Initially,it was not my intention to discuss party politics but rather focus on practical teaching techniques to enhance environmental education in our schools, TAFEs and universities.
However, in this eleventh hour before the 2013 Australian federal election I cannot stand by without providing some form of analysis on two policy areas that will be of interest to readers of this blog – education and the environment.
First, lets look at education policies of the major parties.
We know that for long term sustainable communities, education is critical. Without investing in education now we won’t have economic, social or environmental success in the future.
Should the Labor Party win the election on Saturday, they will fund the Gonski primary and secondary school funding review to the tune of $9.9 billion over six years, with a requirement that the state and territory governments collectively fund an extra $5.1 billion on top of their existing contributions. So far SA, Vic, NSW, ACT and Tas have all signed up to the deal and will receive the extra funding. It isn’t yet known if Qld, WA and the NT will sign on for the scheme or not.
To help pay for this, however, Labor plan to cut $2.3 billion per year to university funding – a strategy that has been condemned by tertiary education leaders and students alike.
In the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, Kevin Rudd has recently highlighted the value of trade and skills training and highlighted recent state and territory government cuts to VET across Australia. He picked on Liberal state governments, but I note that in my home state of South Australia, similar cuts are being imposed by a state Labor government. Never-the-less, Rudd did commit to forcing the state and territory governments to maintain their current level of funding for VET as a minimum. How he intends to do this is unclear. He stopped short of promising any additional funds for the sector however.
Teacher training is also an area of interest to Labor. They plan to increase admission standards to education courses – mainly requiring that a student teacher be in the top 30% of the population for literacy and numeracy. In addition, they propose to modify teacher training courses so they include a greater level of practical skills, as well as the theoretical knowledge behind education.
The Coalition are trying to position themselves as having the same commitment to education as the Labor government, and indeed there is quite a lot that is similar when reading their policy statements. There are, however, a few subtle differences.
In the area of Gonski funding for primary and secondary schools, they will commit to the same level of funding as Labor but only for four years, so less money overall. In addition, they will not require state and territory governments to increase their own funding, so the total school funding levels may not rise by the same amount if the state’s decide not to put in as much. It could even stay the same if they decide to reduce their own funding levels.
The Liberals also want to decentralise control of how schools operate and give them more autonomy over staffing, programs and curriculum. Yet they also want to strengthen the National Curriculum. No mention is made of how they will ensure these two opposing policies won’t clash.
In the autonomy stakes, they want to encourage 25% of public schools to become independent public schools, governed by their own school board, completely separate from departmental control, but still publicly funded. They will also require school principles to undertake a postgraduate business administration course to help them manage their school’s finances better, but the school or individual must pay for this themselves.
Two major changes they’ve mooted for the National Curriculum are to make some maths, technology, engineering and science subjects compulsory in years 11 and 12 and to make a foreign language compulsory from years five to ten.
Similarly to Labor, the Liberal and National Parties want to increase entry standards to teacher training courses and include more practical studies. They also want to introduce a greater focus on science, mathematics and foreign languages.
Just like Labor, they will also cut $2.3 billion from university funding per year, but have not made any commitment in the vocational training arena.
The Australian Greens education policy commits to a greater level of funding for the Gonski reforms – $11.9 billion over six years – with some of it dedicated to kids with a disability. The requirement for increased state and territory government funding is the same as the Labor policy – $5.1 billion.
They also say it should be needs based funding, with a priority given to public over private schools. Further reforms include redirecting the $222 million funding for the School Chaplaincy Program into teacher training and encouraging experienced teachers to stay in the classroom through increased wages, rather than move into higher paid administrative roles.
The Greens have committed to reversing the university cuts introduced by Labor and Liberal and instead want to increase the per student base funding by an extra 10%.
The Greens are also the only party to promise extra funding to the VET sector, with their $1.2 billion TAFE Rescue Package, and want to prioritise this extra funding to public TAFEs instead of private training organisations, where TAFEs provide the same course. Existing VET funding that is currently split between public and private providers will remain the same.
They also recognise that tertiay students are forced to work long hours to survive and to pay for their studies, so they propose to increase the living allowance for full time students. A long term aspiration of theirs is to provide free TAFE and university study, but this isn’t a commitment for the next term of government.
Unlike Labor and Liberal who will pay for their primary and secondary education funding by stripping funding from the tertiary sector, the Greens propose to pay for their entire education funding initiatives through an increase to the Mining Resources Rent Tax.
It is never easy to weigh up all the party’s policies when deciding on who to vote for, but if education is important to you then I urge you to think carefully on the information above. If you want to delve deeper into their policies and read some of the sources I used when compiling this analysis, check out the following sites:
I’ll continue this theme tomorrow with an analysis of each of the major party’s environmental policies. In the meantime, happy election watching.