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Wednesday, 12 February 1986
Page: 213

Senator PARER(6.32) —I would like to make a few comments about the fourth report on the Examination of Annual Reports of the Standing Committee on Education and the Arts. Before doing so, I would like to acknowledge that the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Colston, did an excellent job in chairing this Committee, which we felt to be terribly important. I need not remind honourable senators that the whole education system in Australia has been subject to an enormous amount of criticism in recent years, certainly in the last 12 months. The purpose of this study was to look at the assessment system as used in the Australian Capital Territory. This had a particular relevance to me because the type of assessment system used in the Australian Capital Territory is almost identical to the assessment system used in my State of Queensland. These are the only two parts of Australia that use a system whereby the whole determination of results is based on internal assessment with an Australian scholastic aptitude test which acts as a moderator.

The conclusions of the report are that the Committee actually has a preference for an assessment system which combines continuous assessment and external examinations. There was a lot of concern shown by the Committee that the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority had never taken the trouble really to have a look at it. External exams were abolished in the Australian Capital Territory in 1977 and were abolished prior to that in my State of Queensland. It is quite extraordinary really that after such a long period we now have a system that is not understood by employers, is understood by few teachers, and is understood by very few parents; and even though students said in discussion that they thought they understood it, when they were quizzed on it it was found that they really knew very little about it.

The other thing that was of great concern is that once a school curriculum disappears-that is the case in the Australian Capital Territory-a plethora of mickey mouse courses occurs, at the expense of the more basic subjects such as English, mathematics and the sciences. On the face of it, it appears, when one looks at the figures, that people are doing these subjects, but when one gets down to the point of whether the basic subjects concerned are major items, one finds that the numbers decrease very rapidly indeed.

Probably the most telling remarks were made by a concerned parent. His view was that the system was inherently wrong, and that justice was not only not being done but not being seen to be done. In fact, he took the view that the system appeared to be totally unjust, that it was not as if people were running the same race. I think it is worth quoting a few remarks from this particular parent and what he said about subjectivity and justice to students. He said:

The fate of individual students is almost totally in the hands of their teachers as far as their ranking and thus their ultimate TE score is concerned. Under the old system, justice to individual students was maintained by the external examination system, which ensured that any conscious or subconscious biases of teachers against individual students were unable to influence directly their final assessment. There was, as it were, in the terms of the old system an outside court of appeal-the external examination system which could guarantee justice to individual students.

The point is that what has happened, not just here in the Australian Capital Territory but in other parts of Australia, is that the academic educationalists have forgotten who the customers are. They have forgotten about the parents and they have forgotten about the students, and they have forgotten that it is the taxpayers who pay their way. They have taken the view that they are in fact the masters and not the servants of the people of Australia.

I think, all in all, it was an excellent report. In some areas, in view of the evidence given, some of its conclusions were somewhat gentle. On the basis of this report, I hope that the serious people, the genuine people who are really concerned about the future education of our children and about their entrance into tertiary institutions-which everybody knows is extraordinarily difficult these days-will take a much closer look at it and do something about it. In fact, in the conclusion to the report the Committee said that it had a preference for the external exam with continuous assessments as a moderator, and that even though we recognise that a change to the Australian Capital Territory system would involve some additional expense, we considered that the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority should review the possibility of using external exams as part of its assessment procedures in the future.

The other concern that came out, which has been discussed ad nauseam, is the Australian scholastic aptitude test. Is it biased, or not biased? Does it favour boys ahead of girls, or whatever? There was no doubt that on the figures produced the ASAT system was seen to be at fault. There was bias. But I do not think that it could be said that there was any sort of certainty as to whether it favoured boys or girls. I think one could also conclude that it was more than likely to favour those students who did science-type subjects rather than the humanities-type subjects. I think where the girl thing comes in is that more girls happen to do the humanities-type subjects.

Question resolved in the affirmative.