The Current System
New South Wales education is divided into primary, secondary and tertiary education. Primary education is from ages five to eleven. The first year of primary is called kindergarten, and from then on, 1st class, 2nd class etc until 6th class. Secondary school is known as High School. This is for the ages twelve to eighteen and has two levels of graduation, the School Certificate and the Higher School Certificate. The School Certificate covers the period Year 7 to Year 10. This is often the bare minimum to get into a diploma course for a technical college.
The final two years in High School are Year 11 and Year 12. These two years culminate in the Higher School Certificate examinations. In NSW this series of examinations are marked out of a possible 500. This score is what is used by the Universities to determine which courses you are able to do. While the University entrance mark is supposed to show the level of academic achievement the University deems suitable for the course, it is more accurately a mark that is defined by supply and demand.
Universities in Australia require a student to have graduated from High School with the Higher School Certificate. Universities currently offer three and four year Bachelors Degrees in Arts, Science and Engineering. Many courses have compulsory fourth year Honour Degrees. Several Universities also mix in private experience with academic schedules. For instance, the University of Technology offers courses that split the time at University and in private industry equally. Universities also offer post graduate courses such as Masters Degrees and PhDs.
The Basis for Education Reform
Firstly, education is the basis for a rational and responsible civic society. Education also increases social and financial mobility through greater opportunities in the labour market. Since these truths are over-riding it becomes evident that education is required as a universal. No Australian should be denied the opportunity to partake in an educational curriculum from kindergarten to Year 12. This should be the bare minimum that a wealthy and egalitarian society demands.
Australia had a history in the 1970's of universal education at the primary, secondary and tertiary level. It is time to ensure that this opportunity is available to all Australians. This is not to deny that private education has a valid and competitive service in the education marketplace. However, there is a line to be drawn by the community and the government such that no-one on the Australian continent is denied a basic education. The level of education required is the baseline for an individual in a rational and responsible society.
The second issue with the modern education structure is its increasing lack of relevance to the requirements of the modern labour market and the amount of time it keeps potentially productive members of society from being active in the economy. There is also a focus on the style of education that is geared toward what is seen as the pinnacle of Australian education; the CSIRO or Institutional tenure. The Australian system was constructed from the philosophies of Sir Francis Bacon who believed there should be a central government funded research component to an economy. In Australia this is epitomized by the CSIRO, DSTO and University research.
Thirdly, education is an ongoing process that all members of society undertake, whether it is formal education or not. Individuals are constantly learning and thrive on the challenges and possibilities more education enables. Individuals are stimulated and empowered by education - individually, socially and economically. For this reason, a culture of valuing education must permeate society. To achieve this, education must be seen to provide the benefits of individual empowerment, social mobility and the fiscal mobility it promises.
Fourth, education has in more recent times been viewed as a personal investment, rather than a social investment. The Federal Government's HECCS scheme has pushed the burden of debt onto tertiary students. Those that are carrying HECCS debt are often the least able to carry the debt since students are not yet full economic actors. It is hoped that their choice of specialization once they graduate will allow them to pay back the debt. The pushing of debt onto that student while they are not a full economic actor is unfair. While "user pays" systems are a means of ascertaining just who is using a system, education has a positive and altruistic social aspect that goes beyond personal investment.
While primary and secondary education should be universal and with a public option; tertiary education should be limited from four year degrees to one year degrees. For private institutions and "user pays" systems, this will limit the students exposure to debt. This will also expedite the student into being a full economic actor.
To achieve these goals education must be open and without age discrimination. Anyone can return to any institution at any time, at any level. Education must also be made relevant to the realities of the modern Australian life and economy - not a pass-time of indulgent study for the idle few. Education must be seen as the backbone of the civic individual in an egalitarian society. The goal is to move education from a position of scarcity for the intellectual elite, to a one of abundance for all.
Proposal for Modification of the New South Wales Education System
- Funding for Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Education to be a State level responsibility. There is to be no Federal funding or legislation on this issue.
- Speed the educational process. Individuals thrive on intellectual stimulation.
- Remove the rote learning process evident in all levels of education. Private industry requires project based specialization and team skills. Education processes should be modified accordingly.
- Civics to be taught from kindergarten onwards. This is in order to promote an aware polity.
- Real-world economics to be taught from kindergarten onwards.
- Include mandatory entrepreneurship courses from secondary school onwards.
- Compress current secondary education, including HSC, into four years (down from six).
- Move current first and second year university level courses to Higher School Certificate (HSC) Level (Year 11 and Year 12). HSC to be replaced with an Arts Degree.
- Allow Year 11-12 level subjects to be entirely elective.
- Allow increased Technical/Mechanical Arts specialization at the Year 11-12 level
- University Post graduate Degrees to be one year in length and require an Arts Degree as the only entry requirement. This will allow specialist tertiary educated economic actors to enter the labor market at age nineteen, instead of twenty-two or twenty-three.
- Post Graduate Degrees to be offered by Tertiary Institutions.
- Post Graduate Degrees are to be one year in length and highly specialized. This will allow a nineteen year old specialist to become an economic actor at a younger age than with a four year degree. This also allows individuals to choose short, sharp courses that match the volatility of modern career paths.
- Post Graduate Degrees can be funded in public institutions by means other than taxpayer grants.
- All levels of public education welcome private competition.
There is no constitutional mandate for the Federal Government to be involved in education. For this reason alone, the State's should be entirely responsible for the education system in their respective jurisdictions. Australian Federalism has been suffering from an entropy or an ongoing creep centralism since 1901. With the Federal Government coveting more and more of the State's responsibilities - even to the point of taxing for the States. Federal money never comes without strings attached. For State autonomy, the implementation of education policy by the States must be free from Federal intervention, interference, obstruction and manipulation.
There is one Federal Government and if the Federal Government enacts educational legislation, this will mean all states are bound by that legislation. In essence the Australian people get stuck with one system of education. In other words a monopoly. There will be no competition in education, as nation-states make it difficult to move between them, especially for the purposes of working families.
There are currently six States and two territories, potentially eight different public education systems and eight different legislative systems that can compete for families and students. The diversity from this pluralism is good for the student, and the parents of students. For example, if a family does not like the NSW public system, they may choose to move to Victoria and take advantage of Victoria's strong private system and vice versa. The States education systems will be competing for families with children, and consequently the additional economic activity that a family will bring by relocating to a new State.
Under a Federal Education system, there is one system, one set of legislation and no diversity. The education system is not an area the Federal Government can contribute to in a positive manner. Consequently; the Federal Government must not enact any education legislation. This is the State's domain. The Federal Government must also not fund the State education systems in any manner. State fiscal autonomy is just as important as State legislative autonomy.
Another area in which the Federal Government cannot tamper with the Education System is specifically in the curriculum and the testing methodology. Since a major component of this proposal is Civics education, having the Federal Government decide a suitable curriculum for Civics is a conflict of interest. Since 1994, there has been polarisation of the civics course conflicting from the alternate view of the Australian Government by the current Howard Government and previous Keating Government.
Speeding the Education Process
Individuals thrive on intellectual stimulation. The pursuit of happiness is invariably entwined with an individual excelling at what they enjoy most, education is a means to draw that enthusiasm out of a person and give them the opportunities to achieve in their area of chosen specialization. This requires flexibility in the educational curriculum. The speed of technological innovation and the changing workplace require education to be faster and more agile. Current secondary and tertiary education curricula are too static to meet the needs of a modern individual pursuing contentment in the personnel, social and economic spheres.
Human Capital Theory tries to equate the benefits of education in the human pursuit for increased psychic and economic benefits. Salary does increase with education, especially in an individual's peak employment years. Where Human Capital Theory dispassionately falls down is - it is not enough just to get an education. Especially if the process of getting that formal qualification is tedious, tiresome and demotivating. The goal is to channel an individuals natural enthusiasm and interest in a specialization. Through this tapping and challenging of natural application, a content individual increases societies benefits.
Rote Learning vs Project Based Specialization
The industrial era was defined by constant scarcity. Drafters used logarithmic tables and slide rules for complex calculations. Now calculators are so cheap they are given away with a full tank of petrol. Mathematical processing capability has moved to an abundance model. Libraries were another example of industrial era scarcity. The library as we know it today was an innovation in Edinburgh from the Scottish Enlightenment. Today, the internet offers greater publishing ability and archives than any previous generation has known. Information has moved to abundance as well.
A left over of the scarcity present in the industrial era is the rote learning method. This is the process of committing to memory multiplication, formula's, derivation from first principles etc. In an era of mathematical processing abundancy and information abundancy this is no longer needed. Unlike factory positions that require the mechanical precision of rote, the informational world requires far greater creative skills.
The industrial world also required each worker to fulfill their position as one commoditized cell in a process of thousands of commoditized cells. Ongoing mechanization and computer control has made this process largely redundant. Private industry is now dominated by small teams working on specific problems; with specific deliverables. Where team members specialize, in roles and knowledge, from project to project. The education system needs to modify its learning methods to adapt to method and train students for this reality in private industry.
There is a deficit in civic knowledge in Australia, and in particular in Australian youth. As Peter Botsman makes clear in his book, "The Great Constitutional Swindle"; the triumphalism of the Australian Constitution and Federation has drowned out genuine criticism of the limitations of the Australian Constitution and political system. With ongoing centralism and increased governmental manipulation of the mass media, a deep and direct knowledge of freedom, liberty, equity, natural rights and the process of Australian Government are more and more required.
Politics, unfortunately, do matter. Government permeates all levels of an individuals life and intrudes more and more each day with the constant legislation that is produced at the local, state and federal level. The government has also willfully mislead the electorate and used existing prejudice in the electorate to foster an environment of fear. A strong understanding of civics and political methods will help disabuse this manipulation of public opinion by government.
Paul Keating reintroduced the subject of civics as part of the Australian education curriculum in 1994. Since then John Howard also introduced his version of what civics should be. This was part of the larger "History Wars" that Keating and Howard indulged themselves in. Since education constitutionally is entirely a matter for the states, the Federal Government has no right or legality to be influencing this area of the curriculum. As Keating's and Howard's influence shows, having the Federal Government decide what is taught about it, is a bad thing. While State Governments will have a hand in the curriculum that decides what is taught about state government, since there is competition between the state educational systems, a family or student can choose to move inter-state.
Additionally, issues with the State view of civics can be raised locally. Government is far more responsive locally. A group of students, parents and teachers in Kalgoolie, WA complaining about State civic education is more likely to get an audience in Perth with the Western Australian Government, than it is in Canberra with the Federal Government.
Credit related bankruptcies in Australia have doubled since 1999. A greater knowledge of economics will help Australians and especially the young Australians preyed upon by credit companies, to make better risk management decisions when choosing to use credit. Credit is an everyday part of life, from financing student loans, credit cards, personal loans for near essentials such as cars, to mortgages. The management of money is incredibly important to an individual, and ultimately the health of a society. The World Health Organization found that the second most prominent cause of suicides in Australia was fiscal difficulties.
Legislation and technology has changed the role of capital from being solely the domain of large banking institutions, to one that allows small investors to participate in the public markets. Through the legislation of the Hawke, Keating and Howard governments, superannuation has become an indelible part of the employment landscape. Superannuation is a forced withholding of income for retirement. This money is invested institutionally in the stock market. Knowledge of economics in the public markets has become a necessity for anyone entering or participating in the Australian labor market.
The Masters of Business Administration is a common post-graduate educational choice for those that aspire to middle or upper management. One of the reasons for its popularity is that most technical specialist courses at the secondary or tertiary have absolutely no economic focus at all. These courses impart the technical knowledge from technical specialists, who often have had limited if any exposure to private industry. MBA's may be less of a necessity if the economic knowledge is imparted at a younger age to students.
A deficit in Australian culture is inertia against the meme that making money is OK. While this may be a result of the strong organizational ability of the old Labor movement and the myth of the "fair-go" and "looking out for your mates", it is stifling on Australian perceptions of entrepreneurship. Too often the entrepreneur is lumped in with the dodgy brothers style of crass salesmanship. Providing a service or product for profit is not evil, it is an essential part of economic activity.
Entrepreneurship is an essential part of an agile economy that is able to find and meet new holes in a constantly changing market. Australians too often come to it late, as the whole process and purpose of entrepreneurship is avoided at the secondary and tertiary level. Once again this is a remnant of the industrial era style of education. Where an industry, such as steel making, was capital intensive. In this world the educated population provides labor opportunities to the heavily capitalized company and their in the know directors. The information revolution has made the capital barrier to many industries, consequently, knowledge of identifying markets, capitalization and entrepreneurship are in the domain of more than the supposed captains of industry.
Too often in Australian culture the small business owners and entrepreneurs that exist and make a living in already crowded service sectors such as taxi-cabs, accounting, retail etc are not held up as studies of entrepreneurship and successful business. There is a wealth of experience in Australia that only needs to be recognized and tapped by the education system. As an example of how little training in entrepreneurship the Australian tertiary systems offers, during a four year degree curriculum in engineering, I was exposed to one hour in fourth year where a business executive in the that area of specialization came and spoke to us. In approximately 4200 hours of tertiary study, exposure to business training of any kind was 0.02%.
Australia has suffered from high Youth Unemployment. This is judged to be individuals above the age of sixteen and below the age of twenty-four that are actively seeking employment. While authoritative statistics on this issue is hard to find, Australia has been maintaining an unemployment rate of between 13% and 14% between 1990 and 2001. This is compared to the national unemployment rate of 5.6% for January of 2004. Australian youth have been sold by schools and government the unempowering principle that their employment future is tied to an employer employing them. It is far more empowering for secondary students to be taught the principles of entrepreneurship so that it becomes a possibility other than facing rejections from employers and the line at the dole office.
Compressing the High School Schedule
Too often the education system has been used a child minding service by politicians who are concerned about their popularity being linked to the high incidence of Youth Unemployment. Extensions to the period a teenager must spend in secondary education have been as linked to unemployment issues as the need for increased educational specialization at the secondary level. The child minding mindset has helped perpetuate a largely static system that has the Higher School Certificate as a gateway to University as the primary focus of secondary education. Little is done to stimulate the individual, instead the hum-drum beat of industrial era maths, english, science, geography and history are perpetuated.
Subjects such as maths have remained a core part of education since the Greeks instituted it as a discipline when they came up. This was expanded upon when Descartes and Newton added Algebra and Calculus to the subject matter. The value of mathematics as part of a rounded education is undeniable. However, it is currently taught in an exceedingly dry manner. All teenagers have an extreme passion for their hobbies whether it be cricket, cars, dinosaurs, aircraft, NSync or hiking. This passion needs to be tapped. For instance; statistical analysis of cricket scores, aerodynamics for cars and aircraft etc. The manner in which the mathematical principles are learnt and applied make a big difference to text book rote learning. The universe is so full of wonder, and individuals so full of passion for their hobbies, that text book learning should never be an option.
Another example which takes an applied approach to learning is the database. Nearly everyone in private industry has maintained a database of some kind, even if it is no more complex than a 300 line spreadsheet. The ability to handle data efficiently is at the core of the modern economy. All manner of core education can be taught through the database example. For instance a child who is obsessed with the Rolling Stones. Not only would the student be compiling data and reporting on data they have passion for but the discipline could be extended to writing a popular history on the band. These are examples of where the natural enthusiasm a child has is used to expand their applied knowledge.
Entirely Elective Year 11 and Year 12
Often classes are held back by the students who do the least amount of work in the class or learn the slowest. This proposal is based upon the dictum that no knowledge is innate, it is all learnt. This proposal is also based on the premise that their is much wisdom in people and even children at the primary level have specialised in an area of study that is of fascination to them. The challenge is for the school and the teacher to use the child's fascination in that topic to apply theoretical and practical principle to their existing knowledge. The challenge is also to have the child expand their chosen subject specialization in a way that evokes awe, wonder and passion in them.
Using this methodology of making the student own the process and aiding them in discovering and expanding their theoretical knowledge, plus applying those techniques to new areas of study the speed of current education can be improved. Enough that what is now six years of study in high school can be compressed into four years. This would mean that what is now the Higher School Certificate would be given in Year 10 instead of Year 12.
The two years between the age of sixteen and eighteen would now be free to do the generalist component of any degree. In fact this is what Year 11 and Year 12 would serve as with an Arts degree in a specialization being awarded at the end of Year 12. With the specializations being Fine Arts, Scientific Arts, Mechanical Arts and Liberal Arts. These two years would be entirely elective allowing the student to focus on the study and ultimately the vocation they will choose.
This has several benefits. It now means that all who complete High School now come out of the system at the age of reason (18) with a degree in their area of chosen specialization. Ongoing specialization would be handled thereafter in their lives through post graduate studies, giving greater options to study any subject matter of their choosing.
Another benefit is that high schoolers now enter the labor market with a specialization that is focused on the applied arts. One of the causes of Youth Unemployment is the lack of specialization young people have. This is often equated with low skill jobs and as such young people are often competing with themselves for general labor positions. Allowing greater opportunities to specialize through High School will mean the chance for the student to either excel in their chosen field of study, or choose a specialization that matches the demands of the labor market.
Increased Specialization in Year 11-12
Often the rhetoric used by parents, teachers, politicians and society to get students to excel is through fear motivation. The installed fear of failing at High School, not getting into University and hence being stuck in a factory job that gets shipped off to Thailand. This installed fear is often all consuming at the High School level and is a demotivator rather than a motivator. Focusing on, and recognizing a students existing passions as a vehicle to expand theoretical and applied knowledge will remove this fear. As students will be spending more time on subjects they enjoy.
Making the High School program a degree qualification also removes the fear of not getting into the scarcity based positions for University. What was once a a nervous process as the finite number of Universities juggled their entry marks in order to satisfy supply and demand from the next years University students, will disappear as Universities compete for post-graduate students from a large pool of degree qualified High School students looking to specialize further. This competition to meet the demands of students will most likely expand the private sector in tertiary education.
A more applied and functional curriculum also recognizes the reality of the abundance in processing power and information. Whereas times tables had to be rote learned, currently a calculator is everywhere. From phones, to PDA's to laptops to PC. The calculator has become ubiquitous. Information has also moved to an abundance model. Rather than remembering information, the skills needed to find the information from diverse and often secondary and third sources is needed to make a thesis of value. Skill-sets that recognize this abundancy in these areas make students far more valuable for their own pursuits in their personal lives and in the private and public sectors.
The three year and four year degrees from University are unnecessary, inefficient and a burden society, the economy and taxpayers. In engineering the first two years are spent on continuing the generalist nature of the existing HSC curriculum with studies in Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics. This can be done in Year 11-12 instead. Not until third year is the chosen specialization applied. This is the year that the University should offer as the entire course. This would make post-graduate degrees one year in length, becoming more affordable and easier for prospective students to match them to their careers and needs.
This will also serve to speed a students entry into the specialist labor market. Instead of being lost to the economy for three or four years, now a student is lost to the economy for one year if they choose to specialize further after High School. This one year length for post-graduate studies also enables individuals in the labor market to take new post-graduate studies as their careers morph over time. Often an individual will stay in a career path for three to six years before moving either roles or industries. In this manner an individual can accrue short and sharp post graduate degrees that speed their introduction as a professional to the labor market, but also, to give them the flexibility to have an ongoing education that matches the wide variety of disciplines the modern work place requires.
Public Universities need not be bound by taxpayer grants as their sole source of funding. This is not too far different from the current state Universities find themselves in. While funding can be taxpayer supplied, the manner in which University has been changed to support the realities of modern employment supports greater private investment in the course nature while still allowing the Universities to pursue pure Research and Development.
All public institutions welcome private competition. The point of public education is for society to decide that there is a level - a bare minimum of education that no individual should be denied. If students choose to be educated in an institution outside of the public system, then that is their choice. The ultimate goal is to ensure that Australians are more educated, and that the education is more relevant to the needs of a post industrial world. Whether the education is supplied through the public or private system is not a pre-requisite for that result.
The New South Wales education system remains rooted in the industrial era of education methodology. It does not recognize the realities that the abundance models for processing power and information have created in the modern world. It is also a slow system that delays specialization for students and effectively restricts them from being full economic actors in modern society. It is recognized the education remains the best means for individuals achievement, fiscal security and social mobility. The best means to achieve this is through recognizing that people have much wisdom in them and that all knowledge is learnt. Putting a students existing specialization to work to expand their knowledge both theoretical and applied will allow the increased pace of education at the primary and secondary levels.
The reformed system will entail the existing kindergarten through to the Higher School Certificate being compressed into by two years so that the HSC is earnt in Year 10. The remaining two years of secondary school will be devoted to pure electives in an Art degree specialization. This will allow students reaching the age of reason to enter the labor market as degree qualified.
The third and most important part of the educational reform; is the changed role of tertiary education. Universities would only offer one year long post-graduate degrees. This shorter period of study will allow for individuals to specialize quickly into an area so that they are not removed from economic circulation for a lengthy period other than by personal choice. This shorter post-graduate cycle also empowers individuals to match their post-graduate studies to a rapidly changing labor market where individuals have dynamic requirements for specialization as they pursue their careers.