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Tuesday, 12 October 1971
Page: 2217


Mr BRYANT (Wills) - 1 agree with some of the sentiments that my friend the honourable member for Denison (Dr Solomon) has just uttered. However, I do not think that we on this side of the House, who may well claim to have initiated or at least captured at the parliamentary level the idea that the Commonwealth ought to participate more fully in education, meant that the Commonwealth would take over anything in the sense of taking over the total operation. I am not saying that I do not believe a Commonwealth department could run a school, no matter how far it is from Canberra, as well as some of the people who run that type of school now; but there has to be acceptance of a national attitude if we are to iron out problems in areas of deficiency for some Australians.

We have discussed here and in the public forum at great length the inequalities of education. The facts are that there are great areas of inequality, some of which could be ironed out by this Government by direction from Canberra. I think it is essential that a Commonwealth government, acting for Australians as a whole, set out to achieve that purpose. In other words, in the remotest area of Queensland a person should receive what might be called equal effort in his education. We are not trying to turn out equal people. Whoever has thought that we could all be equal? I suppose that we are all equal in humanity and have a right to equal access to the good things of life in the community, but the objective ought to be an equality of effort for people in the most remote parts or in the most congested industrial areas, as we do in Canberra.

Many things are wrong with Australian education. I suppose it is heartening that there is increasing research in the field of education. The honourable member for Denison referred to equality but we do not know what equality is. We are not claiming that everybody has to be turned out equal. We want equal effort put into everybody's education. As to the question of priorities in the field of education, it is true that many State governments have odd priorities for assistance. For instance, in Victoria Sir Henry Bolte and his team have the most quaint priorities. They spent $35m on building a freeway from the city of Melbourne to the Tullamarine airport. My heart bleeds for people who have to catch aeroplanes at Tullamarine. I suppose it is essential that they be able to drive to the airport at 60 miles an hour instead of 35 miles an hour. At the time the freeway was opened I pointed out that the sum of $35m spent on its construction would have rebuilt every State school in my electorate to the standard of the Canberra schools and left a balance of $13m or $14m. I believe that that is a haywire system of priorities. There is a possibility of readjustment inside the State system but finally the emphasis and initiative for any sort of equalisation, better classrooms, improved teachers and so on will come from Canberra because there is a lack of initiative at the State level, and the resources of the States have been absorbed somewhere else. 1 really rose tonight to challenge what might be called the Fraser thesis on the teacher-pupil ratio. I do not agree with what the Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) had to say the other night. It is true that he cited several instances of research that have been carried out, and which reported that one could not show that because a teacher-pupil ratio is smaller there is a higher level of attainment. I would like to get hold of the evidence, see its basis and study it very closely. A good start might be made at the bottom by defining attainment. What do we mean by attainment? I am prepared to admit that in teaching arithmetic - that 7 multiplied by 8 equals 56 - in some classrooms 100 pupils may be taught as effectively as 50, or 50 pupils as effectively as 25. Of course, that is not what is happening in the classroom anymore. The Minister has overlooked or is unaware of what goes on in the classroom these days. By some miracle there is a change in some parts of the Australian education system. By some miracle it is happening principally in Victoria as far as I can tell. There is a new relationship developing in the classroom. The classroom now is not where one would see the old method of teaching by rote which occurred through most of the education system, particularly in primary schools.

What occurs in the classroom today? First of all, there is an interaction between the teacher and the pupil. This cannot be measured by any system of attainment of which I am aware. There is also an increasing interaction between pupil and pupil. The classroom situation is now one of interaction, not one of straight teaching. Therefore, research projects should not ignore the classroom as a social unit and regard it just as a teaching institution or a means of getting information from out of the air or out of someone's mind and planting it in someone else's mind so that it can be reproduced in an examination paper. Anybody who thinks of the classroom in that form is living in the past. I have no doubt that the Minister is a product of a system which was pretty well endowed in terms of the teacher-pupil ratio and all the other benefits that accompany it. I do not begrudge him that. I would like to see the same thing apply in the rest of Australia. If we look at his politics he is one of the system's most disastrous failures. There is no doubt that his parents sent him to such a school because of the advantages that it conferred upon him.

I hope that honourable members who are concerned with education will take a closer look at what is going on inside the classroom and what it is all about. Listening to this debate and debates of this kind in recent times one would have thought that all that education in Australia was about was state aid. We seem to overlook the demands and needs of the great proportion of children who go to the state schools in Australia. But the issue as far as education is concerned is what will happen in the classroom, what kind of teacher will the pupils have, and what kind of relationship will the teacher and pupils have? I have jotted down 4 headings to cover the differences between the activities of the classroom 30 or 40 years ago and what is developing now, at least in some classrooms in Australia. First of all, the schools which I attended were run in an atmosphere of authority. We moved into the classroom, sat down in a row and did as we were told. At least that is what people such as I did. What is the difference now? A co-operative spirit has developed in the classroom. We have change from authority to co-operation But it has not happened everywhere. I can take honourable members to schools in my electorate where it has happened and to schools where it has not happened. This is where the new society will develop, inside the classroom.

There has been a change from verbal teaching, such as I am trying to practice with honourable members opposite at the moment, to research and discussion, and this will happen even more when libraries are developed to meet the needs of the schools and the pupils indluge more in this activity. This means there is a different relationship inside the classroom and a different ratio between pupil and teacher. In the old school there was silence. One could tell the busy schools because when one walked around the corridors they were as silent as the grave. Everybody had his head down and was working hard. What is happening now? We have a classroom in which there is movement and interaction between the pupils. It has become a social unit. Instead of just teaching, we are searching for something which we might call education. So I challenge the Minister's thesis, with the humility of a backbench member of the Opposition in the face of the great phalanx of research officers and others who helped him to produce his speech. I will take a lot of convincing, as will most people associated with education, that the teacher-pupil ratio is not an important factor in the education system.

I represent an industrial area of Melbourne. I have said before, and I will put on record again, that back in 1938 I was at the Melbourne Teachers College and visited some of the schools in Brunswick where trainees did their teaching rounds, as it was known. 1 would say that almost all children in Brunswick is now less well served in education than they were in 1938. In 1938 every building was 30 years newer, every teacher taking the classes was trained and most of the classes were smaller. Probably the only enterprise in this country which has large areas that are in fact worse off than they were 30 or 40 years ago is education. Transport is better than it used to be. Health services are better than they used to be. Public communications are better than they used to be. But in large areas of education in Australia children are now less well served than they were 30 or 40 years ago. That is a real challenge to this Parliament and to the Australian community.







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