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Thursday, 9 May 1968

Mr BARNARD (Bass) - 1 move:

That in the opinion of this House, the Government should appoint a committee to inquire into and report upon all aspects of primary, secondary and technical education in Government and nonGovernment schools, and that it should adopt all the recommendations by the Martin Committee on Teacher Training.

On 19th October last year I moved a similar motion in this House. The Opposition raises this question again today for two reasons: Firstly, there is no evidence that the Government is aware of the steady erosion of Australian education standards at all levels despite the accession of a new Minister, Mr Malcolm Fraser, to the portfolio of Education and Science. Secondly, in the intervening period there were important implications in the policy speech of the Government for the last Senate election which the Opposition feels should be explored in this House.

On the first issue I should like to summarise briefly the arguments I put to the House on the previous occasion. The Opposition claimed that Australian expenditure on education was lagging behind the expenditure, not only of advanced countries of the world but also, in many cases, of advancing countries and even undeveloped countries. I pointed out that although there had been thirteen inquiries into education in Australia there had been no analysis and assessment of the basics of Australian education. Furthermore, the Government had approached Federal assistance to education inversely by starting at the tertiary level. Opposition speakers pointed out how the Government had failed to use the apparatus available for Federal assistance to education at all levels built by the Curtin and Chifley Labor Governments. We said that the Government had strayed into the area of secondary education for electoral gain with its science laboratories grants legislation and that it had not considered the full implications of that legislation. in addition, I raised the matter of the alarming exodus of Australian teachers to overseas countries, Canada in particular. In the subsequent 7 months there has been no sign that this trend has abated. Rather, all the indications are that it has intensified and young Australian teachers are finding immeasurably greater job satisfaction and better living standards in Canada. These in summary are the arguments that the Opposition used in the previous debate. I turn now to the opening address of the Senate election campaign, made by the former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Harold Holt, on 9th November last year. He said:

I know my colleague, the Minister for Educacanon and Science - that is, the present Prime Minister - would like to help children of pre-school age who are put at a disadvantage because of a bad home environment.

Mr Holtwent on to say that Senator Gorton, as he then was, wanted to help, talented youngsters who could not pay their way through university. I quote further from Mr Holt's address, as follows:

He feels, also, that the success of our scheme to provide science laboratories and equipment invites us now to look at the . humanities, to the school libraries.

Mr Holtdescribed these vague thoughts as the Government's background of thinking, to show that it regarded policy making as & continuing process and not merely an electioneering device to be used every three years. If the making of education policy is a continuing process for this Government, it is impossible to detect any evidence of this approach in ils actions. Quite . obviously, these generalities were designed to secure votes, although no definite pledge was made. If the present Prime Minister has thought of implementing policy along the lines indicated by Mr Holt, there has been no hint of it either in the Governor-General's Speech or in the legislative programme presented to the House. This disregard of thinly veiled hints given in an election policy speech gives the lie to the Government's claim that policy making in education is a continuing process and not an electioneering device. The Minister for Education and Science said in this House last week that he believed there was additional evidence to refute the Opposition's request for an inquiry into education at all levels. I suggest that Mr Holt's policy hints to which I have just referred indicate that an inquiry is even more urgent

Mr Holtdid raise a new area of education which had not been considered previously at the Federal level. This is pre-school education, which will become increasingly important in the years ahead. At the moment pre-school education is largely the preserve of the comparatively affluent who can pay the often substantial fees for putting 3 and 4-year-old children into pre-schools. However, the experience of educators has been that pre-school education is most important for the children of low income families. They have found that many students have been unable to benefit fully from their school experiences because of cultural deprivation in the home. In other words, teachers at later education levels have not been able to counteract the behaviour and attitudes acquired at an early stage in the home. In the United States of America a vast programme known as Project Headstart has been introduced to help disadvantaged children before they reach elementary school. This project was originally part of the anti-poverty campaign waged by the Johnson Administration. This is an excellent example of the way in which new educational methods and approaches can be developed to meet emerging social problems. This is what Mr Holt seems to have had in mind and what the present Prime Minister may have in mind in the reference to helping children of pre-school age who are put at a disadvantage because of a bad home environment.

Where there is cultural deprivation because of economic circumstances or psychological reasons in the home, it is important that these children be introduced to the learning processes as early as possible. These early years are supremely important in the development of attitudes and skills which are critical for later school success; and so cultural deprivation can be countered. By the extension of education services down to the ages of 3 and 4 years it is possible to compensate for home and community disabilities experienced by disadvantaged children. Such extension is of particular importance in country areas where opportunities for culturally deprived children are narrowed even further. The extension of pre-school education in Australia will involve a role for local government, which can often provide the best sites for preschool centres. If local government is to be included in the provision and maintenance of sites for pre-school centre, some extension of the Federal Government's policy will be necessary. At present pre-schools must compete for funds provided under the present unsatisfactory financial arrangements between the State and Federal governments. The concept of pre-school education for disadvantaged children raises a host of implications which the Government obviously has not considered. An obvious problem is the extension of training facilities for pre-school teachers and the provision of supporting staff so that trained teachers are fully utilised. This whole area of education which has been pointed to by the Government reinforces the Opposition's case for a full scale inquiry into education at all levels.

Further weight is given to the case for an inquiry at the other end of the educational spectrum. There is considerable confusion about the future of adult education in Australia. Traditionally adult education has been provided by a host of agencies ranging over the universities, the technical colleges, the Workers Educational Association, the Arts Council, the State Departments of Education and many other agencies. The pattern of adult education varies immensely from State to State. There is no doubt that such a profusion of agencies has brought educational enrichment to many people. But the whole future of adult education and the role it should play is extremely uncertain.

One area of concern is the future contribution of the universities to adult education. This follows the recommendations of the Australian Universities Commission for the 1967-69 triennium that in future adult education should be based on the colleges of advanced education or be conducted by State agencies. The Commission recommended that support from its sources for adult education in the universities should terminate from the end of the present triennium. In New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia universities play a considerable part in adult education. Accordingly the State Governments asked that the universities continue their role and the Government agreed. But this produced a spirited controversy among the ranks of adult educators about their future role and whether universities should provide facilities for adult education. There is agreement that the total provision for adult education in Australia is miserably inadequate. Again this can only be countered by the formulation of rational plans for a Commonwealth wide expansion and development of education. Adult educators have pressed for a Commonwealth inquiry into adult education, but it seems that this would only add to the list of reports on education pigeon holed by the Government. Only a full scale inquiry into education at all levels can assess the requirements of adult education.

I would like to examine the third area of education policy referred to by Mr Holt. This is the extension of library facilities in our schools. Despite the claim of the later Prime Minister that policy making was a continuing process, there must be suspicions that the provision of Commonwealth grants for library facilities will be used as a device for political expediency at the next Federal election. Quite obviously the Government has earmarked library grants as a vote winner when it next goes to the polls. If it were sincere in its intentions to expand library services, legislation would already have been before the House. It is the substance of the hint given in Mr Holt's speech that libraries will become a vehicle for political expediency in the blatant way that science blocks were used in the 1963 election. In other words, Federal grants for libraries will be introduced willy-nilly as an electioneering device without any consideration of the ramifications of such policy.

I have pointed out frequently in this House how the Government introduced grants to schools for science blocks without giving the slightest consideration to ways of providing teachers and supporting laboratory staff for these laboratories. I have said that in many instances science laboratories provided under the legislation are not staffed by competently trained science teachers, nor are they adequately equipped or serviced by trained laboratory staff. I envisage a similar situation when inevitably grants for school libraries are proposed or introduced. The Library Association of Australia has gone to great lengths in recent years to document standards and objectives for school libraries and for the training of school librarians. These studies have made it clear that the existing school libraries are completely inadequate for the task ahead. In essence the basic deficiencies are lack of adequate funds, lack of adequately educated and trained school librarians and supporting staff and a lack of understanding on the part of the teacher of the role of the library in modern education.

The traditional attitude towards school libraries in Australia is that any random collection of books in any unoccupied room constitutes a library. This approach is reinforced by the belief that anyone who can teach can hand out books and act as a school librarian. This is an outmoded approach in view of the increasing emphasis on the library as the heart of educational processes and the librarian as a co-educator with the teacher. Recently legislation in the United States has emphasised the role of the library as an audio-visual centre to support and enrich the school's learning programme. A library today denotes more than books. Accepted library programmes in the United States include periodicals, film strips, disc recordings, tape recordings, micro films, pamphlets, slides, transparencies, newspapers, prints, pictures and maps. One American high school with an enrolment of about 2,000 students had a staff of four librarians, two resource centre aides, two library assistants, two instructional clerks and an artist technician, a total of eleven. This is the sort of facility that ultimately will have to be provided in secondary schools and to a lesser extent in primary schools. Such provision will mean an immense increase in expenditure on libraries and a high degree of skilled planning and training.

In Australia today the library plays a non-essential role in the educational system. There are not enough funds for the acquisition of even basic library resources and there is no effective pattern of education for school librarianship. Only one State, Victoria, conducts courses for school librarians which meet the minimum requirements of the Library Association of Australia. The whole library system in Australian schools needs transforming and this transformation can be achieved only by heavy expenditure and careful planning.

Unfortunately there is no evidence that the Government realises that the modern school library is no longer a book centre but a materials resources centre. There are no undergraduate or postgraduate courses for school librarians offered in any Australian university or college of advanced education. Even if the Government makes substantial grants to schools for libraries, it will be many years before there are sufficient facilities for adequate trained staff. A system of dual training will be needed covering training in teaching and training in library techniques if the library is to take its place at the heart of the Australian educational system. This will involve comprehensive planning and a total rethinking of current attitudes. Again we believe this important strand of educational policy can only be placed in proper perspective by a thorough review of education at all levels.

The fourth topic mentioned in Mr Holt's speech was the need to help talented youngsters who at present cannot pay their way through universities. This raises a consideration of what Professor Cochrane of Monash University has described as the rather messy structure of fees, scholarships and student loans existing in the university system. Professor Cochrane has suggested that this structure should be rationalised by transforming the Government's scholarship scheme into an extensive loan scheme which would provide every entrant to a university with an adequate living allowance and payment of fees. Part of all these allowances could then be repaid over a long period of years by all students after graduation. This is the sort of scheme that the Minister should closely consider. I have emphasised the areas of education policy raised by Mr Holt because they have important implications. I have tried to examine these implications and to make some suggestions. The basic conclusion I make is that a massive entry by the Commonwealth Government into education at all levels wilt be required if education standards are to be improved and ultimately transformed. Only Federal intervention can conquer the lack of imagination, the lack of innovation and the failure to develop new methods and approaches which mar our education system.

The strains on the existing structures have been dramatically pointed up by the report issued this week by the Victorian Teachers'

Union. The survey by the Union showed that 15,000 children were accommodated in Victorian State primary school classrooms, where overcrowding was so severe that adequate teaching was impossible. It showed that 8% of all primary school children in Victoria were sitting in classes where teachers found it extremely difficult to give adequate attention to individual problems. This situation is not confined to Victoria, it could be reinforced by examples of inadequate teaching resources in other States. The overwhelming trend in comparable federations, such as the United States of America and Canada, is for Federal assistance at elementary, secondary and tertiary levels. In the United States in 1965 Congress, for the first time, introduced new education programmes to help students and schools at all levels, from the pre-school level to the graduate level. It introduced, for the first time, general aid grants to America's elementary and secondary schools. This is the sort of approach and the sort of grant which ultimately must be faced by policy makers in Australia. The whole trend has been towards the broadening of Federal grants to education, rather than grants earmarked for specific purposes or specific subjects. The two constant themes of American education policy in recent years have been a broadening of Federal assistance and extreme emphasis on teacher training. 1 had hoped to go into teacher training in some detail, but I have not the time this morning. The Opposition believes that adoption of the Martin Committee recommendations would lead to considerable upgrading of the status of teachers. It would have elevated teachers to professional degree standard and would have meant that eventually all schools in Australia, both Government and non-government, would be staffed by professionally trained teachers. It is a tragedy that hundreds of Australian teachers have found that their professional and personal aspirations can be realised only by immigration to Canada. It will be the policy of a Labor government to implement the recommendations of the Martin Committee so that sufficient professional trained teachers can be assured to all schools in Australia and the status and conditions of Australian teachers can be uplifted sufficiently to end the wasteful brain drain to other countries.

The Opposition believes that the Government has adopted a much too limited role in the financing and planning of education. We believe that the Government should act as a catalyst to bring about radical adjustments in education policy. Substantial Federal grants must be injected into education to support these adjustments and to induce State governments to make greater efforts. At present the State governments are confined to the bare logistics of education administration. Even in this role they are immensely over-strained and cannot be expected to provide impetus for education innovation and progress.

I am sure the Minister for Education and Science, who has acquired a reputation for vigour and administrative ability, feels frustrated by the extreme limitations placed on him in his new Department. 1 trust he will use his energies and ability to infuse new life into his Government's education planning. The first task is that priorities be established and decisions made on how much money and skilled manpower of different types should be allocated to education at all levels, from the pre-school level to adult education. This can be done only by fullscale inquiry, whether it be by royal commission, an all party committee of the Parliament, a specialised committee, or a Commonwealth-States body specially appointed for the purpose.

Previous Ministers in charge of education in this Parliament have from time to time supported the establishment of committees, some of which have produced very valuable reports on education, especially tertiary education. Of course, they have referred also to the secondary and primary levels. The Government has acted commendably in respect of some of those reports, especially in relation to the recommendations of the Murray Committee. However, if one analyses the reports that have been presented to this Parliament, especially those dealing broadly with education, it will be seen that in too few cases the Government has accepted the recommendations, which have been set out clearly by competent committees. In most instances the Government has merely pigeonholed the reports, although it must have been aware of the needs in every State of the Commonwealth. After all, these are the opinions not only of members of the Opposition in this

House; indeed, these are the opinions that come from the parents and friends associations, and professional educators.. I refer to members of the Teachers Federation, who have repeatedly pointed out the crisis that exists in education at all levels in every State of the Commonwealth.

With this mass of information available, one would have thought that' the Government would now have accepted the proposition that has been advanced not only by members of the Opposition on numerous occasions in this Parliament, but also by the people who have accepted the responsibility for education in Australia. The proposal has been that we should appoint a competent committee of inquiry, which would be able to inform the Parliament and the people on ways in which the education system might be improved and the money that should be made available. by this Parliament to produce these improvements.

Mr Beazley - I second the motion, and reserve my right to speak later.

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