the school become part of ‘the family’. There is no division between school and home in the child’s mind and heart.

    You want your child to do well, show your interest in learning. Be curious with them in exploring the world and discussing its problems. Talk with the teacher and the school in suggesting ideas, directions, especially if the school is lacking the enthusiasm, leadership. Be positive.
    And if you can’t get support from the school for an ongoing problem, don’t be frightened to change schools.

    Bottom line:
    Yes, the system has to change – radically!
    Attitudes to schools and teachers have to change, not just from parents but from ‘the system’ itself, from society.
    There needs to be more support for teachers from the system. More upfront ongoing mentoring for young teachers for starters.
    Mark Latham isn’t all wrong. He’s being realistic. You can argue that it’s all wrong or you can accept the way things are and work with it in the best way possible.
    If everyone could just stop whingeing, take some responsibility and start doing something positive instead, we’ve got good change.

    I can now let this topic go. I’m at the end of days of debating here, but I feel better for expressing just a ‘little’ of what’s in my heart.

    Children, teachers and parents united…way to go! :)

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