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Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 3897

Mr OLDMEADOW (Holt) - I was encouraged to hear the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Cooke) say that the Opposition is in general agreement with this Bill and proposes to give it a speedy passage. However, in relation to the honourable member for Wannon, I feel that the sting was in the tail of his speech when he spoke of the removal of clause 66. I would stress that one of the basic concepts running through this Bill, and indeed all education legislation we have passed, has been the concept of need. We have been opposed to across the board per capita grants being given to non-government schools.

In relation to the honourable member for Petrie, today I have found myself much more in agreement with what he had to say than I have been on previous occasions. I agree very much with what he had to say about the quality of teaching and the need to look constantly for ways to upgrade teaching. I believe that that is incorporated in this Bill. I believe that there is misunderstanding in relation to the provision for the training of remedial teachers. Although this is not mentioned specifically in relation to the special schools sphere I would have seen this as coming in 2 areas - firstly in the training that is given to primary teachers, in most States involving a 3-year diploma course, and secondly in the extent to which this training equips teachers to pick pupils with problems. Teachers of the past who were trained about the time I was trained would need special training to bring them up to date. This seems to me to be what this in-service training is all about. It is to update teachers and bring them right into a relationship with the latest methods that have been found as a result of research.

I agree entirely with what the honourable member said about local participation in decision making. Again I think provision for this is incorporated in the Bill where it refers to the devolution of responsibility. The honourable member said that the categorisation of schools is entirely in the hands of the Minister. As I see it, in the first place this work was done by the Interim Committee and in future will be done by the Commission. Certainly it comes back to the Minister for the final decision.

I believe that this legislation marks the turning point of a new deal for Australian school children. It provides the injection of funds so desperately needed. I think I should remind the House of the existing Commonwealth commitments to education at the school level. Money has been directed to States for specific purposes including building science facilities and secondary school libraries. Of course, these grants have gone to both the government sector and the non-government sector. Also per capita grants have been made to non-government schools to the extent of $62 per head for primary school children and $104 per head for secondary school children. I suggest to honourable members that the amount of money that was given by the previous Government to education reflects the low priority that that Government gave to education. After 23 years little more than a trickle of funds was coming through directly to assist schools at the primary or secondary level.

I have been fascinated in the last 2 debates - the debate last night on the 5 cognate Bills relating to tertiary education and the debate today - to hear honourable members on the opposite side claiming credit for the momentous legislation that is being passed by this Government in the field of education. It is true that some small, halting steps had been taken by the previous Government. It is equally true to say that what is happening today in relation to the massive amounts being put into education would not have happened if a Liberal-Country Party government had been returned. I submit that this Government has done more in a little over 11 months in the field of education than the previous Government did in 23 years. When this Government came to office it was faced with a situation of crisis proportions in Australian schools.

The seriousness of the situation in Australian schools was set out clearly in the findings of the Karmel Committee. Let me summarise them. Firstly, most schools lack sufficient resources, both human and material, to provide appropriate educational opportunities for the young in a modern industrial world, in a world of change. Secondly, there is evidence of gross inequalities existing in our schools. I agree with the honourable member for Wannon that these inequalities are not restricted to the Catholic sector. There are great inequalities within government schools. There are inequalities between schools in the nongovernment sector and also between government and non-government schools. Thirdly, the quality of education leaves much to be desired. Teachers are inadequately trained and the provision for their professional development is meagre. My experience of 25 years of teaching in Victorian schools testifies to the accuracy of this assessment by the Karmel Committee.

To place the Bill into some sort of perspective I think it is important to stress some of the grave shortcomings that exist in our schools. Let us think for a moment of schools in disadvantaged areas. I have frequently had the experience of going into some of these schools. They can be described only as grim fortresses. Many of them were built over 50 years ago. They have few windows. They are built on a couple of acres of land and there is not a blade of grass to be seen because the ground has been covered with asphalt. One finds that the sick room is not a room at all. The child who is unfortunate enough to be sick is placed on a bed under the stairs where every pupil passes by. In the staff rooms one sees utter shambles and facilities that would not be tolerated in private enterprise. The tragic thing is that frequently these schools are placed in areas of deprivation and frequently they have the added problem of a high migrant population.

Another thing that we need to bear in mind as a backdrop to this legislation is the method that has been used, in Victoria at least, in commencing new schools. A number of years ago the standard procedure was that one knew that a new school was to be opened and then one proceeded to look for church halls, public halls and the like so that the school could get under way. Now we have moved forward a stage and we find that on a paddock we have a whole heap of portable class rooms and that is the school for three or four years. Then we have a pathetic shortage of specialist teachers. For the handicapped, the slow learner, the migrant or the child with speech defects or emotional problems there is no specialist staff to back up the teacher in the classroom. Of course all of this results in inequality of opportunity for the students. The result is that whether one looks to retention rates or to the students who are able to proceed to a tertiary education, one finds that children who come from lower socio-economic status families are in no way proportionate to their numbers in the overall population. Many Australian studies would bear testimony to this fact. One study I would quote from briefly was done by Anderson and Western. It related to students entering 4 professions in 6 universities. In a summary of their findings in schools in Australia it is stated:

Nearly half the entering students were the children of professional and managerial fathers, who constituted 17.S per cent of the population in the age group likely to be their fathers; industrial workers were nearly 60 per cent of the population but their children accounted for only 22.6 per cent of students entering the 4 faculties.

These are the conditions that provide the backdrop to this Bill. This was acknowledged, of course, in 1969 in the views expressed by the Australian Educational Council in its nationwide survey of educational needs. I believe that this Bill needs to be seen - I agree here with the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Cooke) - both in terms of its quantity and it quality. But let us not forget the quantity - the funds that are appropriated here. In 1974 and 1975 some $695m will be granted to all schools of the States. Of this amount, $466m is to go to State schools, $198m to non-government schools and a further $30m to joint programs in both government and non-government schools. It is interesting to note that the net cost of the interim committee's recommendation was $468.5m. I submit that these funds constitute a dramatic increase.

It needs to be stressed that the Karmel funds are additional to the amounts which the States will spend from their own resources. The States are expected to continue to spend a similar proportion of their Budgets on education. I question whether in fact, this is being done by the Victorian Government. It is disturbing to read in the editorial of the most recent issue of the Victorian Teachers Union Journal' the following statement:

Not only has the finance formerly used for tertiary education been directed entirely away from education, but in Victoria this financial year the State is spending a lesser percentage of its total Budget on education, even after writing off that tertiary money and looking only at the sub-tertiary level.

In fact there is $72m missing.' That is the amount by which Victoria's education budget should have been greater had the previous rate of education spending been maintained.

I stress that we on the Government side are looking for co-operation from the States. Having said that there is a massive input of funds, if this was all and if there was no underpinning educational philosophy, it could be a great waste of money. I agree with the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) when he stressed the need for this underpinning or underlying philosophy of education.

To appreciate the quality aspects we need to examine the values which informed the Karmel Committee in its deliberations. I would paraphrase these as the pursuit of equality, the attainment of minimum standards of competence for life, the concept of schooling as a part of life as well as a preparation for life, the notion of education as a lifelong experience, diversity among schools, the devolution of the making of decisions of those working in or with the schools - that is, the teachers, pupils, parents and members of the local community - and the involvement of the community in school affairs. This is not a materialist concept.

We, as a Government, believe that buildings, equipment and the like are important, but we believe that it is more important to spend money in such a way that we can achieve the values that have been set down. I believe that if we look at the major parts of this Bill we will see that this is being done. Provision is made for building grants and recurrent expenditure. We then move into the area of library grants, disadvantaged schools, special schools for handicapped children, teacher development and special projects. I stress that there is a centrality of the concept of needs running through this Bill.

In the brief time that is left to me in this debate I wish to touch on several of the important aspects of this Bill, not because I believe they are the most important aspects but because they are innovatory steps which are, again, evidence that this Government is breaking new ground in the field of education. I commend the fact that in this Bill provision is made for grants to school libraries, particularly this time for primary school libraries. I commend the fact that an extra $20m will be spent on secondary school libraries. But I think the most significant step forward is the grant of $20m for primary school libraries.

The importance of the library in the school is well established now. In fact, we should think of it more as a resource centre than just a library. A library is, in a sense, the very centre of school life. What has amazed me is that we have had to wait for so long for the Government to recognise the importance of school libraries. I agree with the honourable member for Petrie that these sorts of innovations should take place first at the primary level because it is there that the patterns of learning are formed. In this connection I am very pleased also to see the emphasis which is being placed on the training of teacher librarians. The clear need for trained teacher librarians is evident when one visits schools, finds rather beautiful, excellently equipped libraries there, but is told that they cannot be used at this stage because there are no trained teacher librarians.

I turn now to the part of the Bill that deals with teacher development. Again, it is of crucial importance that opportunities be provided for teachers and administrators to upgrade their ideas and their competence. Today, with the speed of change in educational methods, this is of the utmost importance. I would be the first to subscribe to the view that teachers get in a rut. With the effluxion of time we find that the principals of schools are out of touch with the latest ideas and methods. We then have the sort of school in which very little is taking place in line with latest developments. So, clashes occur between staff who are out of touch with the pupils and who are out of touch also with the newly trained teachers. Therefore, I am encouraged by the fact that $7m is being provided for in-service training for teachers. It is to be a joint approach with the teachers from the State schools, non-systemic schools and Catholic schools taking part. Again, I think it is a good thing that this action should be taken jointly. I want to say a few words about the education centres. Not a large amount of money - some $2m plus $200,000 in operating expenses - has been allocated, but it will upgrade the professionalism of teachers. Of course, in many cases education centres already have been established. I agree with the honourable member for Wannon when he says that these should, in the main, go to the country areas because that is where the need is the greatest. The teachers in those schools should have much greater opportunities.

Finally, I wish to mention the special projects fund which is to be established. Again it represents not a large amount - some $6m in the 2-year period - in terms of the total amount to be provided by this Bill. The aim is to raise the quality of schooling by fostering change and diversity. It is refreshing to see encouragement being given to innovation. In a sense this is a guarantee for the future. We must have people and schools setting the pace in the field of education.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honourable gentleman's time has expired.

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