Thursday, October 28, 2004


Students should at least hear about it and its claims to guide lives

Public schools should put religion back on the curriculum as part of a "values education" push to enhance student wellbeing, and prevent the slide into substance addiction and suicide. Murdoch University emeritus professor of education Brian Hill will tell a conference on student wellbeing that young people need to learn more about moral principles and values, and the world views underpinning them. "Australian state schools have been encouraged to factor the religious variable out of the curriculum, thereby leaving values education in freefall," Professor Hill, a values-education consultant will tell the Australian Council of Educational Research conference opening in Adelaide today. "If a balanced education is our goal, this is counterproductive."

A consultant to the 2003 Commonwealth Values Study, Professor Hill says schools have a vested interest not only in moral values, but in "cognitive-intellectual, technical-vocational, political, economic, socio-cultural, physical-recreational, aesthetic, interpersonal-relational and religious-spiritual" and educational values. If wellbeing is a goal, "we must attend to the values and goals which literally give them (individuals) reasons to go on living". ... "If a person's framework disintegrates in the face of neglect, abuse, or despair, then suicide can and manifestly often does occur, or self-harm through addiction - even in the midst of plenty." But Professor Hill believes schools can teach students about both religious and anti-religious values or frameworks. The comments follow John Howard's pre-election critique of some public schools as "values-neutral".

However, according to Professor Hill, introducing values-education packages into schools in a vacuum will not resolve young Australian school students' search for meaning. "It seems commonly believed that one can separate values as such from the wider world views from which they derive," Professor Hill says. "The result is that values recommended for attention hang loose . . . and discourage integrative teaching."

Professor Hill also takes educators to task for failing to espouse democratic values. "Increasingly, traditional values have been challenged and the available horizon of possibilities enlarged by ethnic diversification and novel technologies . . . But democracy itself is a value. In today's world, those who cherish it are required to be eternally vigilant." ... "A kind of tunnel vision often hinders social researchers and educators from talking about the values inherent in the concept of democracy ... the discourse sometimes gets round to rights talk and procedural values, but fails to balance these with talk of responsibility and shared substantive values."



To its credit, it is a Left-leaning government in my home State of Queensland that is standing up to the vested interests -- mainly teachers -- and providing at least some information about their schools. "OP" stands for "Overall position" -- The final High School mark used for University admission decisions

Queensland parents will be able to compare schools on the basis of Year 12 results from 2006, but the Beattie Government insists it will not create league tables, or name and shame schools. Queensland's Education Minister Anna Bligh says all schools will be required to publish performance information on their websites, and that the publication of final year results will be mandatory for state as well as non-government schools. "This is not about shaming or humiliating schools," Bligh said last week. "In some cases, the information will confirm perceptions of a school, in other cases it will challenge them."

Queensland's reforms are based on the Victorian system, bringing them into line with the most comprehensive school reporting systems in Australia. Most other states publish either limited Year12 statistics, such as NSW's distinguished achievers list, or none. While details are yet to be finalised, the minimum information required to be published includes the total of senior certificates awarded, the number of students completing vocational education and training units, and the percentage of students eligible for an overall position score of 1-15. These items differ from those set out as options in the discussion paper released by the Queensland Government earlier this year.

In particular, the range of the OP score has widened from 1-10 to 1-15, and the median OP score and performance in individual subjects is not in the list of minimum requirements. This will make it more difficult to distinguish between schools on the basis of academic performance. In explaining the changes, Bligh says: "You have to look at the purpose of providing the information. The purpose is to indicate whether schools are doing a reasonable job of preparing students for university, apprenticeships, employment, or whatever path they choose."

Queensland Teachers Union president Julie-Ann McCullough says "there are aspects of the strategy we don't like, but if it has to happen we don't mind that it's a broad range of information. "We are concerned that OP will be a focus not necessarily for parents, but for others that critique schools. While it will highlight deficiencies in the system, which would be a positive, it will potentially place criticism on the school - not on the system."

The April discussion paper also proposed publishing primary school's results in Year 3, 5 and 7 basic skills tests, but this was not specified in the mandatory information announcement. "That is something we would definitely not support," McCullough says. Queensland has resisted calls for school performance reporting and Premier Peter Beattie says the changes "represent a new era in school reporting accountability". Bligh says parents have become increasingly discerning consumers: "Parents are more willing to ask questions, and they expect answers."



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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