Graham Gorrel's Friday On My Mind | OPINION, September 23, 2016

As our politicians haggle about far less serious matters of state such as same sex marriage, education continues to struggle for budget recognition. Fairfax columnist, Harold Mitchell, a few months ago quoted a former cabinet minister as saying: "Neither side (Coalition or Labor) is really getting the problem in education".

Mitchell, who left school at 16, entered the advertising industry – going on to develop the biggest media buying company in Australia – and studied part-time at RMIT, has used some of his wealth to support the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University.

Mitchell, too, is critical of our leaders' approach to education. "They say they understand the importance of education but they just aren't doing enough," Mitchell wrote in an SMH article appropriately headed, "We need  to pay teachers more so that our children can have a better future".

A Mitchell Institute finding in June this year made it clear our education system is failing and that well-trained and inspiring teachers were vital for every young person. 

In the same month Australia's chief scientist, Alan Finkel, slammed the nation's sliding performance in science and maths education, saying "Australia does not yet have a long-term plan for its science, research and innovation system".  Finkel added the slipping participation rates in science and maths at school level compared with other countries was "unacceptable.

The list continues. The current Victorian Labor Government when it came to office in late 2014 confronted a situation left to them where two-thirds of the state's public school teachers were on short-term contracts leading to job uncertainty and high staff turnovers.

At the time it prompted the Australian Education Union, the organisation that represents Australian public school, early childhood and TAFE teachers plus educational support staff, after surveying its members, to predict that only half saw themselves teaching for more than a decade.

At least the Australian trend has not reached the dangerous level in Britain where The Guardian reported in April 2015 that four in 10 new teachers quit within a year and where the national general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the education system was "being run on a wing and a prayer".

The AEU fears the Coalition's education funding plan will abandon needs-based funding after 2017 and leave public education worse off. Australia must do better in education.

As Mitchell wrote: "A young woman at a construction site opposite his office with a stop-go sign and responsibility for 20 metres of traffic control, can earn up to $140,000 a year".

"A first year teacher with three years of university training earns about $63,000 and may never earn more than two-thirds of what a 'traffic manager' can. Currently, too many young people are missing out. By age 19, 26 per cent of young people do not attain year 12. They are behind for most of their life".

If there is another aspect of career training and education our governments need to focus upon and aim higher, it is rejuvenating the public service at all levels.

The down-grading of public education and selling-off of public services cannot continue. It is in the nation's best interests - and for the "public good", as Captain Charles Sturt might have noted - governments ensure both are maintained at the highest standard.


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