From the Vice-Chancellor
I recently did an interview with The Australian in which the reporter remarked about the amount of money being spent on educational facilities in an overseas country. She seemed genuinely surprised by how much money was being spent on these facilities. My comment to her was that it wasn't so much about the money, it was about that country's commitment to education.
Sometimes you've got to wonder if Australia actually has a commitment to education. Do we, as a country, actually have a commitment to educating the next generation, or are we just trying to do the minimum? From where I stand, it seems to have become a question of 'how little can we get away with?' instead of 'what do we need to do?'
You see it in the disrepair that a lot of public schools have fallen into. You see it in the problems that arise with Aboriginal education. You see it in the arguments we have at the Federal level about how much students should pay for their own education. The attitude is that education - especially tertiary education - is a private good. No, it's an Australian good, it's a public good. Shouldn't we be thinking about the benefits that will flow to Australia over the next 50 years from properly educating people? Shouldn't we be thinking about our future as a nation and what level of commitment it will take to get us there?
I'm not blaming anyone in particular, and I don't believe that blame is at all helpful. The issue is one of responsibility and that responsibility lies with all of us.
When the system appears to fail, parents tend to say that the teachers haven't done their job properly. The teachers themselves might say the parents haven't done their job properly. Both groups will say the politicians haven't done their job properly, and so on - we're always pointing the finger at somebody else. If we had a genuine national consensus and commitment to education, everyone would take responsibility.
I've heard and seen figures that about 55% of South Australians don't complete secondary school, the lowest rate in the nation. Are we serious about tackling that issue and are we even aware of it or what the long-term implications may be? If our future is a hi-tech one, how many people are equipped to deal with that future and to respond to the many challenges that we don't yet even know exist? At this stage, the answer is: not enough.
This isn't a new issue - it's been going on for decades - but the importance of it is now becoming more and more focused, because the days of there being many jobs for badly educated people are passing.
The community has to want it. Are we ready to recognise the problem and move on as a nation? I hope so, for all our sakes. As William Butler Yeats famously said: "Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire". Of course, he did live in Ireland!
PROFESSOR JAMES A. McWHA
Vice-Chancellor and President