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Friday, March 3, 2017

POLICY DISCUSSION re: ‘Skills and Knowledge’ component of the ALP Platform’

Dear comrades ; what follows is a series of Ideas for reform of the Platform which I have developed.   This paper was originally developed for the Victorian Fabians Forum held on Feb 15th 6.00  2017 till 8.00pm at the Blue Room in the Multicultural Hub, 506 Elizabeth Street. Thereafter it was revised and extended.

I am sharing it with comrades here to provide an opportunity for feedback before submitting it for consideration.

If comrades have ideas how the paper can be improved please comment and let me know your opinions.


Dr Tristan Ewins

Skills and Knowledge

The following are excerpts from the existing platform:


Education is Labor's number one priority. It's the bedrock of social justice and cohesion in our society and it will build our 21st Century economy.

Labor will increase investment in Victoria's greatest strength - its people - so they may enhance their development and their participation in work and society.

The following ought to be added to clarify Labor’s values in this area (see above):

ADD: “Not only must education provide for the needs of the labour market ; it must also provide opportunities for personal growth ; and education for informed and active citizenship - which are also highly important. ”

The following excerpt is from the existing document:

Schools  (from the existing document)

     become active, well-balanced, knowledgeable citizens, able to participate fully in a democratic society

     understand our democratic multicultural society, recognizing what should be conserved, changed or improved

The following ought be added to clarify Labor’s position on the  purpose of our schools:

  • Develop political literacy ; an understanding of the social movements and political parties which contest the direction of economy and society ; and of both the interests, ideologies and values they represent ; and of the specific opportunities for active participation in a democracy

  • Develop these understandings in a complex manner ; including but not restricted to the ‘linear left-right spectrum’ ;  including ideologies of egalitarianism and meritocracy and the ways they variously complement and clash with each other, as well as libertarian and authoritarian dispositions ;

  • Develop understandings of society partly based upon but not limited to such differing notions as “conflict theory” and “functionalism”

  • Develop these capacities through content specifically prepared for that purpose in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Economics and English ; Develop a ‘political economy’ facet to Secondary Economics which considers the values, ideologies and interests behind economic theories.

Commentary:  these are important to promote the SPECIFIC knowledge necessary for effective political and social participation.   And also to understand things in their complexity: because the left/right spectrum is no longer – perhaps never was – sufficient to explain differing political and social movements and ideologies.  It is also necessary to present ideas in their complexity to maximise understanding ; empowering students to respond to the nuances in social and political debates, and to be effective, active citizens.  It is also important to address specifics when it comes to active citizenship, and not only deal with those issues ‘in the abstract’.

Emphasis on literacy, numeracy, creativity, and environmental sustainability.

In this part of the platform (see above) we should add the following:

“Provide alternative pathways  for students with specific talents and potential who may not respond to the specifics of the VCE curriculum ; ie: learning/memorising the curriculum is not necessarily the only, or the most important indicator of talent or potential.  Indeed, at the Tertiary level often significantly different means of learning and grading students’ efforts are involved.”

Commentary:  Learning to the curriculum does not necessarily represent all talent and potential ; so there must be alternative pathways ; and VCE and Year 12 should not ‘decide everything’

Letting our Teachers Teach and our Principals be Educational Leaders.

Comment:  In this part of the platform (see above) we ought incorporate the following in some form as well: 

“teachers with limited numeracy skills should not be penalised if they perform well in their fields ; eg: Humanities, English etc.”

And consider the following part of the Platform also:

Funding Schools to Meet Students' Needs   (from the existing document)

Labor will:

     Continue the student resource package (with base, per capita and disadvantage amounts)

     Continue to fund non-government schools in accordance with the financial assistance  model

In this part of the Platform we should also add the following: 

[Labor will] “Work to see that revenue shortfalls are addressed through progressive taxation mechanisms without depending on austerity elsewhere ; Labor recognizes that material and human resource shortfalls can only be fairly overcome through progressively structured taxation reform.  Gonski can only be fully and fairly  implemented through provision of the necessary resources without austerity elsewhere.


We should add the following:  (nb: Lots of this has been reproduced from earlier in the document ; but it is as relevant here as it was before) :

Add the following:

TAFE must provide pathways for students in diverse fields, and that must include such areas as writing/journalism, liberal arts, music and so on.  The intrinsic value of these fields must be emphasised ; and should not be narrowly based on ‘maximising value in the labour market’;.  If viable Labor governments should ensure all these areas are geographically accessible to students across the state.

Labor will also endeavour to provide pathways and areas of focus emphasising political literacy and opportunities for active citizenship at the level of TAFE.  Again this should include:

·         Developing political literacy ; an understanding of the social movements and political parties which contest the direction of economy and society ; and of both the interests, ideologies and values they represent ; and of the specific opportunities for active participation in a democracy

·         Develop these understandings in a complex manner ; including but not restricted to the ‘linear left-right spectrum’ ;  including ideologies of egalitarianism and meritocracy and the ways they variously complement and clash with each other, as well as libertarian and authoritarian dispositions ;

·         Develop understandings of society partly based upon but not limited to such differing notions as “conflict theory” and “functionalism”

·         …. Explore ‘political economy’…considering the values, ideologies and interests behind economic theories.

Adult and Community Education

Comment:  Here we must apply the same provisions and priorities to Adult and Community Education as we have already discussed in the ‘TAFE’ section of this document. The same priorities and principles apply there as well.

Other issues relating to Skills and Education:

User Pays and Student Allowance in Higher Ed

User Pays in Higher Education has become more and more pronounced since the introduction of HECS with the Dawkins reforms of the 1980s.   The ALP has many priorities, and even if we do raise more tax revenue progressively (I would suggest by maybe 2 per cent of GDP upon taking Federal Government) –  even then we are limited. But we do have some room to move in rolling back user pays gradually, and making the mechanisms progressive and fair.  

I believe the following measures must be incorporated into the Platform:

·        Labor has a long term objective to restore ‘free education’, but is limited by other priorities, and the difficulties with raising the necessary revenue over the short term

·        Labor will increase the HECS repayment threshold so that it is significantly above Average Weekly Earnings

·        Labor will contain interest on HECS debts to no more than inflation for fairness ; and will make special provisions for those in a bad position to repay their debts (eg: upon acquiring a disability)

·        Labor will increase Austudy payments in real terms ; easing pressures for students to supplement their incomes with work ; because that can distract from study and increase the rate of students dropping out. That means an end result of wasted resources.

·        Labor will ease means tests for Austudy; again so students can study under conditions of financial security – and commit themselves fully to their study.  Hence Labor will also make Austudy more widely available ; providing it also for all tertiary students except those with very substantial means.

·        provide mechanisms for corporations to contribute more substantially to the skills development they ultimately benefit from.  This must provide room to move in making student contributions fairer and less onerous.

State Schooling ‘at the tipping point’

What is also important is the crisis in state schooling in this country ; especially secondary schooling.  Because of the proliferation of private schools ; of their superior human and material resources ; state schools are near a ‘tipping point’.  That is: the proportion of voters and families (especially in the middle income bands) with an interest in keeping state school viable – especially in years 11 and 12 – has been shrinking.  And this has lessened the electoral pressures – and the electoral benefits – in restoring and maintaining our state schools.  If these influences continue to develop we may permanently be left with a starkly ‘two tiered education system’ ; with a public system markedly inferior in human and material resources.  Then we can really forget about ‘educational equal opportunity’ for good.  Ross Gittins of 'The Age' (15/3/17)  has pointed out that the state school share of students has stabilised at 65% - but that it is down from 79 per cent from 1979.  And without Gonski - and further reforms - this 'stabilisation' may not last.  Gonski must be swiftly and fully implemented under a Labor government.  The resources must be found without austerity elsewhere. And perhaps Labor must go even further in reducing the gap between State and Private schools.  Also the prestige of the teaching profession – the respect accorded to it – must improve.  And this could also find realisation with better wages and conditions for teachers ; with lower workloads/smaller classes ; as well as better job security for those unsatisfied with casual and contract work.

All these concerns must be incorporated into the Platform.

The Humanities and Social Sciences must be Protected and Valued

The Humanities and Social Sciences have long been devalued compared with courses with have a more obvious vocational application.  In many universities they have been cut back.  They have come under attack from Conservatives who see no value in any enquiry which does not have an obvious and immediate vocational application.  With the emphasis on STEM and basic literacy and numeracy – their importance is widely disregarded.  But they are vital for a number of reasons.

·        They have the potential to be the vehicle for a radically democratic civics and citizenship focus – at both a Secondary and Tertiary level.  Harking back to earlier in this paper – the goal is to promote political literacy – comprehension of social movements and political parties ; as well as the values, interests and ideologies underpinning them.  As well as awareness of the avenues open for effective and active citizenship.  Communicated without Ideological prejudice ; the point being to inform – and not to ‘indoctrinate’.   (See earlier in this paper for further details)

·        Historical comprehension and appreciation of the origins of civilizations ; Deep appreciation of culture, ethics and aesthetics ; Engagement with the most profound philosophical enquiries and dilemmas – these and other facets of the Humanities and Social Sciences are enormously valuable in their own right.  Humanities and Social Sciences are also valuable for other reasons: comprehending social trends and phenomena ; understanding them qualitatively and quantitatively.

·        They have practical applications, also – learning how to reason and construct arguments ; broader communication skills ; research skills ; applying social theory and research methods to complex social problems.

·        Humanities and Social Sciences academics contribute significantly to the public sphere ; and hence to our democracy

These concerns should somehow be accommodated in the Platform.

This in mind Labor should commit to these concrete measures in its Platform:

·        Develop concrete ‘civics and citizenship’ and ‘political literacy’ content at a Secondary level ; especially in years 11 and 12. And provide incentives for students to undertake at least one Humanities and/or Social Sciences subject in each year of years 11 and 12.

·        Support Liberal Arts, Music, and Professional Writing Courses in TAFE and if viable in Adult Education (eg: CAE)  Promote these as potential pathways to Tertiary study.  Reform the Liberal Arts curriculum to better incorporate and include questions of ‘political literacy’ ; understanding the values, interests and ideologies underpinning social movements and political parties.  Incorporate an ‘Issues’ component in Professional Writing and Editing – to potentially prepare students for a career in journalism.

·        Perhaps develop courses in political literacy open to all citizens: not only as ‘pathways’ but also because of the intrinsic value of enabling citizens to cultivate their talents in all directions – including political literacy and active citizenship.

·        Set in place incentives (positive and negative incentives) to encourage Universities to support the Humanities and Social Sciences – as they are central to the viability of our Public Sphere ; and hence the viability of our democracy. Take action to stem and reverse the decline of the Humanities and Social Sciences in our Universities.

·        Encourage course structures which enable Tertiary students to undertake supplementary Humanities and Social Sciences content if they so choose ; perhaps at a heavily discounted rate ; with the aim of enabling deeper personal development ; and a civil society comprised of informed citizens.

Dr Tristan Ewins

ALP member of over 20 years ; February 2017


  1. Perhaps, these things were covered, but you did not publish them. I think we should look at other ways of teaching children to read other than just using phonics. So, many of the same letters combined have different sounds. The same letter sounds, combined but making different sounds, confuse children. This leads to children becoming poor readers and spellers. What we should replace phonics with I don't know.
    I also think children start school at the wrong age. The education system somehow believes children at five years of age, should and be able, to start school. I believe children should start school at the ages of five to and including seven years of age? At the age of five, some children have not yet achieved growth of the whole child. I believe that all children should have at least one year of early childhood education before prep. I believe the suggestion might counter some of the early learning problems faces in prep and grade one and stop them from being kept down. When children, are kept down a grade, they sometimes suffer social stigma.

  2. Dr Ewins, I like much of what you suggest. I would also suggest that you consider something in the policy to move us away from a business model of education. As a teacher of 36 years, I see that the major problem in the system is understanding motivation. This has two impacts, one functional and one ethical. Functionally, schooling is not designed to maximise motivation in students. as an example assessment of achievement is demotivating. There is much evidence to suggest looking at assessment of and reporting on progress rather than relative achievement. The ethical issue is similar but more profound. Assessment of relative achievement actively mitigates against students who begin school with any relative deficit. Examples being indigenous, low SES, and country kids. Many of these students are demotivated by becoming labelled as failures early in the system. Measuring and reporting on progress and focussing on the psychology of motivation can help reduce this inequity.

  3. According to Ross Gittins the state school share of students has stabilized at 65 per cent ; but especially under a Liberal government this may not necessarily improve or last. Labor must fully implement Gonski ; and then go further to improve the resources of the state school sector ; as well as the prestige and morale of the teaching profession.

  4. Hi Tristan I attended a Keynote address at the TJ Ryan Foundation by Dr Ken Boston a member of the Gonski Review committee. Upshot neither LNP or Labor introduced Gonski a utter shame on Labor. My wife is a teacher upshot teachers are never consulted they can't speak out because the government department rules forbid them and the union is rubbish for a very expensive membership fee ( note that 75% of Gold Coast teachers voted for LNP the Labor oriented Qld Teachers union was useless and Labor policy is always just that- nice sentiments that never ever state what we all want to hear and that! we will use the mining subsidies! we will use the fuel subsidies! we will impose a financial transaction tax! and we will get the jobs done. The main gist of Labor policy hasn't changed for years it just gives all the factions something to do.. Too many policies and no specific policy implementation plans -Too many factions propping up their own little bureaucracies .. Insulation scheme was Great policy implementation was shit. Housing Affordability policy just words implementation well they have no idea. Negative Gearing policy Great --absolutely essential that it be abolished. proposed implementation is absolutely in line for a disastrous failure. Labors failures caused 20 percent of Labor voters and me to leave them them they begged me to come back. I rejoined I was a State candidate for Labor and the centralized un-heeding Labor bureaucracy shafted me.. They are working for the coal corp orates not the people. I was ethically forced to resign from the party. I'm a lot older than you and you can;t learn my experience from book and talking media heads and academics just don't cut the mustard at the coal face.
    labor needs more train drivers people close to the ordinary struggling Australian. People like me I will now commence to construct a new party -TRUE LABOUR- the main message is, By the people For the people that is real social justice objectives is reflected in the spelling. Cheers Gary Pead

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