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Wednesday, 17 October 1973
Page: 2291

Mr DRUMMOND (Forrest) - The honourable member for Holt (Mr Oldmeadow), who spoke in this debate last night and again tonight, made much of the amount of money appropriated in the Budget for education. He spoke of it as if it were the most important thing in the world but money is not the most important ingredient. Certainly it is very important, but planning, dedication and interest of teachers and parent participation are just as important, to my mind. There is no doubt that there has been an earnest endeavour by the Government to improve the standard of education in Australia. Of that there can be no doubt, especially if the spending of money is the criterion. One cannot quarrel with a government that is earnestly endeavouring to improve education. To criticise that would be like criticising Australian Rules football in Melbourne.

What worries me is that the emphasis in education expenditure in the Budget is placed on tertiary and post-secondary education. One cannot really argue by drawing a comparison and saying that primary and secondary education are being disadvantaged alongside tertiary education, but I believe that primary education is the most disadvantaged area within our educational system. I would have liked more emphasis to be placed in the Budget on primary school expenditure. I believe that there is something completely wrong with the whole educational field. Naturally within the time allotted to me I can deal with only one aspect of the problems I see. What I am about to say is not intended to reflect on the Government. It is rather an observation on the system today and I am pleased to see that the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) is in the chamber tonight to hear what I have to say.

Let us have a look at a typical school in a rural area. I know that there are similar schools in city areas but the school of which

I will speak is well known to me. Student numbers there have been reasonably static over the last few years, yet the classrooms are inadequate and have not been improved. Six demountable rooms have been used there for a number of years. I will read to the Committee a letter I received from a young teacher enjoying her first year in the country. She wrote:

There are 2 grade one classes at Mount Barker primary school. I have 41 children in my class and there are 42 in the other. Most of my class had no kindergarten. Most of them have birthdays between July and December.

That means that they start school at about 5£ years of age. She went on:

Up to 10 of them should not have started school till next year because they aTe not ready for it.

I remind honourable members that in the rural area concerned the children have no opportunity for kindergarten experience. I gather from the teacher's comment that she means she must button up the shirts and tie up the shoe laces of the children. Referring to the 2 first grade teachers she went on:

We have both asked the Superintendent (through our headmaster) for another teacher to take a mixed grade one and grade two class. The grade two classes are also large. We were told we could not have another teacher because we had no spaTe classroom. As it is we have 6 demountables in use at the moment and they, have been used for a number of years. Surely grade one is one of the most important years of a child's schooling. How can we teach them to read when our rooms are overcrowded and we have hardly any equipment?

Mr Beazley - The teacher needs a lesson in civics. She should have sent that letter to her State member.

Mr DRUMMOND - I appreciate that it is more a State matter than a Federal matter but 'I want to put to the House the situation as it is. I can assure the Minister that it is a cry from the heart of a young idealistic teacher on behalf of her pupils. The story is the same throughout the school. By the time the children reach fifth grade with 2 years still to go, naturally conditions have not improved. Thirty-five pupils are in a small demountable room with a frustrated teacher. When he puts the day's maths on the blackboard, that is it. There is no room for anything else on the blackboard. As I have said, these cramped conditions prevail throughout the school. The main frustration of the teacher lies in his inability to teach as he would like to teach, as teaching should be conducted.

By the time the pupils reach fifth grade at least one-third of them require special attention to bring them up to normal standard. They are not slow learners who may qualify for the very limited special class at the school. They are children who through the previous grades have just missed the boat. Starting right back at grade one the system has passed them by. I believe that there is no way in the world that they can catch up. The teacher just has not the time, despite his best efforts on behalf of the children. I have a son in the fifth grade at the Mount Barker primary school. His teacher is a personal friend of mine and despite his best endeavours and the love, consideration and time that his mother has given him he is in the bottom third of the class. The problem goes further than the educational system passing by the bottom third. The top third are quite capable of learning and absorbing far more knowledge than they are being fed through the present system. It comes about for the very same reason as applies to the bottom third - lack of proper conditions, equipment, teaching aids, rooms and so on. The teacher must stand by in the role of a hopeless bystander observing the squandering of young talent.

It follows that one-third of the students who arrive at high school do not have the faintest chance of grappling with the system. From these youngsters come the dissenters and trouble makers. Who can really blame them? They are just waiting out their time until they can join the labour force, and perhaps the lower echelon of it. The Government's basic claim is for equality of education for all. To my mind the equality should start right down at grade one. I do not suggest that all children should be educated, no matter what, to university standard, but some of the third I have mentioned leave school with not more than the very basic skills of reading and writing. I suggest that for job opportunity and enjoyment of life a basic sound education should be every person's right. To achieve that end far more emphasis will have to be placed on primary schools than is the case today, perhaps at the expense of the tertiary level of education.

I would like to make a great number of suggestions regarding the problems of education but the most important that 1 would mention is planning. Obviously in the case of the school I have detailed the main problem is space and classrooms which will result in good teachers. A modern cluster unit would be ideal, but what is the Education Department building right at this moment? It is building a library, despite the fact that there is an adequate library at the school already. It is the same old story. Local teachers, the headmaster and the Parents and Citizens Association were not asked about the school's greatest need - whether it was a library or new school rooms. The answer would have been obvious to the question: 'Do you want a library?' The school may as well have a library as nothing. That is the obvious answer. I have pointed to the greatest area of need in the educational system as I see it. I hope in 12 months time to see the greatest improvement in that area since the taxpayer is required to pay for the massive increase in educational expenditure by the Government. If the schools, particularly in country areas, improve to an acceptable standard, the expenditure will not have been wasted as many people fear it will. But let me assure the Committee that in 12 months time I shall report to the Parliament just what has been the improvement or otherwise in primary schools.

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