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Australia’s fabled fair society could be under threat if the nation’s education system does not have a balanced approach to preparing future generations for life beyond the school yard.
That’s the view of the Deakin School of Education in its submission to the Productivity Commission’s Schools Workforce Issues Paper, the outcomes of which are due to be announced soon.
“Already, research by the OECD is showing that Australia is falling behind countries like Finland which not only have high levels of conventional achievement but also the lowest levels of educational inequality,” said Professor Richard Bates, who contributed to the submission.
“Anglophone countries, especially the UK and USA but now, increasingly, Australia, have the least integrated education systems with consequent lower levels of comparative achievement and higher levels of inequality.”
A balanced or integrated education system mixes the needs to develop a skilled workforce with also giving students the advanced social skills necessary to being active citizens.
The Deakin School of Education argues that we should be looking for a both an economic and a social rate of return for investment in the schools workforce.
“We need the Productivity Commission to take note of this, and our submission that says the development of social skills are as important as the development of a skilled workforce in maintaining social cohesion,” Professor Bates said.
“The Productivity Commission seems to take the view that if we have a skilled workforce, the rest will take care of itself.
“That is simply not the case and if we continue to put high value on employment skills without an equal promotion of social skills, then not only are we reducing the rate of return on investment in the schools workforce, we are heading towards the end of a fair society in Australia.
“There are already some pockets in Australia where this is happening, where schools have appalling facilities, where the police can tell you the crime rates are growing as young people become more disenfranchised.”
The Deakin School of Education says there are a number of general issues that need to be addressed.
First at the systems level, two issues are of prime importance: The need for greater system integrity coupled with adaptability in the face of increasing diversity and also redress of the gross inequalities in infrastructure and recurrent resources.
At the schools level, to meet the requirements of the National Declaration on the Educational Goals for Young Australians to develop active citizens as well as productive workers, schools need the resources and networks to be able to attend to the intellectual, social, cultural, physical and emotional needs of students.
Curricula need to be more flexible and teachers better equipped to react to individual environments.
Additionally, with the arrival of social networking, schools and teachers need to be able to help students develop good judgment on the value of all the new information available to them.
“If we went active citizens as well as a productive workforce, if we believe social cohesion and inclusion are as important as higher living standards, then we need to make sure our schools workforce has all the social as well as the economic resources it needs and that these are distributed fairly,” Professor Bates said. “Otherwise we can kiss any notion of the fair society goodbye.”