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Students need teachers, not technicians

  • 10 May 2018


Certain things still resonate from teacher training, though I no longer teach. In a lecture hall in Bundoora we were told, 'you can either be a technician or an educator'.

Binaries have limited value, but this one does highlight a sticking point in the Australian approach to education. For the past several years, education has been treated as a technical problem, to be worked through by (funding) formula and (curricular) experimentation.

The most significant development is actually found in last year's budget, when the Coalition government committed to a needs-based model and incrementally raising funding levels. While it can be lauded for these, in real terms public and private schools are still treated as if they are competitive.

Recurrent funding over the next ten years will grow by 56.6 per cent for government schools, bringing the total to $102.1 billion. It sounds like a lot of money, and a welcome reversal of the previous Liberal line that fixing education is not about money. But non-government schools will also be receiving $141.4 billion over the same period, a growth of 55.6 per cent.

The current model allocates commonwealth funding for government schools up to 20 per cent of SRS by 2027 and up to 80 per cent for non-government schools; state and territory co-funding is not necessarily tied to SRS.

Australia thus remains an outlier among OECD nations, most of which do not fund private schools (yet have students ranking highly in international achievement tests). Meanwhile, the only new major school funding in this year's budget is $247 million for the chaplaincy program.

One of the pitfalls of a solely technical approach to education is that political will becomes a function of money, which in turn rests on political expedience between federal and state governments, further complicated by external lobbying. Education gets ground to a grain.


"In moving away from the so-called factory model of education, we should also be careful not to assign teachers again as technicians, rather than the educators we need them to be."


There was an opportunity a while back to pull out of the mire, to re-envision a place for education in society and in our future. The 2011 Gonski review on school funding seemed straightforward, setting out what teachers and principals already knew: that socioeconomic inequality has an impact on learning outcomes, and that a recalibration in school resourcing is desperately needed.

It is this recalibration that has since taken up much of the