Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Friday, 18 September 2009

Small is Good

This article in this morning’s Courier Mail caught my eye.

If you can cut through the usual emotive codswallop that characterises the Courier, some of it is significant in that it captures what I consider an important issue regarding the delivery of educational services to bush kids.

Education Queensland (along with all other state education authorities) is keen to close small schools, because they are deemed “inefficient”. This has nothing to do with education, and everything to n do with corporate managerialism. The industrial model of schooling places output for dollar above all else.

Government (or at least the politicians who form government) can’t measure educational outcomes. NAPLAN testing is a lame attempt at measurement, politically driven, and without any sound research backing. Interestingly enough, however, small schools continue to do well in their NAPLAN results, although in many cases these same results can’t be published because of the risk to privacy generated by situations in which the whole school population may belong to two or three families. Those wanting to close small schools are probably grateful for this phenomenon.

What isn’t measured is the resourcefulness, resilience, flexibility and independence generated in a small school situation. In a setting where one teacher (and one or two teacher aides) deliver all programmes across all age levels. These kids learn to organise themselves, are supported by their peers, learn to become both interdependent and independent, and develop a strong sense of cohesion.

I’ve know for a long time that kids with disabilities generally thrive in these situations because they are accepted and supported. It’s a bit difficult to exclude someone who is your neighbour or your sibling in the 18 hours a day when they’re not at school.

I was schooled in a series of bush schools. On one occasion, the principal (who also happened to be my father) broke his ankle, and was laid up for a few days. School continued, managed by the older kids. I’m talking 1950s, of course – it wouldn’t be possible now. There are too many plaintiff lawyers, and modern kids as a rule wouldn’t have the gumption to mange this kind of challenge at primary school age.

So, over time, more of these dynamic little centres of learning will close, and the communities they anchor will be the poorer for it. It will no doubt keep the bean counters handy – but more efficiency? – I don’t think so.

As Albert Einstein was fond of saying –

Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.

1 comment:

Boy on a bike said...

At my boarding school, the older kids ran our boarding house all year round. We saw our house master once a week when he handed out pocket money (50 cents usually). The year 12s kicked everyone out of bed at 0700, ensured all got through the showers and were dressed properly, and then marched (yes, marched, and I mean proper marching) to the mess hall for meals. They supervised prep (homework) every night for 3 hours. Ran the sports carnivals. Did roll calls. Kept order.

I'm a big believer in small being beautiful. Our head back then wanted the school to be no larger than 650-700 kids; he wanted to be sure that he knew every kid, and that every kid would know every other kid, and all the teachers would know every kid.

Bureaucrats always want to centralise and "develop scale". I have experienced this in several govt departments, where depots were amalgamated in pursuit of ephemeral efficiencies and so on.

Sometimes, this is a result of sheer laziness. If managers have 5 large depots/schools instead of 10 small ones, they spend less time and effort visiting them (assuming they ever get out of the office). Amalgamation is always driven by the self interest of the shiny-bums.

Another reason to move to a voucher system, and return control of schools to the "community" level.

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