Education

The Science Party believes that education gives minds, young and old, the language to dream their future, and the inquisitiveness to bring it about. Education, by its very nature, is the ultimate plan for the future; it is the belief that time and effort spent learning today will be justified multiple times over by the gains it will produce in the future. Today’s students are tomorrow’s scientists, engineers, artists, writers and leaders. Education is also the method by which individuals can better themselves and society in the process, and is a method by which we can end the poverty cycle.

The Science Party believes that education funding needs to be expanded, education funding at the federal level needs to be more fairly distributed, and our teaching methods need to be reviewed. The overwhelming majority of the members of parliament have acknowledged that the public education system is not sufficiently funded; they do not send their own children to public schools, instead opting for private or religious schools. The government has a responsibility to give students, who do not have a say in how their education is funded, the maximum chance to reach their potential, such that they can improve their own lives and make the world a better place through what they learn.

 

1. Reform of funding for schools

1.1. Policy: Implement the recommendations of the Gonski Review, in particular:

  • To increase funding to schools by approximately $6 billion through joint contributions from state and federal governments.
  • To make Federal funding of high schools and primary schools dependent on the level of need calculated through disadvantage tests, and remove the requirement that only those schools outside the public system are eligible for this funding.
  • To reform the Socioeconomic Status (SES) system for measuring disadvantage to represent the actual socioeconomic status of students attending a school.

1.2. Discussion: The Science Party believes that public funding of education helps to lessen entrenched disadvantage and helps to advance society as a whole. We strongly believe in increasing funding to schools to ensure that we can reverse what appears to be a slipping in Australian school standards in comparison to the rest of the world, and to ensure a narrowing of the gap between academic achievement in disadvantaged students and other students. This position is backed by the conclusions of the Gonski Review.

The Science Party believes that Federal Government funding should not depend on the attendance of a non-government school. Instead, funding of students should be dependent on need, take into account levels of disadvantage and consider existing levels of financing to the schools (including state government funding and school fees).

A review of the Socioeconomic Status (SES) system should be undertaken to create a system that determines the true disadvantage of the students enrolled at a school. The current system assumes that those students who attend private schools come from households with an average income for the local area as calculated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This calculation is insufficient to determine the true disadvantage of the students at a school, as those students who attend private schools will on average be from the households that earn above the average income in that area.

The Gonski Report can be accessed here (PDF, 4.2 MB, Department of Education).

 

2. National school curriculum and assessment

2.1. Policy: The Science Party supports:

2.2. Discussion: A single curriculum allows states and territories to spend resources they would otherwise put toward curriculum development on additional teaching resources, thus decreasing waste and improving outcomes. The National Curriculum will include national standardised testing across Australia to ensure all students are marked and evaluated against the same standards, and the Science Party supports this initiative.

 

3. Extension school

3.1. Policy: Create ‘extension school’: additional optional schooling hours that can be used to give additional help to struggling students or to provide additional, more challenging material in the areas that students are interested in.

3.2. Discussion: Students of all backgrounds, regardless of wealth, should be able to participate in additional educational activities outside of the mandated classroom time. We propose an ‘extension school’ which provides educational interest and tutoring classes outside of regular school hours. The extension school can be used to teach students of all levels, to provide either remedial lessons for those who are struggling, or to provide additional more challenging material to those who are already performing well in class. This extension school will be run in a similar fashion to out-of-school sports and arts activities. Making extension school optional gives students a sense of personal responsibility over their education.

 

4. Utilise connective technologies to increase equity and efficiency

4.1. Policy: Provide infrastructure capable of supporting nation-wide interactivity between schools, students and teaching staff. The Science Party supports a National Broadband Network using a Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) model.

4.2. Discussion: Schools and students in disadvantaged environments lack the resources and staffing available in higher socioeconomic areas and selective schools. This disparity becomes entrenched as the students with the highest potential are moved to better performing schools so that their potential can be fulfilled, further lowering the standard of the poorer schools in the process. The Science Party supports technology that would enable students in regional areas and disadvantaged communities to interact with their more privileged counterparts. The country’s brightest students, who may be physically separated, will have the opportunity to build off each other, while the specialist resources required for struggling students will be available to all who require them.

4.1. Policy: Create a System of Online Resources for Teachers (SORT-ED) which is used to efficiently disseminate materials developed by experts, teachers and academics, who are compensated for the resources they produce.

4.2. Discussion: Much time is spent by teachers endlessly re-creating resources (lesson plans, worksheets, projects, excursions, etc.) to be used in their programs. This is incredibly wasteful of teachers’ time, as they are constantly reinventing the wheel. The Science Party believes that the nature of the education system can be overhauled to reduce this waste.

Teachers will be paid to contribute to their own and others’ professional development by developing and producing resources that can be used for free in all schools. These resources will be matched appropriately to syllabuses around the country and will be tuned to all ability levels and supported by the education provider. They will also be updated regularly, helping to keep education fresh, interesting and relevant to the students. This will allow all teachers, educators and academics to have the chance to contribute resources to this system. In order to keep the most relevant resources to a manageable level, an open and real-time collaborative voting and commenting mechanism will be in place so that the tried and tested resources are at the top of the list.

Once teachers have ownership of a shared resource, they can focus on the educational outcomes of the students and do what they do best: teach.

 

5. Improve staffing to disadvantaged schools

5.1. Policy: Attach teacher career advancement to taking on greater responsibility and directing benefit to students most in need. Teachers who teach in hard-to-staff schools will be given incentives to move to and remain in those schools.

5.2. Discussion: The current system of teacher career advancement directs expert teachers away from schools which most need experienced teachers, i.e., those with low performance in the outer regions of capital cities and rural areas. In NSW, the Department of Education and Training currently gives incentives to early career teachers to teach in these hard-to-staff schools. However, there are few incentives to keep teachers in those schools or to attract experienced teachers to those schools. This results in staff at disadvantaged schools being disproportionately earlier in their careers and a greater turnover of staff at those schools, as those teachers see greater opportunities at other schools. Disadvantaged schools and students need a stable staffing situation and highly qualified teachers to improve the outcomes for these students. While giving teachers of hard-to-staff schools more pay will not solve all of the problems of these schools, it will reduce problems that these schools face in terms of finding and retaining good teachers.

 

6. Computer programming in school

6.1. Policy: Computer programming to be taught to all students from early high school.

6.2. Discussion: Computer programming has become essential to many fields far beyond software development and mathematics, including: chemical engineering (systems control), mechanical engineering (mechatronics engineering), biology and psychology (statistical programming and computational models), design (3D modelling and other computer aided design or CAD) and media (as media becomes increasingly electronic). The number of fields that use programming (or a simplified version of programming) on a regular basis will only increase as the benefits of computation are realised.

Programming is simply a method for doing calculations or tasks on a computer, and the advantage of programming is that it allows complicated tasks to be completed and repeated quickly and easily. Programming therefore allows a single person to do tasks that would take many people many hours to complete manually. On a nationwide scale, this increase in productivity has the potential to greatly advance our technological and economic development. Learning programming also has significant benefits for the individual student, teaching logic and complex reasoning skills which can be then used in other areas.

All people are capable of learning some form of programming, and this will be highly advantageous to our society as technology develops. Simple programming is comparable to writing a recipe; one takes the ingredients (inputs and data), writes down the instructions carefully (the lines of code), and a result is generated. All children should learn from an early age how to program using simple programming languages – for example, Scratch, which has been produced by MIT (http://scratch.mit.edu/). As students progress with their programming and mathematical knowledge later in school, students will find it easier to transition to more formal and specialised programming languages.

However, this curriculum and policy will need to ensure training of the teachers who will teach the subject, as many will be unfamiliar with programming. Nationally developed textbooks, video instructions and lesson plans can be used by teachers to ease the learning of the subject material.

This article highlights some of the reasons why children should learn to code: http://exchange.telstra.com.au/2015/05/22/why-kids-should-learn-to-code/.

 

7. Mandatory ethics teaching in school

7.1. Policy: Implement mandatory age-appropriate ethics classes as part of both the primary and secondary school curriculums. Any Special Religious Education classes are to be taught outside of regular school hours.

7.2. Discussion: The Science Party believes that exposing children to issues of morals and ethics will allow Australians to develop a strong moral compass from an early age, and help to craft a more considerate and socially cohesive society. Teaching students ethics, and helping them to differentiate right from wrong, will have immediate advantages in helping to encourage safer and more co-operative school environments and long-term advantages in encouraging a more socially cohesive and accepting Australian society. Allowing students access to this type of education as an alternative to religious teaching also prevents students of different or non faiths feeling marginalised and isolated during religious teaching.

In regards to rescheduling religious education outside of regular school timetabling, the Science Party is a strong believer in a secular government, and believes that the government shouldn't fund religious programs and that public educators should not endorse any particular religion. A public education system that doesn't fund or propagate any specific religious ideals would ensure that citizens are able to practice and preach whatever belief system they subscribe to and prevent the marginalisation of members of minority belief systems.

 

8. Sex and relationships education

8.1. Policy: Implement national standards for age-appropriate sex and/or interpersonal relationship education in primary and secondary school, with a focus on inclusiveness and consent.

8.2. Discussion: A sex education curriculum based on anatomy and physiology, pregnancy and STIs is necessary but not sufficient. In addition, sex and relationships education should:

  • Be inclusive of diversity in sex, gender and sexuality;
  • Include frank discussion of the complexities of sexual relationships, including consent; and
  • Be relevant to the current age of electronic communication.

Younger students can learn about interpersonal relationships generally, e.g. Victoria's 'Respectful Relationships' program.

 

9. Mandatory primary and secondary STEM classes

9.1. Policy: Implement mandatory Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) classes throughout all levels of school curricula. STEM subjects are to be taught by specialty teachers.

9.2. Discussion: STEM is the language of the future and there is a strong need for STEM-literate school leavers. Currently it is not compulsory for students in VIC, NSW and the ACT to study a STEM subject in their final years. The introduction of specialty teachers to teach students science and mathematics classes is not without precedent; many primary schools have specialty music teachers to ensure that students are given a high quality musical education where the main classroom teacher may not be specialising in music.

 

10. Vocational education and training

Post-secondary education in Australia is provided in the form of vocational education and training (VET) and higher education. Usually, TAFEs provide VET courses and universities provide higher education, although the reverse is sometimes true, and private providers are able to offer accredited VET programs.

10.1. Policy: Increase funding to adult education programs; support those undertaking adult education through financial assistance and giving workers the right to take leave for the purpose of education. Give additional incentives such as tax credits to employers who train workers through formal education.

10.2. Discussion: When the economy and technology changes, the jobs which people do change as well; and technology is changing at an accelerating pace. People change occupation regularly, and it is important that the workforce is flexible enough to address skills shortages through education of current workers. Education allows workers to increase their expected take home pay while reducing their likelihood of needing income support.

The adult education system needs to be analysed to ensure that the education programs it is providing is relevant to the areas that have skills shortages in them. Individuals should also be strongly encouraged to attend adult education by increasing the funding to adult education and giving incentives to those who attend that education.

10.3. Policy: Implement stricter quality control on Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) whose courses are eligible for Higher Education Loan Program (VET FEE-HELP) loans.

10.4. Discussion: Some RTOs' business models are built on essentially rorting the HELP scheme, by convincing students from low socioeconomic areas to sign up to poor quality courses with no formal examinations and suggesting that they will never need to repay the loans. Some RTOs have even been caught going door-to-door in these areas, offering free laptops and other equipment to students who agreed to take out these loans. The Science Party believes that much stricter quality control must be placed on RTOs, both to protect students and to save taxpayer funding from being misused in this way.

 

11. University funding

11.1. Policy: The Science Party supports fully publicly-funded education at all levels, including university. We strongly oppose changes to higher education that would place a greater financial burden on students, including: university fee deregulation; real interest applied to student loans; lowering of the threshold at which repayments must be made; and assessment of a graduate’s household income (rather than their personal income) when determining their repayment threshold.

11.2. Discussion: The Science Party believes that education should be considered a basic human right, and as such we believe higher education should be free; however, for the sake of pragmatism, we see this as a long term goal to strive for. In the meantime, the Science Party strongly believes that the current Higher Education Loan Program (HECS-HELP) provides a good model that we should continue to support. This income-contingent loan system allows any Australian student to attend university without paying course fees up-front. Repayments are automatically deducted by the Australian Tax Office, starting at an annual income of $54,869.

The Science Party strongly opposes proposals to:

  • Lower of the income threshold at which repayments must be made (to $42,000), or assess the loan-holder's household income instead of their personal income, as a way to combat dropping rates of repayment. If university graduates are repaying their loans slowly or not at all because they are earning well below the median wage, the solution is not to make them poorer;
  • Add real interest to HECS-HELP loans (loans are currently indexed to the Consumer Price Index, but adding interest at the 10-year government bond rate up to a maximum of 6% has been suggested);
  • Deregulate university fees. Fee deregulation and cuts to course funding would be expected to lead to a two-tier university system, according to leaked modelling prepared for the Group of Eight universities as well as the American experience.

There are currently three "bands" of student contributions. These should be structured so as to allow priority areas to be moved into the lowest band from year to year.