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Tuesday, 12 October 1971
Page: 2186

Mr STALEY (Chisholm) - I was greatly heartened by the objectives which the Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser), expressed when he outlined to the House recently the Commonwealth Government's education programme for 1971-72. He seemed to me to have an excellent philosophy of education and not through just talking in terms of facts and figures. A fresh approach, a sense of objectives and a strong philosophy of education have never been more necessary. I believe all Australians are crying out for answers to questions which the uncertainties, the complexities, the fears and the pace of the modern world have posed. As in so many areas it is simply not enough to call for more for education and more and more money for more and more education. Our generation has been getting more and more education and it has been exploding in our hands. Our generation has been encouraging educational expectations with only the haziest idea about the end of those expectations. Our generation has been pushing out doctors of philosophy, some of whom are virtually unemployable.

What shall it profit a man, one might ask, that he gain a long education through a prolonged adolescence and lose his adaptability, his usefulness, his idealism and his happiness? Our generation has been confused about its own values and priorities and, not knowing what values should be passed on to the coming generation, has tended to strip education of moral and personal values. Clearly we need to know the facts about the education system and the Minister's record of research is splendid. We need that bit extra which can make sense of all our findings. We need wisdom and we need the wisdom of parents and students as much as we need the wisdom of administrators, teachers and politicians. So often our teachers seem to be people in search of a lost profession. So often they seem to be as troubled by their own professional identity as by the identity of those they are teaching. This in turn troubles the parents for its potential impact on their children. But it is not enough for government simply to tell the teachers to get on with the job and put the students first. Governments - and 1 say it in the plural - at every level must make every effort to understand the individual teacher and the dilemmas of the teaching profession. Our governments must have as a goal the greater involvement of practising teachers in solving the problems of the profession.

I believe we should ultimately aim at a multi-system of education in which schools are created and controlled as far as possible by the local community rather than created and remote controlled in capital cities. We should stop talking about a dual education system and stress the advantages of the multi-education system which is with us and which should be developed. We should be aiming at an end to prejudice and an encouragement to the community to create the diversity in education which it requires. I would like to develop these ideas further, but there are particular estimates to which I wish to refer. They are the estimates of $25,800,000 for Commonwealth university scholarships and $7m for Commonwealth secondary scholarships. Ten thousand secondary scholarships are awarded annually without means test for the final 2 years of secondary education and comprise $200 for maintenance, $50 for books and up to $150 for school and examination fees. When Sir Robert Menzies introduced this scheme in 1964 he said:

I believe that many, children of ability will be encouraged by this scheme to stay on at school for a longer period than they might otherwise have done to their own benefit and that of the nation.

The purposes of the scheme were splendid, but today the Commonwealth secondary scholarships scheme does not basically serve the purpose of keeping able students at school, whatever other good purpose it does serve. Hardly a student seems to stay on at school today because he has won a scholarship. This is clear from research which the Australian Council for Educational Research has carried out. Its research among scholarship holders and their parents has established that the overwhelming majority of students would have remained at school had they not won an award. For example, in their study of the Melbourne area only 1 per cent would, according to the parents, have definitely left school if a scholarship had not been won. Now that we know some of the facts we must decide what we want from these scholarships and whether we want them to help those who really need help. I believe that the Government should seek a flexible, generous and humane test of the circumstances of parents so as to encourage those students whose parents have a real struggle to educate them. Another area where the

Government could get better value for its limited resources is, I believe, in the area of university scholarships and living allowances. A sensitive and sensible study of student failures by the sub-dean of the faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne, Mr Dennis 0'Hearne, shows that many students who fail do so because of financial difficulties.

A student who gets into financial difficulties is in an awful fix - a vicious circle - where initial minor failure leads to a degree of poverty because the award might well be, and usually is, taken away, which in its turn leads to greater failure and to greater need of all types. Even assuming limited resources and even assuming that we could not expand the amounts of allowances I am sure that meaningful changes could be made. The butter could be spread a little less thinly over the bread. Allowances could be maximised where they are most needed. There could be more emphasis on particular students and less on the general rules. Students should not have to live independently of their parents for nearly as long as 3 years to qualify as independent of those parents for the purpose of receiving allowances. The Government should consider establishing a working series of relatively high level liaison committees between the Department of Education and Science and the universities to consider the circumstances of particular students. Apart from the human costs involved there are, of course, heavy economic costs in student failure. A little more flexibility and a precise location of the real needs could, 1 believe, prove very rewarding.

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