Sep 032012
 

I’ll pose the simple question from the outset. Why should my tax-payer dollars be directed towards private, non-government education institutions?The responses are undoubtedly plethoral, especially if you’re a religious fundy who thinks government schools are where the devil trains his acolytes, or you consider yourself & your loinfruit to be a part of a small upper-echelon societal elite duly entitled to a share of the public purse as your born-to-rule right. Those two, thankfully small, demographics aside, the question remains valid. Government-funded education is a basic staple of a democratic society, indeed, ANY functional, modern society where the young learn from the old and advance the prospects of the whole through that learning.

There are 41 recommendations which flow from the so-called Gonski Report. These recommendations are centred around making the education system broadly more efficient on a cost-per-student basis, ensuring that independent and ‘special’ schools for the disabled, indigenous or otherwise non-mainstream education institutions are more fairly handled when it comes to funding from the public purse. I have no issue with assisting to fund independent institutions which address necessary needs niches in our society. There cannot possibly be one education model which fits all requirements, just as curricula differ with age and learning ability.

What I do have a problem with is this perceived ideological need to be seen to be fair to all and sundry. I’ll be plain. I have a serious issue with my tax-payer dollars going to fund elitist pseudo religious institutions like Kings College, Church of England Grammar School or Sheldon College in the Redlands Shire where I live. My youngest son attended Sheldon for his final three years of high school because his mother thought he should. Undoubtedly my Child Support payments went there, but that’s something I had no control over. My two older children both went through the public system. Very, very good primary and secondary schools locally, and all three of them have come out the other end of the Queensland education system far more broadly educated and engaged than I ever was. I will give Sheldon it’s due. It clearly taught my youngest boy more than 3 r’s. He is far more mature and even tempered than his elder sibling, but I can’t say school did all of that.

My twins, boy & girl, are both highly intelligent and capable adults. Both hold degrees in their particular speciality and both have successful careers. In the grand scheme the quality of the education received by all three was exceptional in comparison with how I gauge my own learning experiences. The private schooling experience, while different, cannot be said to be in any way superior to that of the public system given the end result. Yet, there is a perception which permeates our society that private schooling, or education through the auspices of a religiously oriented institution is somehow better, more efficient, more rounded than that available in the – perceived – knock about world of the public schooling system. Public schools have uniforms. Private schools have uniforms. Both have teachers, head masters and similar or same curricula, so why does this perception that attending a non-government established and funded school persist as some strange form of reality?

If someone could prove to me that attending a religiously-backed institution or privately established college produces superior end products then I’d be the first one advocating an abandonment of government schools and all that goes along with that regime in favour of pumping everything into these training grounds of hyper intelligent, pan-dimensional beings. Of course, no-one will ever be able to because such institutions simply don’t exist. There are schools and there are schools. Some good, some not so good. The funding – be it from rich Mummies & Daddies, or the taxes paid by you, me & the people across the street doesn’t necessarily make any difference to the way a school evolves. It’s the people within the establishment who make the difference, and educators – teachers – are a special breed. Money doesn’t necessarily motivate them so where does this argument that private schools charging mega-dollars per term to provide the very best in education get its legs from?

I’m of the opinion that the perceived differences between government & non-government schools don’t rest with the people, but the infrastructure. The grounds, the buildings, the swimming pools, tennis courts, the meeting halls. The generally non-educative infrastructure through which the institution can turn an extra buck by leasing out the facilities. Government schools which have tennis courts, or pools or assembly halls either don’t or aren’t required to ensure their facilities are income generators. Some schools do lease out their halls or tennis courts, but not all. If a government school does so, then that’s fine by me because my tax dollars are funding those improvements anyway. I don’t demand it, because I know my money is going toward provision of those facilities in the first place. But if a private school, supposedly established to be entirely separate from and better than its government-funded equivalent, not reliant upon public funding for survival is said to be worthy of public purse support because it’s somehow deemed to be ‘fair’ to do so, I see red. If a private or independent school needs public funding to survive then it’s no longer a private school. It loses any right & title to decide who comes & goes and pays heed to whatever strictures government place upon it in exchange for the public dollars.

Egalitarianism works in a broad, encompassing fashion. Greatest good for the greatest number. Prove to me that doling out my money to Kings College produces better results per head of capita per dollar and I’ll agree that it ought to be spent. Until that time, those who choose to send their rug-rats to elite institutions can do so at their own expense, not mine!