Every Canberra child has the right to a world-class education and every school in Canberra has the potential to provide it.
I have seen this potential firsthand as I have visited many schools across Canberra while serving as the Shadow Minister for Education. Every Principal and every teacher I have met – in government and non-government schools – take great pride in their school, have a genuine love of teaching and want to do their best to support the education of our future generation.
And yet, we are faced with a reality that sees the ACT government spending more on education each year, whilst academic outcomes continue to slide.
So when the Minister for Education released her long-awaited ‘Future of Education’ Strategy last month I was eager to read how this government is planning on turning this around.
Surprise, surprise; the Strategy does not even acknowledge our slipping academic outcomes.
We are too complacent on being “relatively” good across the board because that’s like comparing apples to oranges. Given our socioeconomic advantage, being “near the top” should be a given. What we should be striving for is to achieve better within the context of our advantage. Whilst the union and the Minister are quick to criticise the tool that measures our performance, they should focus on why our measures are not where we want or need them to be.
And to have this difficult conversation, we need to at least start acknowledging underperformance in our schools, not just throw rainbows and glitter over everything every student does. After all, resilience, striving for more, the will to try and try again, learning to reflect and overcome any failures are also fundamental skills that we want our future generation to learn.
However, despite overwhelming evidence and calls to address underperformance in ACT schools as a matter of priority, the Minister only this week voted against my motion to establish an independent review to do just that. And it comes as no surprise that the Greens, despite talking the talk, voted to keep its coalition partner happy rather than vote for action to create a strong education system for the future of our children.
And the most troubling aspect is that there is not even an appetite from this government to strive for excellence; for rigour; for better academic outcomes.
Whilst we should acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of our children’s talents, aptitudes and interests, the fundamental crux of a strong education system is, lo and behold, to educate them. And this means that at the core of the purpose of an education system is to strive for excellence in…education (who would’ve thunk it).
So when you have a Strategy that does not even consider striving for academic excellence as a factor, let alone the main goal, we are doing our future generation a major disservice.
We should be striving for academic excellence. We should be putting in place milestones, strategies and support for our children to reach academic excellence. And we should be creating an expectation that all Canberra children will achieve academic excellence.
Education is too important to say near enough is good enough.
It is clear that 17 years of education under ACT Labor have let our children down. And after reading the long-awaited Future of Education Strategy, it seems that isn’t going to change. After the big fanfare that was the launch of ACT Labor’s vision for education over the next ten years, parents, students and the Canberra community have every right to feel disappointed.
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