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Friday, 9 December 1983
Page: 3577

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(9.43) —Let me make clear from the outset that the general objectives stated by the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) are laudable and ought to be pursued. My questions relate, however, to the capacity of the Bill to enable that to be done. I notice that in the Minister's second reading speech she said:

The Program is directed towards bringing about wide ranging changes in schools which will enable them to give all students, and especially those from a disadvantaged backgound, a rewarding, useful education through to the end of secondary schooling. The program will be directed particularly to secondary schools with low retention rates.

No one could argue with the principle involved. No one could argue that at this moment, particularly in the secondary schools-many times I have learnt this from principals-there is a concern that resources are insufficient to provide the kind of pastoral care, the kind of counselling, the kind of specialised programming in crafts and technical subjects that might excite the minds of people. No one can deny that in these schools there are unduly early leavers who believe, however wrongly, that school is not relevant to them. So I accept the basis of need for reform.

I come now to a matter on which I am in a little dilemma. The Bill deals with generalities and not specifics. We are told that next week, presumably after this Bill has been passed, there will be a Commonwealth Schools Commission report on participation and equity. That seems to me to be the wrong way round. It seems to me that what ought to have happened in the first place is that a Commission report should have been prepared. There should have been discussions with the States and some kind of understanding between the States and the Commonwealth as to specifics and not generalities. One should not simply say: 'I have $20m to put some berley on the waters. I hope I catch some fish'. I talk not in any destructive fashion at all. In my own time as Minister I was very eager to establish the transition from school to work and the retention programs . Indeed, I explored the tragic situation of unduly early school leaving, the belief in irrelevance of education to some.

What puzzles me in this whole situation is that we do not know what are the specific intentions. We cannot know, therefore, whether the States will accept or reject them. It is no good the Minister saying, as she did to Senator Baume: 'This is a Commonwealth program, therefore we must have control'. The fact of the matter is that she knows very well indeed that any moneys provided under grants such as this must be determined after consultation with the Australian Education Council.

To put this matter in perspective, the Government says that the money will be provided largely for secondary schools, and I think also for technical and further education institutions. I am not knocking an extra $20m, but this money would not provide for the full maintenance of half a teacher in each of the institutions concerned. With all the best of will in wanting to support grand terms, the program is directed towards bringing about wide-ranging changes in schools. It is important to say at this moment that the amount of money is minuscule to tackle such a problem. Far be it from me to knock back the smallest amount of money which is to go into the system. It is good and commendable, and I would not knock it back. But I am trying to put into perspective what this means. It might mean that there is a start of two things: A much more massive injection of money into this system by both the Commonwealth and the States, and a massive acceptance by the States that inside the primary and secondary schooling systems of the States there is a failure that needs reassessment and re-evaluation.

I can only say, as a former Minister, that, having devoted a considerable amount of time to reforming the post-secondary schooling system, I came to the conclusion that the real needs for reform in Australia lie basically within the sovereignty of the States. At the moment primary and secondary education is lacking some essential qualities that are needed to provide the motivation, the exciting of the curiosity of the individual, the pastoral care which helps people, which encourages them and beckons them and, specifically in the early childhood stages, gives them the stimulation to learn. In the secondary schooling system in particular there is in many cases a lack of counselling, of pastoral care, of seeking out those in danger of unduly early school leaving and a particular lack of encouragement to people who may be inclined towards crafts and skills of that nature. In fact there is a very serious deficiency in the whole system.

There is a need to look at and to challenge, but to challenge constructively, whether this generalist stream of education that now takes some 60 per cent of people to year 11 and some 36 per cent of people to year 12 is really the right thing, or whether we should not build into it as we widen the base of people going forward some particularities that will encourage people.

I rise to say this in no way to be destructive of the system. I hope the system succeeds. Anything that can get meaningful retention of people in schools and not simply hold them in an 'agistment' situation would have our blessing. If we are to achieve this we must, first of all, define the magnitude and the specifics of what we are doing. Nothing like that has happened. The Minister is unable to come to us at this moment and say: 'Here are the specifics of what we are recommending'. She says that next week we may get a report. She is unable to come to us and say: 'We have taken the specifics to the States and this is the result: The States are unwilling to say yes. Even though primary and secondary education are within our sovereignty, we are willing to co-operate in these various ways'. At the moment we have a round sum of money. The Minister, therefore, has some form of bargaining power for the future and perhaps she is taking with her the Commission's report hoping to get some of these kinds of games.

I repeat: I have personally reached the very firm view that there are grave defects in Australia inside the primary and secondary system. It was no encouragement to me to find that there had been, by academic research, the relevation that, of all 14-year-old children in Australia, 25 per cent are incapable of independent reading and 15 per cent are incapable of independent, simple figuring. This is the gravest indictment of our State education systems. It is an indictment of us all that we have not directed our thrusts and energies towards where the real defects lie. If we have not given to our children the hunger to learn these kinds of basic skills, how can we talk further on the matter?

There are worse statistics than the ones I have just mentioned. In Australia, of all 15-year-olds to 19-year-olds, 60 per cent are either in the work force or unemployed; that is, they are out of schooling. In other words, in that critical period, they are not acquiring skills; they are either working or unemployed, on the dole. That compares with two major competing countries in the world: In Japan only 24 per cent of 15-year-olds to 19-year-olds are in the work force; the remainder are in the education stream. In the United States of America only 26 per cent of 15-year-olds to 19-year-olds are in the work force; the remainder are in the education stream. So, basically, we have a peril in Australia. As other countries are coming into higher technology and higher skills we are lagging back. Those statistics are strongly presented by objective academic researchers. Those are the facts. If any honourable senator disagrees with that, these facts were brought before the Australian Education Council repeatedly in my time. They have been published as academic research and have been accepted as academic research.

I make these points not in a destructive way. If we are to move further into this situation as a Commonwealth of trying to get co-operation with the States to reform fundamentally primary and secondary schooling in Australia, let us, firstly, have a specific blueprint before us of what we mean. What do we mean? What are we aiming to do? Secondly, let us have before us the results of detailed conferences between the Commonwealth and States and the goals to which the Minister can go. At this moment what she says are grand things. How can anyone say that it would be wrong for the program to be directed towards bringing about wide-ranging changes in schools? Does any State say that it will permit the Commonwealth to intervene to bring about wide-ranging changes in its schools? Let us have the information. It would be valuable. It would be a valuable breakthrough.

I rose to speak not in a destructive way but to look at the basic objectives of the Bill and at what can be done with the small seeding funds it provides. Fundamentally, if one wanted to do one thing in the 1,200-odd high schools one would need at least a couple of extra people-a vocational counsellor who could advise and direct the students and certainly a person or persons who could give the kind of pastoral care that would give people a feeling that someone was concerned about them. When I brought in the education program for unemployed youth I sought to expose the defects of the secondary system to provide the sorts of figures I am now giving.

The reports of EPUY research are available for all to see. Many thousands of students have now passed through its courses. Time and again they said to me: ' Why are you interested in me?' I said: 'Why not?' They said: 'Because no one is concerned about me'. The reports of EPUY, which are fundamental to this program, said: 'Yes, the basic skills are not good, but something far more fundamental than basic skills is wrong. In every batch of students that we have dealt with we have found two things. Firstly, the students have unduly low self-esteem, have undervalued themselves'. What a horrible thing that the Australian society is creating tens of thousands of people who have unduly low self-esteem and who feel that nobody is concerned about them. Secondly, the reports said that they had unduly low motivation, primarily for that reason. Nothing would excite me more than an adventure into an operation which would find those people at risk, which would lift them up, which would beckon them on, which would show our concern and which would give them greater interest and encouragement for the future. This legislation contains generalities. I do not criticise it for that, but I want to know a very great deal more before we can evaluate it.