Education Policy is Based on Myths According to Leading Academic

A leading education academic says that education policy in Australia is based on myths. Professor Stephen Dinham from the University of Melbourne said that Australia is getting “the worst of both worlds” by copying policies from the United States and the United Kingdom. He called for greater scrutiny of these policies by educationalists.

In a speech last week to the Australian College of Educators in Western Australia, Professor Dinham said that “what appears to be a widespread movement to denigrate and dismantle public education is gaining momentum” under the influence of policies in the US and the UK. He said that myths and beliefs underpinning education policies in these countries have been accepted “almost without evidence or questioning” in Australia and have assumed the status of ‘facts’.

Professor Dinham said that policies such as independent public schools, greater school autonomy, deregulation of education and shifting teacher education to schools are finding increased support and traction in Australia despite the lack of evidence to support them:

With these developments, educational research and other evidence has been distorted, discounted or disregarded in favour of deregulation, privatisation, corporatisation and quick fix solutions to the supposed problems of teaching and the ‘crisis’ in schooling. Educators have been either silent or silenced in debates and discussions about education.

He said that school autonomy in particular “has become something of an article of faith”. He said that it should be up to the proponents of major change to provide supporting evidence prior to its widespread introduction: “It should not be left to others to disapprove or question these significant developments”.

According to Dinham there is a “manufactured crisis” in public education which is eroding confidence in the system. He said this rhetoric of crisis must be challenged.

The rhetoric of crisis needs to be challenged as must the glib exhortations to privatise, corporatise and deregulate education….We need to strengthen public schools and public education for the betterment of all and we need strong affirmation in support of public education. Education should not be about user pays or survival of the most advantaged.

Despite most public schools performing well, the drift to private schools and more recently to independent public schools is being actively encouraged by governments. Yet many private schools are not living up to expectations as NAPLAN data clearly demonstrates.

Professor Dinham said that the education policies being implemented in Australia are failing to address the real causes of the achievement gap.

Australia is becoming a more unequal society and recent developments are exacerbating that inequality. Disadvantage is being entrenched and not overcome and there will be a price to pay in terms of personal, social and economic prosperity…
If these developments continue, the inevitable outcomes will be greater inequity and continuing decline in educational performance…

He called on the education profession to become more active in subjecting these education policies to intense scrutiny before it is too late.

If the profession remains silent and passive in the face of some of these developments it will have itself to blame, at least in part, for what might eventuate.

Trevor Cobbold

This article was updated on 17 November to correct the editorial mistake pointed out by Professor Dinham

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