Making Education Our Business
Thursday, 3rd August 2017 at 8:42 am
If we want stronger communities, a more prosperous, productive and happier Australia, inclusive education must be a higher priority, writes David Crosbie CEO of Community Council for Australia (CCA).
When CCA first brought sector leaders together to discuss the Australia we wanted to live in, agreeing the priority values we all supported was relatively straight-forward. We all wanted to live in a just, fair, safe, equal opportunity, inclusive, united, authentic, creative, confident, courageous, optimistic, generous, kind, compassionate Australia.
Commitment to these values was shared. Agreeing how we would know these values were being implemented – the measures or indicators – was more challenging.
There was one area everyone in the room readily agreed had to be a priority indicator – access to education. Education changes lives, reduces inter-generational inequality, and creates opportunity. CCA worked through a number of potential measures relating to education – none of which was perfect. The indicator CCA adopted in our Australia We Want First Report was year 12 or equivalent completion rates.
There is almost universal agreement that education plays a fundamental role in a flourishing community.
In 1999 state, territory, and Commonwealth education ministers from around Australia signed on to a national agenda in what was called; “The Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century.”
The preamble for this statement of desirable goals begins with this vision setting sentence:
“Australia’s future depends upon each citizen having the necessary knowledge, understanding, skills and values for a productive and rewarding life in an educated, just and open society. High quality schooling is central to achieving this vision.”
Almost ten years later in 2008, all of Australia’s education ministers (including then federal education minister Julia Gillard) met and agreed; “The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians.”
The opening sentence of this preamble reads:
“As a nation Australia values the central role of education in building a democratic, equitable and just society— a society that is prosperous, cohesive and culturally diverse, and that values Australia’s Indigenous cultures as a key part of the nation’s history, present and future.”
These are commendable statements, and more so because they are bi-partisan and genuinely nationally endorsed.
Most charities not only understand and acknowledge the importance of education, they also value the critical role of teachers and educational leaders.
Anne Hampshire, head of research and advocacy at The Smith Family prepared a background paper for the recent CCA AusWeWant Education Forum in which she highlighted some key findings.
From a national perspective, higher levels of educational attainment in a country is associated with:
- greater economic productivity;
- increased workforce participation;
- higher tax payments;
- reduced reliance on welfare, health and social support programs; and
- higher levels of civic engagement and social cohesion.
At an individual level, higher educational attainment is associated with increased income, better general health, lower reliance on welfare, and less engagement in crime.
It has been estimated that for each person who does not complete year 12 or its equivalent, the lifetime cost to the community is almost $1 million.
As most people know, the factors influencing educational attainment include; individual characteristics, family characteristics, peer groups, the communities students belong to, the way schools and other institutions operate. We also know that students who experience socio-economic disadvantage, remoteness, or are from an Indigenous family are more likely to drop out of school early.
Most importantly, we know that where parents can be more involved in encouraging and facilitating the learning of their children, very significant gains can be made in educational attainment, regardless of socioeconomic status or other disadvantages.
This is where charities can make a real difference, not just in their particular area of operation, but in changing our communities.
If we can encourage more parents to take an active role in their children’s learning, to raise their expectations and encourage higher educational attainment, we will improve educational outcomes.
If we can support schools in better responding to the needs of students, especially those who for whatever reason are not realising their potential, we will be benefiting the whole community.
If we can build on the many successes of educational leaders, teachers, students, parents, communities, charities and others working to improve educational outcomes, we will stop reinventing wheels and sustain positive change.
If we can provide our support to those seeking to track students so we can better measure the medium and longer-term impact of various educational approaches, we will be able to target and improve systems where they are failing our young people.
If charities are prepared to look beyond their own areas of activity and lend their support to promoting better education, we will be breaking the cycles of disadvantage.
Education might not be our core focus, but to achieve the Australia we want, education must be our business.
About the author: David Crosbie is CEO of the Community Council for Australia. He has spent more than 20 years as CEO of significant charities including five years in his current role, four years as CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, seven years as CEO of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia, and seven years as CEO of Odyssey House Victoria.
David Crosbie writes exclusively for Pro Bono News on a fortnightly basis, covering issues of importance to the broader not-for-profit sector.