And so the election count continues. Who will form Government may be uncertain but sadly one result is very clear, my own. I have been well and truly trounced! I can understand why I was out polled on primary votes by the Sex Party 3:1, but a more bitter pill to swallow was being beaten by Pauline Hanson’s one nation 6:1, without her having run a campaign.
The famous American Scientist, Julius Sumner Miller, may well have asked “why is it so?” . Perhaps it was because I ignored the advice of a high profile spin doctor who advised me before the campaign that I should have used that very same Julius Sumner Miller tag line as my own.
He also suggested that unless I could afford three pamphlets to be delivered into every Tasmanian household (about $45,000) I would be better off saving my money and go to the Gold Coast for a holiday instead. Clearly, the Science Party was under resourced. See http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/pr-article/the-two-elections-/ Attempts at crowd sourcing or receiving donations from high networth individuals, failed.
That said, I believe that lack of resourcing is only part of the story. Whilst I may not have been able to afford much advertising; the Tasmanian Times, ABC, SBS and Southern media were more than fair with a number of opinion pieces published or broadcast.
Perhaps the more difficult question to answer is why was the socially progressive and economically responsible Science Party, with it’s generally optimistic messages and moderate, balanced position (according to the ABC’s voting compass, it was one amongst the most centrist of all parties) so unpopular in Tasmania?
Was it because it was perceived as being elitist? Was it because we live in a world of entertainment-based politics, with a disengaged youth and where only loud and extreme messages cut through? Was it because people in Tasmania actually are polarised, both economically and socially?
Perhaps there only is a tiny group of people in the “middle”.
Was it because “Science” whilst important to many, it was of “most importance” to a few, which translated into few primary votes. Anecdotally, this view is supported by scrutineers’ feedback which showed many number 7-10 votes. Sadly, the Senate counting system does not reward the best average vote and the Number 7-10 votes will never be counted.
It is now time to reflect and review my situation as reported at http://www.themercury.com.au/news/opinion/talking-point-why-i-keep-putting-my-name-up-after-losing-eight-elections/news-story/e5da3d10e02ac1213e460e35696dc198
I will now sign off. Whilst not achieving electoral success, I am content in the knowledge that I am an idea-generator, whose ideas often germinate years later. At the last council elections I was the only candidate who unambiguously argued in favour of council amalgamations and proposed a new model for a new East Derwent Council. http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/hans-willink-why-i-favour-council-amalgamations/
I have been recently advised that it (with minor variations) is the only proposal now under active consideration by the Government. With that in mind, now follows the full text of an election article on education that I wrote during the campaign, a shortened and edited form of which appeared in the Mercury. Perhaps it might sow a seed or two that may one day germinate, and for a more charismatic politician to surf off!:
Everyone is an expert on education because everyone has been to school but the voting public have little idea of the challenges faced by Tasmanian teachers today, particularly in poorer areas where kids from dysfunctional families turn up to school hungry, traumatised and disruptive. When combined with well-intentioned but ultimately futile Departmental policy on inclusion and the lack of streaming there is only one victim, our children’s education.
As was to be expected, the election debate on education so far has been “dumbed down” by political spin doctors into a small set of clichéd arguments. The Liberals refuse to commit to the Gonski Funding, arguing that education is more than just about money and that teacher quality is equally important. Their view is supported locally by economist Saul Eslake, who notes that Tasmania, with its small school sizes, already receives more in total government funding per student than any other state apart from WA. On the other side of the political fence, Labor has committed to Gonski needs-based funding and promises to increase the number of STEM teachers through a 25,000 place scholarship scheme.
Both arguments have supporting logic, but the debate should be far wider than that. It is reasonable for voters to expect from their politicians, if not solutions to the educational challenges presented by a changing world, then at least some evidence that they are listening.
It is Science Party policy to support Gonski funding and to implement mandatory Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) classes throughout all levels of school curricula. STEM subjects should be taught by speciality teachers. STEM is the language of the future and there is a strong need for STEM-literate school leavers.
What else can a candidate from the Science Party add, apart from an increased focus on STEM? I know that teaching today is nothing like it was 40 years ago, when students were streamed, there was no inclusion program, students were much better behaved and parents more supportive. Perhaps it is timely to review each issue in turn.
The ABC is running a documentary series called “Miracle School”. In one recent episode a year 8 teacher explained that the ability range in her class varied from grade 3 to grade 9, a six year span. I recently spoke with one Northern suburbs primary school teacher that the range in her class was 4 years. No wonder teaching is near impossible, but is this only my own view? In 2014 I floated the idea of a public selective high school for Tasmania, which received widespread criticism for being “elitist”. Surprisingly, however, Tasmanian education expert and former president of the AEU Tasmanian Branch, Jean Walker, commented at the time.
“Hans ...you may be interested to know that during all my 40 years of secondary teaching I personally never opposed selective high schools or at the very least, streaming of students. I have always believed it is impossible for a teacher to do the best by every student in a mixed ability classroom of 24-28 or more. But that is heresy to many.
A union president cannot always voice a personal opinion if it does not represent the majority opinion of the members which also includes principals and senior staff. I did voice my opinion on the need for more special schools and was castigated and derided by DoE bureaucracy, principals and senior staff (but generally not classroom teachers) because it was not the official line. Our extreme inclusion policy has been another of the contributors to our outcomes. And no doubt I will get flak again for these opinions.
Since the introduction of comprehensive high schools in the 60s it became official DoE mantra to denigrate selective education and those teachers who believed in it and for a long while, even mild streaming of classes was opposed. It was blasphemy to even suggest it and, in my opinion, teachers were systematically brainwashed in to believing what the hierarchy told them. It was the same sort of mantra as Look and Say reading, Child-Centred learning, dispensing with teaching phonics, spelling rules and grammar etc - all contained some good ideas but not when they are imposed as a fanatical cure-all. Some teachers believe that what they are told from above must be right OR they are bullied and coerced into line OR they opt for a quiet life. Group think is still alive and well in all government departments.
The theory of comprehensive high schools was good - the idea of giving all children equal opportunity and access and social equity sounds right but, especially in those schools which did not stream classes at all, it hasn’t worked to the maximum benefit of all children and we have under-educated many of our students as a result. I think, on the whole, I would prefer non-selective high schools but with clear and accepted streaming policies and opportunities for gifted students to be taught separately.
As adults we all have to acknowledge that not everyone is born with equal ability despite our best efforts and we need to learn to accept that and not shy away from it. Children need to learn how to get on with others and accept them socially but that doesn’t mean they all have to be educated in the same classroom. What might be perceived as “fair” for one group may very well be quite “unfair” for another.”
That said, there are legitimate concerns with the re-introduction of streaming. UK Research at http://www.ces.ed.ac.uk/PDF Files/Brief025.pdf concludes that it is commonly linked with expanding inequality of student achievement. As time goes by, high-level students gain more and more, while low-level students fall further and further behind. The same research suggests that setting is less problematic than streaming. Problems are likely to be most severe under streaming, where students are assigned on the basis of a single criterion for the entire school day, compared with setting, which is subject-specific.
Because students need not be enrolled in the same sets for all subjects, setting is a less powerful segregator than streaming. Moreover, because it is subject-specific, it offers the possibility of instruction targeted to student needs in low-level classes.
Jean’s comments on inclusion are also illuminating.
“Students with disabilities in regular class rooms are often NOT sufficiently supported. There is not enough money in all schools for sufficient aid time or to make general classes small enough to accommodate the addition of severely disabled students or for other special needs resources. And even if it is seen by some to be un-PC, it is a fact that some of these students, through no fault of their own, impact negatively on the others in the class.
I am not referring to children who have physical disabilities or mild learning difficulties - teachers can generally cope with those - but it is those with severe Autism, Aspergers, Tourettes, combinations of severe intellectual and physical disabilities - which are increasing in number, who are in our regular classrooms, and cause teachers the most difficulty in trying to be everything to everyone. And there is such a culture of full inclusion in the hierarchy that many of these teachers get little sympathy from the DoE and have only the Union to resort to.
One previous Minister for Education who shall be nameless, told me once that he/she fully agreed with me that Tasmania had gone too far with the inclusion policy but that he/she would never dare to say so publicly. What does that say about politics?
Today’s teachers are the front line in dealing with a vast range of behavioural issues that were much rarer a few decades ago. These issues include anger management, dealing with those on the autistic spectrum, family breakdowns, food allergies, hunger, inattentiveness (from staying up to midnight the night before watching violent and inappropriate DVDs and unsupervised internet content), early sexualisation, bullying, physical assaults between children; “runaways”, physical assaults on staff, disobedience, a general lack of respect, kleptomania, abuse and swearing; all leading to teachers finding it increasingly difficult to focus on their core business of teaching the majority who want to be taught. “Serious action” may be required but there are limits to what can be done by teachers to solve what is really the result of societal, community and parental failure.
When behavioural problems (at primary schools) exceed the capability of individual teachers to respond, senior staff are frequently called upon to mediate or assist, often providing a child minding service until (or if) parents or carers can be called upon to remove them. When this occurs they are not doing what they should be, including planning, supporting and mentoring junior staff.
Whilst the discussion so far has focussed on the problems encountered by teachers today, I will now suggest some solutions. Like any scientific theory they deserve to be challenged and if evidence suggests, modified or debunked. If they do nothing else than generate debate, it will be have been worthwhile.
• Subject Setting (streaming students into different ability groups for different subjects at high school) There should clear and accepted streaming / subject setting policies and opportunities for gifted students to be taught separately.
• Inclusion. The current policy should be subject to external review. Is there data and evidence to support the anecdotal evidence that teaching time is severely impacted by insufficient resourcing? Resultant policy should be driven by the evidence. If it is then resourcing needs to increase, either in class or to specialist schools.
o Increased resourcing of specialist support to disruptive children, including psychological/social worker support and class rooms where they can be separated from their main class if and when needed.
o Implement mandatory age-appropriate ethics classes as part of both the primary and secondary school curricula. The Science Party believes that exposing children to issues of morals and ethics will allow Australians to develop a strong moral compass from an early age, and help to craft a more considerate and socially cohesive society.
o Improved teacher gender balance, particularly at Primary School to supplement absent or “deadbeat dads”.
o Feeding of hungry children upon arrival at school. School breakfast clubs needs to be resourced.
o Incentives. Currently there are no financial incentives to teach at lower socio-economic schools, with experienced teachers moving on to schools in “better areas” as soon as they can. The Science Party supports financial incentives for teachers working in disadvantaged schools I propose an annual bonus, directly linked to the socio economic status of the school of up to 10% of a teachers salary
o Mandatory Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) classes throughout all levels of school curricula. STEM subjects should be taught by speciality teachers.
o Create an ‘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.
o Incentives. Currently there is no incentives to teach STEM, even though the qualifications to teach them are more difficult to obtain and the country needs them. I propose an annual bonus for qualified specialist STEM teachers of up to 10% of a teacher’s salary. Such a bonus may be additional to the disadvantages schools bonus. i.e. A science teachers working in our poorest school may potentially receive a 20% salary loading.
Hans Willink stood as a Senate candidate for the Science Party, which is committed to Gonski funding, more support for STEM teaching throughout the curriculum; and decisions based on data and evidence. He is now looking for a job.
• Hans Willink in Comments: … At the start of the campaign, I emailed the Editors of all the major Tasmanian newspapers outlining the stark differences in advertising budgets between well resourced (at taxpayer expense) incumbent MPs and micro-parties/independents running their campaigns on the smell of an oily rag. I suggested that they publish a broad sheet the weekend before the election that reflected the ballot paper and included short descriptions, of equal size, in the candidates own words. Such a broadsheet would be similar to council ballot papers and appreciated by senior citizens in particular. The Mercury adopted the suggestion and I thank them for it. The Examiner and Advocate, on the other hand, merely saw the suggestion as just another opportunity to exploit, publishing the guide but charging exorbitant rates ($‘000s), thereby destroying the original intent to help create a level playing field with equal sized and free candidate descriptions. Many candidates, including myself could not afford to accept their avaricious offer. Lastly, neither the Examiner or the Advocate published a single word on the candidature of my Launceston based running mate, Jin-oh Choi, the only Tasmanian candidate of Asian descent (and indeed the only Australian candidate of Korean descent) in the election. For papers supposedly committed to independence and providing equal coverage, they clearly did not do so.
MEANWHILE ... Woodchips ...
• ABC: Woodchip exports to resume from Hobart waterfront, Government promises low truck traffic Includes pic of Peter Gutwein in Hi-Viz looking meaningful ... • What the Libs and Greens say, TT Media HERE