Newsletter – Right of Reply

TDA has received a request for a right of reply to the weekly column from CEO Craig Robertson. This past week we received comments on Craig’s column of 3 August which called for recognition of institutional capability that underpins quality.  See the response

TDA Newsletter Mon 3/08/2020

Deep institutional capability – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Further thoughts by Paul Saunders

Hi Craig

Thanks again for a great opinion piece.  Thought provoking, timely and insightful.  Once again I cannot keep quiet and need to add my thoughts to yours.  I have suggested to TDA via the Member Services email address that you provide a ‘right of reply’ or start a blog to build the conversation around your views.

The bit you failed to mention is that universities came first – they (in various forms and often associated with religious orders across the world) invented knowledge and learning.  This is another reason that their purpose and existence is rarely questioned.

I am not sure that we all respect bureaucrats and the political class!  However we do appreciate that elected politician are supposed to develop policy, enact laws and implement regulations for the benefit of all.  These laws and regulations certainly encourage us all to have some sort of respect for the bureaucrats who enforce them.

As I head towards old age I have become aware that so much of what we humans do has evolved (just like us) and has not been carefully designed.  Our Western style education systems clearly demonstrate this.  They essentially began with the universities.  These, as you rightly state had the function of holding, curating, transferring (to the next generation of the elite), and the advancing of knowledge.  At some point the universities, usually in association with the religious elite decided to share some of that knowledge with a broader segment of society and invented schooling.  Initially of course this schooling was only provided to the sons of the elite.  Over time in countries such as Australia schooling began to be provided for all classes and even girls.  However until the 1960s university was still the domain of the children of the elite.

Vocational education developed along an entirely different pathway.  In pre-industrial societies the children of the majority of the population were merely a part of the peasant workforce that fed and supported the feudal landowner and religious elite.  As the agricultural and industrial revolutions took hold and division of labour occurred there was a need for transmission of those specialised skills and specific knowledge from generation to generation.  This was the birth of vocational education in the form of the master and apprentice (only boys of course!).

So to today;

Australia (and incidentally the other Western, colonising nations) are facing major challenges on the world stage.  The Third World, under-developed world, developing world – which ever name you used to use – has developed and they are really, really very good at doing what we used to do – manufacturing.  I believe it is this reality that has set us all trailing through the entrails of our education system(s) in desperation to work out how we can, for once, actually compete (rather than dominate) in world trade.  Unfortunately the Anglophile nations decided that a market system would be the way to reform our education to meet the challenge – that went / is going well isn’t it?  It was a pity we did not look at the data first when developing education policy.  The ‘western’ nations that consistently out-perform us (northern European, Singapore etc.) across most educational (and social) measures have not even dabbled with marketization.  Those nations very carefully planned their education systems to meet the new global challenges. They have strong publically owned institutions across all education sectors.  They have well paid, highly trained and respected educators.  They have free or low cost access for all, to all education levels.  They have vibrant, dynamic, world leading manufacturing industries.

Perhaps it is time that Australia left evolution (i.e. markets) in the past, as you suggest Craig, and tries a bit of carefully planning to design an education system that provides what we need.