more for education?" the Senior Cat asked me. He was looking at the report about "The Gonski Report", the just released report into education funding in Australia.
The Senior Cat, my father, was a school principal before he retired. He could have gone further, much further, up the ladder of the Education Department but he had no time for the politics of the central office. He spent a year working there on a special project and it was enough to cure him of any desire for promotion beyond the large school in which he ended his long career.
My father left work just before the real changes came into the classroom. There were no computers in schools when he left. I think his secretary may have had a "word processor" but she most certainly did not have a computer. The older students still sat facing a blackboard. Although the younger students sometimes pushed their tables together for a group activities they too faced the front when being directly taught. The "Friday test" was still part of the school week although not everything was tested every week. Marks were kept recorded and the progress of each student was monitored.
There were a couple of experimental schools. My father's previous school had "an open space unit" in which three teachers supposedly worked together. They loathed it. The students loathed it. It might be right for some areas but it was wrong for that one. The central office was not happy when my father insisted it had to be disbanded. Another school was experimenting with "individual progression". The school (I visited it a number of times) was absolute chaos and I was always amazed that anyone was learning anything.
Now there are white boards and internet access at all times. Class sizes have dropped from thirty-four or thirty-six to twenty or twenty-two. (I once had nineteen profoundly disabled students in a "small" class!) There are no "Friday tests" - although there is the national testing programme NAPLAN. The library has become a "resource centre" with computers but fewer books. Students sit in groups without facing the wall which has the screen.
All this suggests that standards should have risen, that education is now more "relevant" than it once was. It appears the reverse is true. Standards have apparently dropped and I doubt the claim to "relevance" too.
I have been told that "spelling and grammar do not matter as long as they get their ideas down" and that "there is no need to know your times tables as long as you understand the term multiplication". Really?
Surely one of the reasons to attend school is to obtain the common ground which allows us to communicate with other people and live in the world? Spelling does not have to be perfect. Grammar does not need to be always correct but yes you do need to know that six times seven equals forty-two and be able to express it in a way that others can understand what you are trying to say.
Like my father I very much doubt that spending another $5billion on education each year will change anything. What we first need to change is our ideas about what we are teaching, why we are teaching it and how we are doing it. Or doesn't communication matter any more?