The Science Party, known as the Future Party during the 2015 NSW election, endorsed the following policies:
The Future Party believes that education gives minds, young and old, the language to dream their future and the skills to bring it about. Education, by its very nature, is an investment in 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. Education drives social mobility, and a well funded and organised education system is fundamental to achieving opportunity for all students.
The economy is in transition. The jobs of the future will require highly skilled workers who are capable of achieving the research, development and creative outcomes which will drive Australia’s success. Today’s students are tomorrow’s scientists, engineers, artists, writers and leaders.
The Future 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 the generation of people currently at school who do not have a say in how their education is funded. The government has a responsibility to give students 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.
Increase funding of public schools
Policy: The Future Party will invest more money in public education, to make sure that public schools are a viable option for people of all backgrounds to secure a quality education.
Discussion: Too many schools in Western Sydney are not offering high-level courses, such as 3 unit mathematics. We shouldn't be dividing schools based on wealth and geography. All students with a willingness to learn should be given the opportunity to achieve academic success.
As an education provider, the government of NSW is providing an inferior education to its students. We need to fight this inequality: all students, not matter how wealthy their parents are, deserve a quality education that prepares them for the future.
Policy: The creation of ‘extension school’; additional schooling hours that can be used to give additional help to struggling students, or to provide additional more difficult material outside the curriculum in the areas that students are interested in.
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 run 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. Such an extension school need not be limited to traditional course material and could be used to teach all manner of topics, like robotics programming, poetry composition or mechanical studies. This extension school will be run in a similar fashion to out-of-school sport activities. By making the extension school optional, it gives students a sense of personal responsibility over their education. It will promote learning in a variety of fields and will allow students to extend their knowledge in fields that they find interesting.
Increasing efficiency and reducing waste in education
Policy: Create an online teacher resource system which is used to disseminate materials developed by expert teachers who are compensated for the resources they produce. Certain courses could also be taught (either partially or completely) through MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses), in order to reduce teacher load, and increase educational quality.
Discussion: Much time is spent by teachers endlessly re-creating resources (lesson plans, worksheets, projects, excursions etc) that can be used in classrooms. This is incredibly wasteful of teachers' time, as they are constantly reinventing the wheel. The Future Party believes that the nature of the education system can be overhauled to reduce this waste. Expert teachers will be paid specifically to produce 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 a multitude of ability levels. They will also be updated regularly, helping to keep education fresh, interesting and relevant to the students. Once teachers are spared the labour of creating their own resources unnecessarily, they will be able to better focus on the educational outcomes of the students.
Additionally, MOOCs could be utilised to supplement the current teaching of courses. This can also help to increase the minimum standard of course quality, whilst allowing teachers to focus less on the creation of the core content of a course, and focus more on the creation of supplementary materials to ensure that the needs of their specific cohort of students are being met.
Improve staffing to disadvantaged schools
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.
Discussion: The current system of teacher career advancement is such that expert teachers are directed away from schools which most need experienced teachers. Schools with low performance in the outer regions of capital cities and rural areas are hard to supply with experienced teachers. 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 no or very small 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, as well as creating a greater turnover of staff at those schools, as 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.
Computer Programming in School
Policy: Computer programming to be taught to all students in early high school.
Discussion: Computer programming has become essential to the development of new technology and science in many more fields than most people realise. Programming is a method for doing calculations or tasks on a computer. The advantage of programming is that it allows very complicated tasks to be completed easily, and it allows tasks to be repeated very quickly. Individuals who have the ability to program can therefore do tasks that would take many people many hours. This increase in productivity, when taken across all workers in a nation, has the potential to greatly advance both the technological and economic development that occurs in this country. Learning programming also has significant benefits for the individual student. Programming can help students learn logic and complex reasoning skills which can be then used in areas unrelated to computing.
Programming has become an integral part of many areas, some of which people are unlikely to associate with programming. Of course there are traditional software developers and mathematicians, but other areas already heavily use programming. Chemical engineering (systems control), mechanical engineering (mechatronic 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) and many more fields. The number of fields that use programming (or a simplified version of programming) on a regular basis will only increase as the benefits of computers are realised in each field.
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 not much more complicated than writing a recipe. You take the ingredients (inputs and data), write down the instructions carefully (the lines of code) and you have a result! All children should learn from an early age how to program using simplistic 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 should learn more formal languages like Python and C++.
The Future Party therefore supports ACARA's current draft 'Digital Technologies' curriculum, but we argue that its indicative hours are insufficient for the subject, particularly in the 9-10 elective (at 4% of a week, equivalent to less than 2 hours of student time). However, this curriculum and policy will need to ensure that the knowledge of the teachers who will teach the subject is also increased. Many teachers have never used programming languages before, and hence will have to learn along with their students. Nationally developed textbooks, video instructions and lesson plans can be used by teachers to ease the learning of the subject material. In order for quality materials to be rolled out in the short-term, without waiting for the graduation of qualified teachers, we support the dissemination of this course through MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) as a first-step. This will allow students across the nation (and particularly in rural areas) to learn this critical skill, even if a qualified teacher is not available to teach it.
Policy: Increase funding to adult education programs, support for those undertaking adult education, including 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.
Discussion: While it was once thought that the learning capabilities of human brains were reduced past childhood, it is now clear that people of all ages are capable of learning new skills. When the economy and technology changes, the jobs people do also change. The idea of getting a high school or university education when we are young then staying in the same profession forever is no longer a valid philosophy. People change occupation regularly, and it is important that the workforce is flexible enough to address skills shortages through the further education of current workers. Education allows workers to increase their expected take home pay, while also reducing the likelihood that they will remain on welfare. The adult education (TAFE) system needs to be analysed to ensure that the education programs it is providing are relevant to the areas that have skills shortages. 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.
Maintain Gonski Model for Funding Schools
Policy: To maintain the current implementation 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.
Discussion: The Future Party believes that a strong public education sector helps to lessen entrenched disadvantage and helps to advance society as a whole. This will help to 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.
The Future 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 which 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.
Teaching Scientific and Critical Thinking
Policy: The Future Party supports changes to the curriculum that place greater focus on teaching methods of scientific and critical thinking. In particular, we wish to see more focus on evaluating the quality of evidence used to support conclusions. We wish to ensure that all students are given the reasoning skills required to reach logical conclusions.
Discussion: Critical thinking is useful in all aspects of life. Critical thinking is the ability to sort bad evidence from good and making logical conclusions about that evidence. People use critical thinking when making financial decisions, democratic decisions and when developing new knowledge. Critical thinking is integral to the study of scientific knowledge.
There is a large gap between the way science is practiced, and the way it is taught in the education system. Scientists use systematic and controlled techniques to test hypotheses about the nature of reality. However, science is often taught as little more than a list of facts that students need to memorise (and then promptly forget after the final exam). Teaching science in this way reduces its educational value, and can even result in a decrease in scientific literacy, as people misunderstand the true nature of science, and its value in human society.
On the other hand, teaching science as ‘detective work’ will provide students with useful skills, even if they are never employed in a ‘scientific’ field. This is because the scientific method is a way of engaging with the world that can be applied in almost any area of life to help us reach logical conclusions.
Incorrect conclusions can appeal to us because they align with what we wish were true or what we find easiest to believe. Fundamentally, helping students to learn to think clearly is actually helping them to be aware of their own existing biases. For example:
A person may already hold that “chemicals are dangerous” and therefore have undue skepticism towards vaccinations. On the other hand they may believe that “medicine is amazing” and request unnecessary prescriptions from their doctor.
In social situations a person may wish to appear nice themselves, and so accept the ideas of someone else who seems to be a nice person.
People may willingly accept the ideas of the ‘in group’ where they conflict with ideas of an ‘out group’. Others, wishing to appear as dissidents, may prefer the ideas of ‘out groups’.
Biases such as those above hamper the ability to distinguish between good and bad evidence. Students will be taught to identify their existing biases and convictions, and the techniques required to separate these from their assessment of the evidence relating to a new idea.
In undertaking this process, it is important that students are not taught that cognitive biases are ‘bad’, but rather that bias is inevitable and we should therefore take our biases into account when examining the evidence for or against a new idea.
Ethics classes for all students
Policy: Implement ethics classes as part of the regular school curriculum. All religious classes in public schools are to be moved outside of school’s regular timetabling.
Discussion: The Future Party believes that all students, regardless of their religious background, should be allowed to attend the Ethics Classes currently provided to students who do not attend religious studies classes.