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Edu-politics, incredibility and the current political edu-scape

I think I just made up a word – edu-politics – but maybe I didn’t . . . but it doesn’t seem to matter in the madness of the current election campaigns. …

So much of this campaign (Australia, 2010) has highlighted the significant role that education plays for a society, and clearly the value with which families and governments hold for education systems. However, this election campaign and other federal educational initiatives also highlight the ways in which education is politicized as a tool of social and cultural manipulation.
“We value our schools; let’s invest in the infrastructure of schools and communities”
The Building Education Revolution was a welcomed initiative of the government. As an ideal, it aimed to develop spaces for teaching, learning and broader community partnerships which would enable innovative practices in education, ‘moving Australia forward” as a leader in the provision of educational resources per capita.
As a reality, the BER is acknowledged more as an economic stimulus package to buoy the Australian economy during a crippling global economic crisis. At its muddiest, the BER has become a shame file opened during this election to highlight corrupt processes of tender processes, and accusations of furtive money laundering.
In the meantime, the evaluations of the BER (as they are realized within schools) are lost amongst the ravel which could have shed light on implementations of this type in other places . . . showcasing Australian educational (rather than political) endeavours across such a large scale initiative.
“Let’s address our digital natives . . . bring on 1:1 computing in the schools”
The Digital Educational Revolution (DER) was another well-intended initiative ideally intended to provide greater access to digital resources and hardware across educational contexts. Like the BER, the DER was a swift manoeuvre. Laptops or other ultra mobile devices appeared within schools without little regard for the types of technical infrastructures which were required to enable everyone to logon at the same time, whilst simultaneously overlooking sufficient power sources, school security and adequate wireless connectivity. And, then, the devices, their complexities and governmental overseers imposed upon teachers’ practices, curricula and capacities without appropriate foresight in considering professional demands of such innovations (for example, professional knowledge and learning in digital literacies or notions of ubiquitous technologies).
There has been little attention to the DER, in this election as it has largely been overshadowed by the unravelling tragedies of the BER. However, the DER remains an example of what edu-politicism is doing to educational systems and practices, with little regard for any of the key stakeholders – but depending on your stance, the stakeholders change. For clarification, as an educationalist, the key stakeholders remain the students, their parents, their communities, the teachers, the principals, and of course there are numerous other stakeholders.
“Kids’ aren’t learning the right things in schools, families are moving around Australia a lot . . . let’s go back to basics and all learn the same stuff”
The National Curriculum (still in draft) is yet another potentially good initiative within Australian schools. The ideal is around providing equity and access to all students in every pocket of Australia. In offering students a diverse yet comparable knowledge and skill base, we are also potentially offering a larger percentage of Australian students greater access to a diverse range of possible futures.
Yet, the reality of this initiative – The National Curriculum – is reminiscent of a turn of the 20th (not 21st) century subject based learning approach which privileges classical knowledge (science, literature, history, mathematics) over all others – in the first iteration at least, and this in itself says something. In this National Curriculum, there has been little consultation with key stakeholders, and little regard for interdisciplinary learning approaches which enable students to connect school-world practices with life-world practices and vice-versa. Further, from a futures perspective, such a curriculum, rather than moving us forward, clearly represents tremendous movement backwards (dependent of course on how one views Kantian theory).
“And, whilst we’re putting education in the spotlight, why don’t we make it transparent?”
The MySchool website/mechanism is ill-informed, unreliable, invalid and divisive. Pitched by government as a means of measuring school success, and providing stakeholders with a systematic ranking of schools across Australia, MySchool in reality stratifies communities and sets educators and institutions up as competitors as opposed to collaborators. The MySchool rankings are crudely based upon the NAPLAN test which asks 40 questions of each child, directed at dimensions of literacy and numeracy skills. Diversity in this mechanism is reflected within an ICSEA allocation which somehow captures the different clientele of a school community – linked to identifiers such as income, geographic location and indigenous identification.
And now, in the election, even more shocking than Prime Minister Gillard’s claims of the National Curriculum and MySchool as her greatest successes, two more provocative platforms emerge:
  1. That, on the basis of these 40 questions and school rankings, bonuses will be paid to high-achieving schools (High-stakes testing at its worst? How is MySchool NOT a league table?)
  2. In response to the critique of the testing as flawed, that there will be MORE testing (Is this linked to the National Curriculum? Embedded within the National Curriculum? Or does the National Curriculum become redundant as teachers prepare students for tests in order to receive their bonuses?)
“Let’s transform teachers into professionals . . . and professionals into teachers”
Based on the notion that a ‘quality teacher’ is the most important school-based factor in improving student outcomes, the National Professional Standards for Teachers (also in draft) outline key knowledge and skills. This framework traverses ‘four levels of professional expertise’: Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher. As an ideal, the framework is used to plan for professional learning and success in building teachers’ capacities over time. As a reality within the current edu-political climate, it would not be cynical nor sceptical to suggest that it is more likely yet another measure of accountability, and even transparency.
Of course, even more startling and revealing is the latest pledge of $16 million to transform professionals into teachers. The model, not dissimilar to a failed Teach for America/Australia, transforms professionals over an eight week intensive training program, through in-service education within a school or other learning environment and provides a $10,000 incentive. There is a clear de-professionalism of teachers and the education sector more broadly in many of the realities which underpin such an initiative. (That may contribute to some of the reason that other countries have aborted their versions of this model).
At the time of his election, Ex-Prime Minister Rudd claimed that Australia should be ready for an Education Revolution. Today, we watch a rabid edu-political dog generating a series of revolution as it chases its tail. Like the twister which has damaged parts of Australia today, the spinning revolutions of this edu-political nonsense are generating a whirlwind of damage across the broader educational context in Australia and its key stakeholders. Who’s representing education in a way that our children will have ways of shaping and contributing to their futures, rather than continuing to perpetuate comfortable futures for these folk? And, where is the autonomy for schools and school leaders which has been so lightly bantered around during this election?
Dr. Debra Bateman is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at Deakin University. She is a passionate educator with strong partnerships across a range of educational contexts.

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