Saturday, April 12, 2008

Strange Bedfellows

Senator Andrew Bartlett, one of the star bloggers in my Missing Link portfolio, or case-load, or whatever the hell you want to call it, has been having a little trouble with political allies lately. Twice last week he was embarrassed to find himself agreeing with long-standing opponents or adversaries. First it was Greg Sheridan, then it was Peter Slipper.

After reading this report in Saturday's The Age on Julia Gillard's latest proposals for education reform, I find myself in the unpleasant position of agreeing - at least in part - with education warrior Kevin Donnelly. I suppose it's some consolation that I don't find myself agreeing with Andrew Bolt who has endorsed Gillard's push for parents to get details on school performance. I'm agin it.

The sticking point, for me, is in this section of the story:
The [Federal] Government plans to publish the annual results of individual primary and secondary schools on national literacy and numeracy tests, which begin next month, for students in grades 3, 5, 7 and 9.

It will also talk to the states about measuring how schools "add value" to students, and is keen for a reporting system that reflects the challenges faced by each school, for instance through socioeconomic data, or trends between similar schools. (emphasis added)
Excuse me, but what planet are we on here? What sort of education policy aims to "add value" to school students? Aren't they valuable enough already, as people in their own right? That's why I'm in uncomfortable agreement with Kevin Donnelly right now - because in this piece, about the 2020 summit briefing paper Education, Skills and the Productivity Agenda he's right on the money:

The first mistake is to define education in terms of its economic and utilitarian value.

Education, instead of being dealt with in its own right, is valued for its ability to contribute to “prosperity, productivity and global competitiveness”, completely ignoring the cultural role of learning...
I suppose it's some consolation that after that point Donnelly pretty much drops the money again and by the end of the piece he's implying that the purpose of education is to preserve culture by storing it in students' brains ("And the fundamental question of the purpose of education in an age when many of the young are disengaged and culturally illiterate is not on the agenda."). But that's not that much consolation. When we have the Federal Minister for Education talking about schools "value adding" to students its pretty clear who's captured the education debate and where the debate's headed.

Who benefits when students are treated as commodities and education is about "value adding"? Not the hapless bloody students, that's for sure.

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