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Celebrating Public Education Week

Penny Wright 24 May 2013

I visit public schools as often as I can.  It’s partly because I am the Greens spokesperson for Education and I’m a proud supporter of public education – but it’s mainly because I just love seeing kids learning, and teachers teaching.  And I want to showcase the great things that are happening in the classrooms of public schools all over Australia.

Door to music room - Darlington Primary school

I attended government schools (back in the day) – Box Hill South Primary School, Wattle Park High School and then year 12 at MacRobertson Girls’ High School –  all in Melbourne – and I’m very grateful for the education I received. I had dedicated teachers who nurtured my love of learning, inspired my curiosity and encouraged and stretched me, helping to determine my course in life. I want to see all kids have the chances I had - to reach their potential.

All over Australia, it’s government schools which educate the majority of Australian children – and the majority of disadvantaged children. For years they have been seriously underfunded. The Gonski panel recognised this.

On some of my visits I can see evidence of this underfunding – in ageing buildings, shabby toilets or crowded classrooms.  Sometimes I see it in parents being asked to pay money for paper or materials that should be able to come out of the school budget, or in less than adequate computing equipment or teachers funding breakfast for some of their students…

So, I am very clear that those who say “improving our schools and the performance of our kids is not about money” have not been out to see some of the schools I’ve visited.

I sent my own three children to government schools, too. I think those of us who value the idea of a high-quality school available to every child, no matter what their background or where they live, must support that idea in our own lives. I wanted my kids to mix with a cross-section of their community and revel in the diversity and values that come with public education. That is exactly what they got and again I’m grateful for the dedicated, passionate, talented teachers they had, willing to go the extra mile for them and their other students.

It is important to say that despite the obvious need for some more dollars in the schools I’ve visited, I have been consistently impressed with good things I’ve seen. Joyful, colourful classrooms, proud student representatives showing me around and values writ large on walls and boards.

I want to thank the many wonderful and inspiring public schools I have visited so far – in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, WA and SA.  I’ve spent time speaking with parents who are actively involved in their school communities and seen firsthand the magic our teachers create in classrooms all over the nation.

Although I have often seen the difference some more resources would make, I have also seen the difference these places of learning can have on the life of a child who might be struggling with issues at home or a learning disability or learning English in their new country.

In Public Education Week I know that many wonderful things are being done on inadequate budgets.

But it does challenge us to imagine – just what more would be possible, with more money, where it is needed most!

The biggest review of schools funding in decades, the Gonski report, recommended a $6.5 billion injection per year in schools to deliver smaller class sizes, extra specialist teachers, greater support for students with special needs and additional training and support for teachers.

In 2013, one in seven 15 year olds are at high risk of leaving school without the basic reading and writing skills they’ll need to get a job. Too many Australian kids are not achieving what they are capable of because the schools they attend are underfunded.

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