It seemed like a good idea at the time. Cane beetles were a nuisance in our sugar fields and the USA offered help. In Hawaii there were some toads that liked eating beetles. If something comes from the U.S.A, dutiful Australia is obliged to copy, so 102 USA-bred cane toads were turned loose at Gordonvale way up north.
Since no one had thought any further than the beetle-eating stage, things didn’t turn out so well. No one had measured how high the little darlings could jump…not high…and the beetles survived.
Instead of looking for home-based solutions to the original problem [they hadn’t noticed the rabbits and the prickly pear and the camphor laurels], we are still desperately looking for developing ways of controlling the toads. They have been here for 75 years, growing bigger and moving further.
Which says something about ‘experts’. Think of schooling. Australia has always been highly regarded for the quality of its teaching force. They are first in line for jobs when they seek employment overseas. Ask anyone in authority in the UK, USA, the International Schools network and the Middle East. It just happens to be so.
Few people in Australia appreciate this, and some influential business and banking people even believe that any tardiness of its hired hands is the fault of schools and its teachers. They base their opinion on that group of past-pupils who are unable to access or are disinterested in seeking higher education.
So, schools have to be brought into line because check-outs can’t spell or calculate. School leavers are useless because there is no rigour in the operations like there was ‘in our day’. Schooling needs to return to ‘what we used to do’: test, practise tests, punish, frighten with failure.
Brendan Nelson, Julia Bishop, Julia Gillard and Simon Crean, all influential controllers, see political gains in following such beliefs. They think that there is a need to go back.
When Julia Gillard met Joel Klein at a function in New York, he seemed to have the right idea. As a New York lawyer, he knew how to run schools; so, bank-rolled by the Australian banking fraternity, he was brought on a quick tour of Australia’s deep south for a week; and Julia promptly introduced Naplan, better known as Napalm because of its tendency to destroy. Perhaps Joel should have been taken to Gordonvale for a launch of his system. It is, uniquely, his; and matches the introduction of the cane toad.
Australian schooling is now judged on test results…tests of literacy and numeracy only. Other outcomes of school learning and developing personal ways of learning don’t seem to matter anymore. Many useful aspects of personal development are being consumed in the super-attention being given to a few left-brain activities.
Just as cane-toads have consumed heaps of non-beetles and destroyed eco-climates, blanket testing destroys a love for learning generally and the natural fondness for non-testable learning interests. Australia’s potential learning and intellectual climate is certainly threatened. We are learning to live with the restrictive Klein mode. Give it twenty to thirty years.
The ferocity of our political leader, though, is impressive in pushing for fear-driven results; then, sweet-lipped and hand-talking with motherhood statements about looking after the future of our kids by improving scores the ‘con’ is completed. We’ve been ‘had’, big time; and the spreading of even more cane toads seems to be supported by her storm troopers and eichmanns in this new approach to schooling. Deafening silence. Things don’t look too good for kids.
Why didn’t she go to Finland, Korea, Hong-Kong China, Singapore or Canada for a cuppa and meet their teachers…and their lawyers if that’s her thing? On any mode of testing, no New York school district does as well as Australia does, and never has. Why copy one of them after a short chat with a vested sweet-talker over some canapés? Why not take notice of success? Please explain. Look around.
The displaced Australian system in vogue before 2008 could have been called a learnacy system, based on love for learning and for developing learning potential. It never got a chance. This new system is described by Klein as a ‘hard-data system.’ I suppose Gillard’s term ‘modernising infrastructure’ means the same. Both negative descriptors mean that what is done in schools is determined by what tests demand….and test content is determined by someone beyond schools.
No one seems to be concerned, either, about the release of the Senate Inquiry report into Naplan. Started on 13 May and due to surface on 13 August, it is now on ice because the elections have interfered with the holding of a public hearing. Of course. This inquiry has published all 272 submissions from organisations and individuals. A Google of ‘senate inquiry naplan’ will reveal them.
The majority of those who bothered to submit suggestions, you will see, clearly dislike the testing and the use of the screwy information that tests provide. If the recommendations from the Senate are those that one anticipates, will the new government change its mind and, maybe, start from scratch with a home-grown learning-based regime?
Then, in the ruddy-blush of the election kafuffle, as if suddenly thought-of, more cane toads were released.
1. The proposal that better teaching performers should receive more money [a blast from the past] hit the deeply-interested press. One is unsure of the salary cap that will be needed for each school; nor whether only teachers of the 3Rs will get it. The pay structure will be sufficient to attract marquee performers to teach at Winton, Wilcannia, Halls Creek and Oodnadatta won’t it? It will require the wisdom and experience of Andrew Demetriou and David Gallop combined to work out how to be fair to all concerned, including the pupils. Who will be the better ‘spotters’ for the talent… subject-based itinerants, regional personnel, school dentists? Once sorted within each state system, it should be easy-pickings for the richer private school’s recruitment efforts.
2. Next, within the same week, came a brilliant suggestion straight from the Patel ‘manual of appointment’. Dragged from the past along came a repeat ‘pressure-cooker’ scheme for the training of teachers who have expertise in some non-teaching field. Such a scheme has caused a riot before, with Principals and Inspectors having to teach high schools subjects that they knew nothing about for a while, and every single recruit giving up teaching after a year or two.
3. Then there was the proposal to disallow the playing of sport on week-ends for not turning up at school. Talk about a reward and punishment, fear-driven system! I’ve seen schools where a naughty child, not allowed in school in out-of-school time as a punishment, weep because it was such fun to ‘play’ with learning material inside the room; and groans from kids when a Minister gave them a school holiday because they couldn’t come to school for a day. Fair go, Julia and Simon. Try some Aussie thinking.
I do hope that no more sudden initiatives surface. I’m scared enough now. I’m certainly voting informal in the Reps to play safe.
Phil Cullen AM is a former Queensland Director of Primary Education. He maintains the Primary Schooling website.
This article was first published in On Line Opinion. It is re-published here by permission of the author.