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Education, employment and the needs of society

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27 AUGUST 1979


I am very pleased to officially open the 10th Biennial

Conference of your Association, the first such Conference

to be held in the A.C.T. ·

This Conference, extending over five days, brings together

teachers, industry representatives, educational administrators,

and trade unions to discuss the Conference theme of "The

School-Based Curriculum - The Student or the Subject".

I welcome all of you to the Conference, especially the

international guests from the U.K., the U.S.A. and New


It is a Conference, with a very practical orientation, as

befits an Association concerned with the disciplines of

Economics, Secretarial Studies and Legal Studies. One of

the impressive features of your Association is that it

includes people concerned with these disciplines across

-all sectors of education - secondary schools, TAPE, Colleges

of Advanced Education and Universities.

It is with this broad spectrum of secondary and post-secondary

education in mind that I have framed my remarks to you today.



First, I want to consider some broad issues relating to

society, employment and the education system in general,

and then turn to secondary schools in particular which .

are of most concern to this Conference. 1

There is today a questioning of education to a degree

unheard of a decade or even a few years ago. This

questioning is not about minor matters of detail but goes

to the very heart of the education system itself. It

involves a critical examination and re-assessment of the

objectives of the· education system, its relations with

the wider community and the issue of the accountability

of education to the community.

This fundamental questioning of education is occurring

not only in Australia but throughout most of the Western · ' i

world, as the international guests present at this week's

Conference can well testify. .

What this questioning reflects, I suggest, is that society '

in Australia and elsewhere is going through the somewhat

painful process of re-assessing its expectations concerning

education and its benefits. What we are witnessing is a

loss of faith in education and a healthy movement away from

uncritical acceptance of the promised benefits of education for

individuals and society. ,

This re-assessment is underway in all groups of society -

parents, educationalists, employers and young people.

The form which it takes varies, from employer complaints

that the literacy and numeracy standards of young people

are deficient - about which I will have more to say later -


to signs that young people are re-considering the value

of higher education. ■

This is reflected, for example, in the fact that the

proportion of young people who are entering Universities "

and Colleges of Advanced Education direct from secondary

school has been falling. In 1975, an estimated 60 per cent

of students completing final year secondary school went on

to Universities or Colleges, but by 1977 the proportion

had fallen to around 50 per cent. Some tertiary institutions

are even having difficulty in achieving their planned intake

figures and are lowering their entrance standards to attract

Studentsv as the Tertiary Education Commission has noted.

There is' now a far greater interest on the part of the

community generally in ensuring that it gets "value for money"

for its expenditure on education which is drawn from the

taxation system. Governments in Australia - both the

Commonwealth and State Governments - spend a vast amount of

taxation revenue on education in the primary, secondary and

post-school sectors of education. As announced in last week's

Budget, the Commonwealth alone will spend $ 2,600m on

secondary and post-secondary education in 1979/80, and *

expenditure by the States in these areas v/ill add further

to this amount. . .

The re-assessment of community expectations of the education

system in Australia and other countries is in part a response

to a developing view that the promised benefits of this level

of public investment in education may not have been realised.

I am referring here mainly to the belief that greater spending

on education would not only benefit the individuals who


acquired more and more education, but would automatically

promote greater economic growth and equality throughout

society. In many countries# unrealised expectations in

these areas largely explains the loss of faith in education

which I referred to earlier.

None of us here at this week's Conference - teachers,

education administrators, employers, etc - should be

' afraid of this current process in which the community is

re-examining its expectations regarding education. On the

contrary, it is to be encouraged and I urge teachers here

to actively and vigorously participate in the community

debate. As teachers, you have access to an experience and

knowledge of education and the young which is unique. You

should resist any temptation to withdraw from the debate

simply because it now includes groups in the community which

have not previously had a voice in formulating objectives

and expectations of the education system.

The need to re-assess and make realistic our expectations

of the education system is part o£ a wider need to ensure

that our community expectations of other social and economic

institutions are realistic. Nowhere is this need more

pressing and important than in the area of employment and

unemployment, particularly concerning young people.

The Government of which I am a member does not believe that

it is serving the community properly if it pretends that

there is an easy and painless way of returning quickly to the

employment conditions which we enjoyed in the 1960s and early

1970s. To do so would be to ignore the damage done to our


economy and the realities of international development which

affect our ability to grow and create more jobs through

international trade.

Unless we periodically re-assess our expectations on the

basis of'actual and likely"developments, there is the danger

that expectations of our institutions which were once

realisable will be carried over into situations where they

are unrealistic. This is not the basis on which to make

sound choices from among the available opticms and courses

of action.

It was because of the value of periodic assessments of our

expectations and needs in the education area that the

Commonwealth Government established the Committee of Inquiry

into Education and Training (thewilliams Committee) in

September 1976. As you know/ the Williams Report was presented

to the Government in March of this year.

This Inquiry - the .first major inquiry into post-secondary

(and secondary) education in over a decade - differs from

previous such inquiries in several respects. A comparison

of the terms of reference of the Williams Inquiry with

previous inquiries shews that the most striking difference is

the emphasis given to the relationship between the education

system and the labour market in the case o f ·the Williams

Committee. -

This emphasis reflects the changes in the environment in

which the education system operates, and which have occurred

since the earlier inquiries (such as the Murray and Martin

Committees) reported. These changes include demographic

shifts, but most importantly, the labour-market or employment


context in which the education systrem operates has altered


Previous education inquiries operated under quite different

assumptions as to the social, economic and labour market

context in which the education system would be operating.

They assumed strong population growth, latent unsatisfied

demand among sectors of the population for higher education

» of all kinds, strong demand in the labour market for the

output of the higher education system, and that the

employment of highly trained manpower would contribute to

higher rates of economic growth.

The Williams Committee was not able to assume that these

conditions would apply in the future. Consequently, their

Report is a very different document compared to Reports

of other previous Education Inquiries.

I should briefly mention how the Government is handling the

Williams Report which is a lengthy document of some 1,500

pages in 3 volumes, containing over 100 recommendations. In

order to co-ordinate the handling and consideration of the

Report, the Commonwealth Government has established a

Committee of Ministers and is also consulting with the States

and other interested parties. This Ministerial Committee

comprises the Minister for Education (Chairman), myself as

Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, and the Ministers


for Finance, Social Security, Immigration anti Ethnic'Affairs

and Productivity.

The Ministerial Committee, whose composition reflects the

wide range of areas which education nowadays involves or ‘

impinges on, has been progressively considering the Report.

It is to present to the Government before the end of the

current Budget Session, its proposals relating to the Report

as a whole. In the meantime the Prime Minister has announced

that the important issues raised by the Williams Report are

a matter for public debate.

This present Conference provides a wonderful opportunity

. for discussion of this Report which I am certain that you

will take advantage of in the sessions over the next week.

Before turning to issues relating to secondary schools, I

want to make one final comment on education in general.

I have discussed the changing community expectations of the

education system, and I also mentioned the high level of

resources which this community devotes to education. I now

mention a third consideration which flews from these two.

This is the issue of priorities in educational spending

and resource allocation. "

There is a growing awareness in-the community of the fundamental

but neglected fact of life that Governments cannot meet all the

demands on it which are generated within the community. In

education, as well as other areas, this means that priorities

must be determined as between competing claims for resources.

As you know, the Commonwealth Government attaches a high


priority to vocationally-relevant education which is I

reflected in the resource allocation as between the various

sectors of post-secondary education. In 1979/80, this

approach is to be continued and Commonwealth expenditure on

TAPE (Grants to the States and Northern Territory) will

increase by 7 per cent, a substantially higher growth·rate

than for the other sectors.

A further issue we may need to give increasing attention to

is that of priorities as between the vocational eduation i . ■ i

· i

needs of the young, and the desire of the older age groups!

to higher education in the more generalist areas

of study.


Until 1974 there was little concern in Australia for the 1

problems of transition of young people from school to work.

Since that time numerous inquiries, working parties and

investigations (including one conducted by an OECD team)

which have focussed on the issue. This situation contrasts

markedly with other Western countries, especially the

United States, which have long been concerned about the

problems of transition. ;

The explanation for the relatively recent development of

interest in transition issues in Australia is simple; the 1

conditions which gave rise to concern in the other countries |

only recently appeared in Australia, employment situation i

deteriorated rapidly and severely, and youth unemployment

rates in Australia increased substantially.



Secondly, there developed in Australia a widespread·belief

that deficiencies in the education system had contributed

to the rapid rise in youth unemployment, a view which had

not developed to any comparable degree in previous economic

downturns which had also resulted in increased youth

unemployment. Unfortunately this view persists in some

sectors today despite the consiusions of the Williams

Committee that changes in the philosophy and administration

of education should not be blamed for the sharp increase

in youth unemployment, and that such increases have been

caused by more general economic factors influencing the

level of employment.

Thirdly, there also developed in Australia widespread fears

that higher youth unemployment than in the 1960s was the

likely prospect for the immediate future.

There were other conditions which Australia shared prior to

1974 with other countries where the problem of transition had

attracted greater attention in public policy.

Chief among these was the post-war expansion and prolonging

of secondary and post-secondary education to include

increasing proportions of the young. In the early post-war

years, only about 10% of 17 tear olds were still in secondary

school but by 1978 the proportion had increased to over 30%

But it is significant that until the deterioration in the

youth labour market, these had not been sufficient to generate

much interest in the question of the transition of youth from


school to work. It is important to understand why this was

so. I suggest that the reasons relate to conditions in both

the schools and the labour market. In the circumstances of

buoyant labour demand and full employment which Australia .

enjoyed in the post-war period, there were few problems in the

labour market affecting school leavers and young people.

Youth unemployment rates, although higher than for adults as

they have always been, were extremely low and relfected

mainly job turnover . The unemployment rate in these times "

measured not the difficulties of obtaining employment so much

as the ease of moving from job to job.

In these circumstances, the community generally and schools

in particular could afford to pay little attention to the

employment needs of students in transition because the

labour market took care of the "problem" of transition.

This is not to say that problems did not exist. Career

guidance, the development of skills necessary to find

suitable jobs which offered advancement and satisfaction,

opportunities to retrain or pursue further education, access

to equal employment opportunities for groups such as migrants,

Aborigines and handicapped people, were all lacking or

deficient. It has perhaps been an unexpected favourable

side-effect of attention to high rates of unemployment that

these problems are now being faced. At the same time, school

populations were increasing rapidly under the influence of

both demographic pressures and rising retention rates. To

cater for this increasing school population, there was a

considerable expansion in the teaching workforce, drawn

mainly from young people who themselves had gone straight


from secondary education to universities or teachers'

colleges. For many of these young teachers, their experience

and knowledge of the world of industry which was the

destination for most of their students was extremely limited.

Schools focussed their attention on matters primarily concerned

with general education largely due to the academic demands

made on the curriculum by external exam systems which in turn

determined university entrance. Young people were encouraged

to believe that more and more schooling would automatically

guarantee access to highly paid employment. Preparations for

the world of work was largely relegated to the sidelines.

And this was the situation in schools when the labour market

environment changed so abruptly in 1974.

Clearly these changes in the labour market environment have

implications for secondary schools and I want to mention just

a few of these.

There is a need to establish closer links between schools and

industry, as part of the effort to break down the barriers

between schools and the wider community. These links should

be such as to provide for the great majority of secondary

school students who leave school at or around Year 10 and go

straight into the labour market. In other words, provision

should be made in the years of compulsory schooling for the

needs of these youngsters especially the potential early

school leaver.

Let me give you one extreme example of the consequences of

failing to establish appropriate relations between schools


and industry. In one State, employers and a particular

school in a neighbourhood could not agree upon an appropriate

assessment procedure for the competencies of the young people

leaving that school and seeking work in the local area. As

a result, the employers decided that because of the unreliability

of assessments of students attending this particular school,

they would cease altogether recruiting young people from the

school. Instead, they recruited exclusively from other

schools in the district.

To me, this is an appalling situation. It means that children

attending school aredisadvantaged in their local labour market

simply because they attend one school and not another. It is

not the only case, either, of controversy regarding assessment

methods, as I am sure you well know. Many of you are no

doubt aware of employers who have instituted their own aptitude

and assessment tests because of the alleged unreliability of

school-based assessments.

Recently I was advised that in one State, consideration is

being given by the State Apprenticeship Authority to the

introduction of basic literacy and numeracy testing for all

apprenticeship applicants and that the secondary school

assessments of these young people might be totally ignored,

for the same reasons.

On this question of basic standards, it is worthwhile recalling

what the Williams Committee had to say. Their Report concluded

that essentially it was futile to debate whether standards

had fallen. The; real question is whether standards are

adequate for today's .needs, and there was much evidence

produced to show that in many areas they are not. .


It is important to note that the poor standards of some

young people in these areas can be· rectified, in many cases

in a Surprisingly short time. There is evidence from the

Government's EPUY program to demonstrate this, and from other

sources. For example, here in the A.C.T. the TAPE College

has demonstrated, through its remedial program for apprentices,

that young people whose basic competencies were grossly

deficient upon leaving school can be quickly brought to

reasonable standards by appropriate and careful instruction.

But should not theschools have ensures these standards in

the first place?

The other issue I want to comment on is especially relevant

to the teachers of economics present at this Conference. It

is becoming increasing apparent that without an understanding

of the economic forces in today's world, there can be no real

understanding of society and the choices which citizens must

make. The teaching of economics is therefore a very important

enterprise. The extension of economic understanding which

you are involved in through your activities can be of great

social benefit through raising the level of community

appreciation in this area. '

The many subjects that come under the umbrella of Commercial

and Economics teaching are uniquely relevant to the ecuational

needs of today's youth. Commercial and legal studies, consumer

education, accounting, computing, and secretarial skills all

include areas of knowledge and skill which directly relate

to the changing world of industry, commerce and public service.

It is not surprising to find that many of the innovatory ways

of better relating the worlds of school and work have been


closely associated with Commercial departments in sphools.

Work experience, career education 'and link courses are some

examples of schemes aiming to break down barriers between

school and the broader working community. As curriculum

design now encourages a closer integration of separate subject

matter arid employment it is my hope to see commercial teachers

actively engaged in contributing to school programs which will

better prepare young people, especially up to Year 10, for

their assuming of adult responsibilities.

In closing, I simply want to repeat that we need to recognise

that the environment in which schools are now operating has

changed, and that the old ways - comfortable though they

might have been - are no longer adequate. Conferences such

as this which bring together diverse groups in the community

to discuss these issues in a spirit of co-operation are to be

thoroughly commended. I wish the Conference a stimulating

and thought-i-provoking week.



27 AUGUST 1979