What demountable classrooms say about Australian values
According to a NSW Department of Education release as at 30 June 2013
The Department has just over 44,788 teaching spaces in schools. About 10% per cent of these are demountable
This equates to approximately 4,479 demountables. The same document states “In 2012/13 funding was provided for 39 new classrooms” which suggests that if this level of funding is maintained, demountable classrooms will exist for at another 114 years so perhaps by the year 2127 there will no longer be a reminder of how little public education was valued in 2013.
In North Sydney, the average house price is $1.519M yet North Sydney Demonstration School has had demountable classrooms for at least fifteen years like this one. In my view demountable classrooms damage children in many ways. They take up valuable playing space. They also signal to children that society doesn’t value public education and those educated within it.
It’s difficult to argue that our society doesn’t care about the physical infrastructure of educational establishments when it comes to private schools in Sydney. Within one kilometre of the demountable classroom at North Sydney Demonstration School is Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore). Shore purchased Graythwaite estate in North Sydney for $35.2M in 2009 and plans to spend $39M developing the site to provide additional teaching facilities.
Lest you think demountable classrooms are confined to North Sydney, Greenwich Infants School and Greenwich Primary School have many fine examples. In Greenwich the average house price is $1.65M.
Ken Boston, former director-general of the NSW Department of Education and a member of the Gonski review panel wrote an eloquent article in the Sydney morning Herald in which he argued that Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne
is shrewd enough to understand that strategic targeting of resources according to need will do much more than reduce the impact of disadvantage on educational outcomes. He knows that it will also reduce the impact of advantage and privilege. If school performance is neither advantaged nor disadvantaged by parental income, ethnic background, religion, school size and location, or whether a student attends an independent, Catholic or public school, success at school will be determined essentially by the student’s ability, application and hard work.
In other words, poor school facilities in the Public Sector give an unfair advantage to children whose parents can afford to opt out and send their children to schools which have proper permanent classrooms.
I think children in public schools suffer not only because of the poorer physical infrastructure but also because they are aware that they are treated as second class citizens. In 1976 Steve Biko gave evidence at a trail of nine young Africans who were prosecuted for alleged subversion of intent. When asked during the trial to explain why Black Consciousness was needed Biko explained inter alia
“the black man in himself has developed a certain state of alienation, he rejects himself….it arises out of his development from childhood. When you go to school, for instance, your school is not the same as the white school, and the conclusion you reach is that the education you get there cannot be the same as what the white kids get at school. The black kids normally have shabby uniforms, if any, while the white kids always have uniforms. You find for instance even in the organisation of sport, these are things you notice sa a kid, at white schools to be absolutely thorough and indicative of good training, good upbringing….so you begin to feel that there is something incomplete in your humanity”
It goes without saying I am not equating Apartheid with the Public/Private School divide in NSW but I do think they are on the same continuum. To the argument that buildings don’t matter, it is a bit like arguing “that happiness in life is not a result of gaining more and more possessions for ourselves” when those that argue such a position show no signs whatsoever in restraining themselves from accumulating possessions. In addition to acquiring Graythwaite, Shore has recently completed the redevelopment of its sporting facilities which involved “Tennis/Soccer Pavilion, Tennis Courts, Prep Storage Room, Landscaping, Spectator Areas….”. The tennis Courts are “ nine tennis courts of competition standard”. To see just how extravagant this redevelopment is, one which doesn’t feature any demountable classrooms, please click on the link. By the way, Shore’s 2012 Annual Report states “We also believe that happiness in life is not a result of gaining more and more possessions for ourselves’.
Not only does the neglect of NSW’s public schools disadvantage children attending public schools, it must also harden the hearts of the children attending private schools, either that or it gives them an undeserved appreciation of themselves to allow them to justify their privileged position in society. Private schools seem to be addressing this concern by encouraging trips abroad to third world countries. Wenona Girls School, a private girls’ school in North Sydney, organised a trip in 2012 to Vietnam where the girls helped build an orphanage, for a day. Maybe Shore and Wenona could engage in pastoral care whilst reducing their carbon footprint by helping North Sydney Demonstration School?
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