Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Schools and big business the wrong mix

Yesterday's announcement that big business is to get a new role in schools is but one step in a continuing shift towards the private for our declining public education system. In The Age yesterday, Farrah Tomazin wrote:

big companies will be asked to play a greater role in public education, 'partnering' schools in disadvantaged suburbs and areas with skills shortages.

They will also be asked to assist with financial contributions, student mentoring programs or 'in kind' donations such as computers and equipment.
Surprisingly, the Australian Education Union and the Victorian Association of State School Principals came out with qualified support. However, Victorian State President of the AEU, Mary Bluett, hit the nail on the head when she said:

If any association with a business means that the school itself, or the students, become a market for that business, then we'd oppose it.
And that's the problem. Businesses are going to expect a return on investment for their support of schools. Whether that takes the form of influencing curriculum, or of leveraging their financial support to influence government in other areas, there are big problems with this kind of proposal.

Schools are already set to be privately built and operated, and the increased injection of private funds only continues this trend. At the same time, inadequate public funding has turned many schools into petty fundraising operations when their real business is not a business at all - it's the education of our children.

In response to yesterday's article, The Age has today run a few letters opposing the move. Here's mine:

Truly private education

THE move to bring big business into schools is a distraction from the inadequate public funding and poor government accountability in providing school education in Victoria. Should the education of our children be so contingent on corporate benevolence? Will schools really be able to hold such businesses at arm's length from their curriculum?

In a supposedly public system that will increasingly be privately built and operated, and now funded, what kind of leverage do you think private interests will have over public education? Maybe one day the Brumby Government will outsource itself to a corporation.
The proposal should not go ahead. Given, however, that it looks set to proceed, Premier Brumby should be immediately challenged to make public the detail of mechanisms to ensure that undue influence of schools, and of government, will be prevented. Or are such measures a mere afterthought, overshadowed by the lure of cash?

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