Our economy is in transition, and the jobs of the future will require highly skilled workers who are capable of achieving the research, development and creative outcomes which will drive Australia's success. Today’s students are tomorrow’s scientists, engineers, artists, writers and leaders.
Education funding needs to be expanded and fairly distributed, and our curriculum and teaching methods need to be reviewed. Most members of parliament acknowledge that the public education system is not sufficiently funded; they do not send their own children to public schools. The government has a responsibility to give the generation currently at school—who do not have a say in how their education is funded—the maximum chance to reach their potential, such that they can improve their own lives and make the world a better place through what they learn.
1. Reform school funding
Aim: Give all students with a willingness to learn the best opportunity to achieve academic success; this aim requires that public schools set the gold standard for education.
- Invest in public education, with funding (made through joint contributions from state and federal governments) allocated on the basis of need and; and
- Review the system for assessing socioeconomic status to ensure the most disadvantaged schools receive their fair share of funding.
1.2. Discussion: We strongly believe in increasing funding to schools to ensure that we can reverse what appears to be the slipping of Australian schools by global standards, and narrowing of the gap in academic achievement based on socioeconomic status (SES).
The way in which SES is assessed should be reviewed. The current system assumes that students who attend private schools come from households with an average income for the local area as calculated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This calculation is flawed; students who attend private schools are, on the whole, from households with above-average income.
2. Improve staffing to disadvantaged schools
Aim: Allocate resources so as to provide equal opportunity to all students.
- Attach teacher career advancement to taking on greater responsibility and directing benefit to students most in need; and
- Provide financial incentives for teachers to move to and remain in hard-to-staff schools.
2.2. Discussion: Currently, the NSW Department of Education and Training currently provides incentives for early-career teachers to teach in low-performance schools in the outer suburbs and regional and rural areas. However, these incentives do not remain for experienced teachers, which sees expert teachers migrate towards the inner city. Disadvantaged schools are therefore more likely to have less-experienced staff and higher staff turnover. This compounds the disadvantage, as schools and students need a stable staffing situation and highly qualified teachers to improve their outcomes.
While raising the pay for teachers of hard-to-staff schools will not solve all of the problems of these schools, it will reduce problems that these schools face in terms of finding and retaining good teachers.
3. STEM subjects in schools
Aim: Facilitate universal competence in computer programming.
3.1. Policy: Computer programming to be taught to all students from early high school.
3.2. Discussion: Programming has become essential to many fields beyond software development and mathematics, as scientists and engineers need to handle larger data sets than ever before and designers increasingly use computer aided design.
Programming is a method for doing calculations or tasks on a computer, allowing complicated or time-consuming work to be completed more quickly. On a nationwide scale, greater uptake of programming across the workforce has the potential to significantly increase productivity. Learning programming also has significant benefits for the individual, teaching logic and complex reasoning skills which can be used in other areas.
The addition of programming to the curriculum will require training of teachers who will teach the subject. Nationally developed textbooks, video instructions and lesson plans can be used by teachers to ease the learning of the subject material.
This article highlights some of the reasons why children should learn to code.
Aim: Promote the importance of mathematics as a discipline that has advantages for varied personal and professional applications.
3.3. Policy: Adopt the following recommendations of the Mathematical Association of New South Wales (MANSW) in their 2013 Secondary Mathematics Teacher Survey Report (downloadable here):
- Review the current NSW Mathematics suite of courses, with particular attention to the Mathematics (2 Unit) HSC Examination;
- Review the ATAR university entrance system and reintroduce clearly expressed mathematics prerequisites for undergraduate courses that have significant mathematical requirements; and
- Support teachers with a background in an area other than mathematics to undertake training so as to be able to teach mathematics.
3.4. Discussion: The number of students taking Mathematics (2 Unit) in NSW secondary schools is in decline. Mathematics students sit the same exam whether or not they are also taking Extension Mathematics 1 (formerly 3 Unit); the MANSW report (linked above) explains how this creates an incentive for students to choose General Mathematics instead of Mathematics if they will not also take Extension Mathematics. The Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards NSW (BOSTES) must review the suite of mathematics courses to address this unintended consequence.
Students who intend to continue with tertiary studies that require a solid foundation in maths are at a disadvantage if they do not take Mathematics (2 Unit) or above, and yet this level of maths is not a prerequisite for many undergraduate STEM courses. The Science Party welcomes the announcement that some universities will require Mathematics 2 or above for entry into certain courses from 2019 and encourages other universities to follow suit.
A major barrier to mathematics education is a lack of appropriately trained teachers. The Science Party supports the MANSW recommendation to formalise two retraining pathways for teachers: one to qualify teachers to teach year 7 to 10 mathematics, and a second stream to fully qualify teachers to teach year 7 to 12 mathematics.
4. Ethics, not special religious education
Aim: Dedicate teaching hours to the promotion of critical thinking, rather than teaching the doctrine of a particular faith.
- Implement ethics classes as part of the regular school curriculum; and
- Any religious classes in public schools are to be moved outside of regular timetabling; and
4.2. Discussion: Special Religious Education (SRE) is offered in most NSW primary schools and involves teaching the tenets of a particular religion, as taught by a representative of that religion. Students may opt out of SRE, in which case they can attend Primary Ethics, if available, or Non-scripture.
Critical thinking is the ability to evaluate evidence, being aware of one’s biases, and making logical conclusions about that evidence. The Science Party believes explicit teaching of critical thinking is highly valuable to all students regardless of religious background and should therefore be part of the curriculum. We support the Primary Ethics program, which emphasises critical thinking as well as moral reasoning.
We believe that SRE should not be taught during class time in public schools as it holds no educational value (as evidenced by the fact that Non-scripture classes must not contain any activities that would disadvantage those children who missed them by taking SRE).
5. Sex and relationships education
Aim: Assist in teaching the skills required to navigate complex personal relationships.
5.1. Policy: Implement national standards for age-appropriate sex and/or interpersonal relationship education in primary and secondary school, with a focus on inclusiveness and consent.
5.2. Discussion: A sex education curriculum based on anatomy and physiology, pregnancy and STIs is necessary but not sufficient. In addition, sex and relationships education should:
- Be inclusive of diversity in sex, gender and sexuality;
- Include frank discussion of the complexities of sexual relationships, including consent; and
- Be relevant to the current age of electronic communication.
Younger students can learn about interpersonal relationships generally, for example Victoria's 'Respectful Relationships' program.
6. Extension school
Aim: Provide the resourses for children to reach their academic potential.
6.1. Policy: Create "extension school": additional optional schooling hours that can be used to give additional help to struggling students or to provide additional, more challenging material in the areas that students are interested in.
6.2. Discussion: Students of all backgrounds, regardless of wealth, should be able to participate in additional educational activities outside of regular classroom time. We propose an ‘extension school’ which provides educational interest and tutoring classes outside of regular school hours.
Extension school can be used to provide either remedial lessons for students who are struggling, or more challenging material to those who are performing well in class. Extension school can be run in a similar fashion to out-of-school sports and arts activities. Making extension school optional gives students a sense of personal responsibility over their education.
7. End single-sex public education
7.1. Policy: End single-sex education in public schools.
7.2. Discussion: Available evidence suggests no advantage to single-sex education. On that basis alone, it is unscientific to separate children on the basis of sex or gender, when life is mixed-gender. Students are best prepared for daily interaction with the opposite sex earlier rather than upon entering university or employment.
Single-sex schools are a hangover from decades and centuries past, when boys and girls were destined for different paths in life as adults. Claims that adolescents should be shielded from the distraction of the opposite sex during adolescence as hormones take effect assumes heterosexuality. If the assertion is true, then single-sex schooling disadvantages same-sex attracted adolescents. Single-sex schools are also not necessarily inclusive of intersex students or those who transition gender during their school years.
8. Increasing efficiency and reducing waste in education
8.1. Policy: Create an online teacher resource system which is used to disseminate materials developed by expert teachers who are financially compensated for the resources they produce. Certain courses could also be taught (either partially or completely) through MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses), in order to reduce teacher load, and increase educational quality.
8.2. Discussion: Much time is wasted by teachers endlessly re-creating resources such as lesson plans, worksheets, projects and excursions. The Science Party believes that the nature of the education system can be overhauled to reduce this waste. Expert teachers will be paid specifically to produce resources that can be used for free in all schools. Once teachers are spared the labour of creating their own resources unnecessarily, they will be able to better focus on the educational outcomes of the students.
Additionally, MOOCs could be utilised to supplement the current teaching of courses. This can also help to increase the minimum standard of course quality, whilst allowing teachers to focus less on the creation of the core content of a course, and focus more on the creation of supplementary materials to ensure that the needs of their specific cohort of students are being met.