Among the many issues on which Australia’s political leaders have grown hopelessly out-of-touch, the school funding debate is perhaps the worst.
All the evidence points to a failing system of government schools yet, in their determination to buy votes, both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten want to throw more debt-funded money at the problem.
In tonight’s budget, the Coalition will provide an additional $19 billion in school funding, while Labor has promised up to $22 billion on top of that.
But what’s the point in extra resources if our schools aren’t being staffed by high-quality teachers capable of using the money effectively?
By every international comparison, Australia’s education system has fallen apart over the past 20 years.
We are now ranked below Borat’s Kazakhstan – a national embarrassment.
Australia already has record levels of school funding, yet our academic results have gone backwards.
The problem in education is not the amount being spent but how the funds are being used.
Take, for example, a comparison with schools in Shanghai and South Korea.
Australia spends twice as much per student as those Asian systems, yet for the top cohort of maths results, we are 36 percent behind Shanghai and 19 percent behind South Korea.
Turnbull and Shorten are treating the electorate as mugs.
They want us to believe school education is a motherhood issue: that all spending is good and, as voters, we should support the biggest available cash-splash.
Yet the public is smarter than that.
It wants value-for-money across the public sector, especially with Commonwealth debt now approaching $500 billion – more than $20,000 for every Australian man, woman and child.
Labor and Liberal have found a convenient way of dealing with the crisis in our schools: to pretend it’s all about funding – and then tab up their largesse on the national credit card.
This allows Shorten and Turnbull to avoid a politically uncomfortable truth: the real problem lies in substandard teaching.
MPs from both major parties have been reluctant to upset the teachers’ union and risk losing the votes of the teaching profession.
So they roll over to the union’s demands and try to switch the focus onto the funding debate.
This is a cop-out, jeopardising the future of our children and Australia’s economic competitiveness.
We need to face some basic facts.
The nation’s teaching profession is old and getting older.
It is no longer capable of meeting the demands of 21st century learning.
Yes, it has some good, dedicated people in its ranks but overall, its structure, rewards and results are lousy.
As a vocation, it no longer attracts the best Year 12 graduates into studying education at university.
Whereas in the 1960s, bright, high-achieving secondary students would pursue a career in teaching, today they are more likely to want jobs in information technology, finance and business management.
Teaching has been left with the dregs.
In communities around the country, you are more likely to find a young, switched-on person running your local coffee shop than running your neighbourhood school.
In 2015, among Australian school leavers embarking on a teaching career, just 5 percent had an ATAR result above 90.
Only 42 percent had ATARs over 70, while 13 percent were failed students – scoring ATARs under 50.
It’s not uncommon to now find schools (especially selective high schools) where the students are smarter than the teachers.
A 2015 study by the Australian Primary Principals Association found that every second primary school principal “could not teach mathematics to a reasonable level”.
In two out of every five Year 7-10 maths classes, the “teacher” at the front of the room does not have any maths qualifications.
As the quality of teacher recruitment has declined, a certain type of person has taken over the profession.
They are more like social workers than scholars.
Instead of emphasising academic achievement, they are more interested in pastoral care, “mental wellness” and experimental Kumbaya teaching programs such as “project-based learning”.
Our government schools have become social laboratories for Leftist gender theory and manipulating the minds of students, herding them into a so-called “anxiety epidemic”.
The most worrying feature of neo-Marxist programs such as Safe Schools and Respectful Relationships is not necessarily the number of Labor and Liberal education ministers willing to endorse them, but the thousands of school staff willing to teach this rubbish in classrooms.
In the Leftist laboratories formerly known as “government schools”, the teaching of fragility is given higher priority than the values of resilience and toughness in life.
The decline in our schools has been a stunning act of national self-harm.
What sort of country does this to itself?
While our politicians fiddle with the relative trivia of “funding envelopes”, we are consigning our children to a second-rate future by tolerating hopeless teachers and wacky course work.
Australia desperately needs a national recruitment drive to bring the best and brightest of our young people back into teaching.
Classroom results must be rigorously measured, with high-achieving teachers rewarded financially.
Old, ineffective time-servers must be put out to pasture.
The only way of saving our state schools is by cleaning out the deadwood, in both the classroom and curriculum.
The era of social experiment must end.
We need to stop throwing good money after bad in school education.