EDUCATION IN THE 1970s
JOHN CURTIN MEMORIAL LECTURE-1967
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No national leader in Australia's history has stood up
to the challenge of his times so demonstrably and so successfully as did
John Curtin when, as Prime Minister of a Labor Government, he steered this
country through her hour of peril after the anti-Labor forces, lacking the
ability to give purpose and direction to our national effort to survive
and face the future, had collapsed in disarray.
I never knew John Curtin personally, but I shared the admiration
of countless Australians, young and old, who felt that here was a man who
made all their agonies his own and who accepted proudly and sensitively
the responsibilities of leadership and decision.
That quality of leadership is rare and hard to define.
But of one thing I am certain, that Australia today desperately needs the
kind of leadership which Curtin offered, and nowhere does she need it more
than in the field of education on which I have been invited to speak tonight.
As we contemplate the next decade or two, we face immense possibilities
for Australia in education as in other areas of national endeavour; but
it would be naively optimistic to look to the nation's present leaders for
the dynamic which alone can translate the possible into actual achievement.
John Curtin was passionately devoted to Australia and his
mind was ever fixed on her future. For him, the terrible reality of war
was only bearable if out of the holocaust there could emerge a world in
which young people could live and work safely and purposefully. I remember
his appeals for support of Australia's war loan campaigns and his words
still ring in my ears:
In the name of this fair land, your land, my land, our land, which we can hold only if we are prepared to give our all for it, I enjoin you to live now in austerity, for your own sake and for the sake of your children and for the sake of generations of Australian children in all time to come.
And, when I think back on those eloquent expressions of
national pride, I am reminded of the words of an earlier Australian statesman
who made his mark on the development of Australian education. Speaking in
1866 in the Parliament of New South Wales on a Public Education Bill and
referring to the plight of 100,000 children who, in the circumstances of
the colony at that time, had never had the slightest chance of instruction,
Sir Henry Parkes said: "By what you do now, you may render a service
that will be felt hereafter in the aspirations of 100,000 lives-of that
unknown multitude arising in our midst...who for good or evil must connect
the present with the future."
It was an integral part of Curtin's outlook that in the
midst of war he was planning, indeed starting to build, for the future.
In the collective mind of the Curtin Labor Government, the essential task
of organising industry in wartime was to be the progenitor of the task of
postwar reconstruction and of future national planning and development.
And, significantly, too, that Government established, in the middle of the
war, not only the Universities Commission and the Reconstruction Training
Scheme but also the Australian National University, so demonstrating for
the first time the Commonwealth's concern with education as integral to
Australia's future as a nation.
Participation in Education
On 11 April 1945, Mr Curtin said:
There has been great interest in the establishment at Canberra of a national university. I see no reason why Canberra should not become a place such as Oxford and Cambridge. There are not many industries at those places, and it is unlikely that there will be any number of industries at Canberra.
Canberra should be a place where all types of national bodies should have facilities either to conduct their affairs or to hold Conferences.
Those were prophetic words. The things Curtin spoke about
are coming to pass. National bodies-the major political parties and other
representative organisations-do have their headquarters in Canberra. The
name of John Curtin is honoured in the School of Medicine in the national
capital. And perhaps I may be forgiven for mentioning in passing that the
two distinguished representatives of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party
on the Council of the Australian National University-Mr Kim Beazley, MHR
and Senator Dorothy Tangney-are both, like Curtin, West Australians.
What is needed in Australian education today is the vision
of men like John Curtin; men who can see the present as something connected
with the future. A Curtin today would see the urgent need for a complete
re-assessment of the priority to be accorded to education in our national
life and national planning. He would see the importance of developing a
system of education in Australia which would meet Australia's future needs;
indeed, which would be relevant and appropriate to the new horizons
which Australian society should be setting for itself here and now.
Until Curtin moved during World War II, nothing had ever
happened in Australia to disturb the assumption that education was, constitutionally,
a matter for the States and that it had nothing to do with the Commonwealth.
It is now 25 years since the Universities Commission was established in
its original form, under Curtin's able and resourceful Minister, John Dedman,
to administer the first scheme of Commonwealth financial assistance to students.
Nobody now questions that the Commonwealth's power, under Section 96 of
the Constitution, is wide enough to cover grants to the States for educational
purposes. Indeed, the whole of the development since then has proceeded
on the footing that the power is there and that it is only a matter
of policy as to how far and for what specific purposes it is invoked.
The history of the matter since 1949 has been one of stubborn
Government resistance, especially during the Menzies era, to any proposals,
whether from the Australian Labor Party or from the education world, seeking
to commit the Commonwealth in fields of education other than the Universities.
Sir Robert Menzies had a personal interest in university education and he
is rightly given some credit for building, in the university sphere, on
the foundation laid by John Curtin. Yet history may well regard him as a
reluctant dragon when it came to finance for non-university education, and
fix him with the blame for almost 15 years' delay in accepting some measure
of Commonwealth responsibility in the non-university areas.
It was not until 1963, in the course of the Federal election
campaign, that he stepped off his well-trodden path of refusing to be involved
beyond the university sphere and promised, all in one breath, Commonwealth
Secondary School Scholarships, Commonwealth Technical College Scholarships
and Commonwealth assistance in the building of science laboratories, at
both Government and non-Government schools. Two years later, in 1965, he
cut the heart out of the Martin Committee Report by rejecting the all-important
proposals for the development of teacher training. "Important",
he said, "as this field of education is, the Commonwealth Government
is not prepared to enter it."
Yet by the 1966 Federal Elections, his successor, without confessing the tragic error of 1965, cautiously probed for an opening into the teacher training field with a promise of $24,000,000 in capital grants over three years for buildings and extensions for Teachers Colleges. In short, the Commonwealth has either been dragged or has wandered into a number of non-university fields, whilst at the same time insisting emphatically that education is the province of the States. But the whole approach has been unplanned and reeking of improvisation and political opportunism.
I shall be dealing in more detail in due course with some
of these issues. But any discussion of education in the 1970s and
beyond that must start with an appraisal of education in the 1960s and before.
We must understand where we have come from, where we are now and where we
hope to be a decade and more from now.
in the Education System
The debate about the present state of education is conducted on many levels, and usually on several levels at once. We ought to start with some broad catalogue of the weaknesses and deficiencies, large and small, acknowledged and unacknowledged, in the Australian education system or systems. Some are common to all levels of education, some are peculiar to universities, others to primary, secondary or technical schools.
First, the general inadequacy of accommodation in the schools; the overcrowding of classes and the depressingly low teacher-pupil ratio; the shortage of qualified teachers; the absence of amenities and of clerical and like assistance to teachers; the lack of recognition and status which Governments and the community accord to the teaching profession and the unequal position of women in that profession-these are notorious, and in some cases scandalous features of the present state of affairs.
Second, in the universities, the perpetuation and extension of quotas, which are sometimes sought to be justified on educational grounds as well as, or instead of, on grounds of lack of finance, accommodation and staff; the financial squeeze resulting from the severe cuts made in 1966 to the recommendations of the Universities Commission for the 1967-1969 triennium and from the deadlock between Commonwealth and State Governments over grants for postgraduate research; and the big question mark hanging over university planning for future expansion-again these are formidable problems giving grounds for genuine anxiety, indeed, grave alarm, about the future.
Third, it is necessary to acknowledge the failure of the
system to establish and guarantee equality of opportunity for every child
to develop his or her talents, whether the handicap be economic or social
or due to mental or physical retardation or what is nowadays called cultural
deprivation. Such equality, as the Australian Labor Party insists, demands
the recognition that different individuals require different treatment and
that equality in education is achieved not by uniformity, which ignores
these differences, but by diversity. Only in this way is it possible to
maximise the potential of each child.
It is claimed that scholarships are broadly removing hardship
and inequality. But it is reasonably obvious that only a minority of students
receive scholarships and the basic problem remains.
There are special handicaps facing children from country
areas. Compared with metropolitan students, a much smaller percentage of
country high school students reach the higher levels of either academic
or trade training.
Fourth, there are glaring gaps in the availability of essential
aids to education. A notable example is the shameful inadequacy of school
libraries. The library should be regarded as the heart of school and the
case for a qualified teacher-librarian in each school seems unanswerable.
Yet, in 1967, according to Margaret Trask of the Library School of the University
of New South Wales, there were only 30 professional members of the Library
Association of Australia in State and independent schools throughout Australia.
Some librarians had no qualifications as either teachers or librarians,
others had training ranging from one week to a year.
In 1964, a visiting Fulbright Scholar, Professor Fenwick,
estimated that it would cost $3 annually per child to provide adequate school
library facilities in Australia. At present, our total Government expenditure
on library resources is 32 cents per child each year.
It has been suggested that the Commonwealth Government
should introduce a school library facilities scheme on a basis similar to
the existing science laboratories scheme. The Minister for Education and
Science (Senator Gorton) has stated that there is no difference in principle
between the provision of capital for science blocks and its provision for
other education facilities for children in secondary schools.
Fifth, it is important to recognise, though it is not always
conceded by Governments, that all levels of education-primary, secondary,
technical and tertiary-are inter-related and that a crisis, temporary or
permanent, in one area affects every other area. Remedial action may often
be called for, therefore, in ways and places other than where the symptoms
of stress are immediately obvious. For example, the future of the universities
is intimately bound up with the crisis in secondary schools.
All these things are part of the daily picture before us.
Of course, they haven't appeared overnight, and some of them cannot be laid
at the door of any Government, State or Commonwealth. In the 22 years since
the end of World War II, something of a population explosion has taken place.
One of the consequences is an increasing proportion of children of school
age in the total population. Total school enrolments over this period have
doubled-from a little over one million in 1945 to more than two million
There is, at the same time, an increasing tendency for
pupils to stay longer at school. In 1954, 18% of the 15-18 years age group
was at school. In 1964, the proportion had risen to 32%. They numbered one
in ten of all school pupils instead of one in 20 as they did in 1954. Of
every 100 children who started secondary studies in Government schools in
1950, eight stayed to matriculation level. Of children commencing in 1960,
the comparable figure was 20 in 100.
We therefore have an enormous bulge in the education system
at the top of the secondary schools. We necessarily have also a higher proportion
of the young people of Australia going to the universities. Between 1956
and 1964, the proportion of the 17-22 years age group enrolled in Australian
universities had risen from 4.7% to 8%. Over the same period, the percentage
of 17 year old students in secondary schools more than doubled. For Australia
as a whole, the percentage rose from 8.4 in 1956 to 17.9 in 1964.
There is therefore a population crisis in the group that
is the most expensive to educate, children in the top years of secondary
school, because they need highly qualified teachers, with high levels of
scholarship and teaching competence. They need proper facilities and equipment
if the full advantage of the longer years of schooling is to be realised.
Looking ahead, we note that the Martin Committee on Tertiary
Education estimated in 1964 that, in 1971, 213,000 students will be enrolled
in tertiary education, 112,000 at universities, 80,600 at technical and
other colleges and 20,500 at Teachers' Colleges. By 1975, the total figure
is expected to jump to 248,000-125,000 in universities, 96,000 in technical
and other colleges and 27,000 in Teachers' Colleges.
The Martin Committee did not talk in terms of quotas. The Committee said it believed that there were sufficient reserves of able
young men and women to ensure that the 248,000 tertiary students estimated
for 1975 would have the ability to undertake their courses with good prospects
of success. Accordingly, the Committee recommended that tertiary education
in Australia should be expanded to provide places for 248,000 students
I have been speaking of the impact of the population explosion,
to date and projected, on school and university places. This is merely to
emphasize the dimensions of the future problem in terms of sheer numbers
compared with the position of two decades ago.
Looking to the
So far we have been considering the question in the light
of our situation in 1967. But by the end of the 1970s, Australia will be
a vastly different place, and our education system must be evaluated in
the general context of our future society. Consider what technological and
scientific development has occurred in the past decade or two. Man today
can go for a walk in outer space whilst his vehicle (a space capsule) is
travelling at 18,000 miles an hour. In Australia, we can travel right across
the continent by jet aircraft in a few hours. We are transplanting human
organs and are on the threshold of other great new advances in medicine
and science. The onward march of our technology has made automation one of the great public questions of the next decade.
And there are fantastic possibilities, and some breath-taking
probabilities, in store for the advanced countries by 1980. It is reported
that the Japan Economic Research Centre has recently produced a survey which
suggests that certain things which have been merely part of science fiction
in the past decade will be facts of life within 20 years. Communication
by laser; driverless cars; one million ton super tankers; household computers;
television telephones; facsimile newspapers in each home; an artificial
brain; a cure for cancer; a successful vaccine for the common cold; a medicine
to slow the aging process; trips to and from the moon; a world-wide communication
network through artificial satellites-these and other exciting things are
ahead of man, and many of them will be a reality in Australia in the decade
we are discussing tonight.
Every one of these things directly involves the education
system. Our education system in the 70s must produce the people capable
of mastering the new technology in all its complex manifestations.
But it must also do something much more difficult. It must
ensure that the student of tomorrow does not become the dehumanised prisoner
of a frenzied drive for efficiency and material achievement in a world of
technology and invention. Our education system must be concerned with people
and therefore with the quality of life. The 70s will require not merely
a quantitative response to national needs for trained professionals in many
fields. What will also be needed is a capacity for understanding both ourselves
and the peoples of other countries, especially those in our part of the
world, Asia. Australia cannot live in a vacuum, and massive changes are
taking place, not only in our own country but among all our neighbours.
The products of our education system should be trained for living in this
new world and capable of coming to grips with its realities. They will be
living in a comparatively wealthy country in an area where millions upon
millions of people go to bed hungry every night; where the battle against
poverty, disease and illiteracy is only just beginning. They will be living
in a world whose population, now about 3,000 millions, will double by the
end of this century-so the demographers tell us.
And so the student of tomorrow must come to feel part of
a new environment with new challenges. The narrow utilitarian concept of
acquiring knowledge and skills useful in earning a living can be no more
than a part-an essential part, of course-of the education of Australians
in the future. Indeed, the pressures of high speed living and the growing
worship of material success make it even more important that educationists
and other keepers of the public conscience should re-state the critical
need for a central place for the humanities and social sciences in tomorrow's
society. To quote the words of Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights :
... Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms [and] promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among nations, racial or religious groups ...
There is, of course, another side of the coin. It will
not be all rat race in the new society. One of the features of the
changing Australia will be the opportunity for increased leisure time. The
impact of automation on the Australia of 1977 will, I am sure, be just as
great as was the impact of mechanisation and technology in the first half
of this century, when basic working hours were reduced from 48 to 40 hours
per week. It would be stretching things too far to suggest that education
in the first half of this century was in any way angled towards assisting
people to put to fruitful use the extra leisure time which was coming to
Creating a Ministry
of Cultural Affairs
The Australian Labor Party has concerned itself with the
effective use of leisure time. It realises that cultural activities are
a vital part of our lives and should receive enlightened encouragement and
financial support from the Commonwealth Government. Of course, any Government
support for cultural development should be so administered as to provide
assistance and guidance and to safeguard the integrity and independence
of Australian arts and letters.
Our proposal is to follow the example of other advanced
countries and create a Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
Amongst the important functions of this new Ministry would
1. Administration of the Commonwealth Literary Fund and
2. Subsidies for cultural undertakings and support for
3. Sponsorship of international goodwill visits both to
and from Australia by artists, musicians, literary figures, theatrical companies,
4. Support for the Institute of Aboriginal Affairs in its
study of the important aspects of Aboriginal life, art, music and lore,
aiming especially at the training of the Aboriginal people themselves to
carry out the work of collecting, editing and transmitting Aboriginal culture.
Cultural affairs are part of the broad pattern of the community's
education. And I think it is important to appreciate that, in education,
we are not dealing with static concepts. In the first place, though we may
be thoroughly dissatisfied with the present rate of progress and critical
of the lack of vigorous Government planning, it is beyond dispute that the
entire role of education in the community has been undergoing a revolutionary
the Whole Community
It is not so long ago since the function of education was
to create and maintain an elite. Education was not a matter for the whole
community; the establishment broadly felt that the man in the street
could manage with a minimum education, unless he needed vocational training.
But, today, the whole outlook has changed. Everybody wants as much education
as he can get, because education is no longer to be regarded as a luxury
but as part of the equipment of every man and every woman to earn a living
and to participate fully in the life of the community. This means that the
whole community has accepted the responsibility of providing an education
system which will serve the whole community and on which every member of
the community has a claim.
As this concept is now beyond challenge it follows that,
in giving effect to the modern view, an increasing proportion of the community's
resources must inevitably be devoted to education. Australia devoted only
3% of her budget expenditure this year to education. This is no better than
it was in 1961-62, when it was 3.2%. We devote only 4% of our Gross National
Product to education. We are well behind most advanced countries in this
respect. According to UNESCO figures quoted in December 1966 by P W Hughes,
Deputy Director of Education in Tasmania, Australia ranks only 40th among
the nations of the world in the proportion of its Gross National Product
spent on education. We are behind such countries as Morocco, Venezuela,
Korea and Iraq. Israel and Finland spend over 8% of Gross National Product
on education-double the Australian figure. We can and must improve on that
This year has seen the establishment of a Commonwealth
Ministry of Education and Science. The Australian Labor Party had for a
number of years been advocating this step. Sir Robert Menzies would never
agree to it. But Mr Holt did at the 1966 Federal elections. The challenge
to the new Ministry is very formidable, and the need for new initiatives
is urgent. The basic question is-what is to be the role of the Commonwealth
in education? Is the new Department to be simply a financial roof under
which to house the various assorted items of Commonwealth activity in a
number of educational fields, or is it to be the launching pad for a new
look at Australia's educational problems? No doubt the primary task of maintaining
and administering systems of education rests with the States; but the Commonwealth,
as the financially ascendant partner in the federation, has to assume ever-expanding
responsibilities providing sufficient finance to help shape a better future.
What is the Government's response so far to the challenge?
The Minister for Education and Science has said he sees the Commonwealth
"putting the icing on the cake". But what about the cake itself,
its size, its quality? Who is to be responsible for these things? Surely
the new Ministry should be ready to provide leadership, in a national sense,
to the State Departments of Education. Surely it should be fighting for
sufficient funds for the States to enable them to implement their educational
programmes. Surely it must be prepared to tackle such formidable problems
as teacher training on a national basis.
A pedestrian or conservative approach to education at this
stage of Australia's history would be disastrous. This is the decade of
decision for Australia, in education as in other fields we have to make
up for almost two decades of negative and unimaginative attitudes. And this
must involve planning for the future. If there is one stricture which may
fairly be levelled against the anti-Labor Australian governments of 1949-1967,
it is that they have avoided planning like the plague. A government without
a planning approach is a government without priorities. Whether Australian
society in the 1970s will be characterised by a greater or lesser degree
of assertion of the public interest will depend largely upon the party in
Government in the Commonwealth. In the hands of the Australian Labor Party,
believing as it does in democratic socialism, it may be anticipated that
the burden of paying for essential social and economic advancement will
fall on those who are able to pay for it. The Labor Party's emphasis will
be on developing the public sector of the economy, so that in those things
which are the proper concern of the whole community leadership will come
from the Government. In health and social welfare, in the development of
transport, communications and our natural resources, new horizons, new perspectives
will be possible. And under Labor, education will become a top priority
for Australia, which cannot rest content with a second-class education system.
We cannot tolerate an approach which shrugs off major problems
as though they were inevitable features of the system. Take university quotas,
for example. It is true that the steep rise in the birthrate and the build-up
of population through immigration after the 1939-1945 war placed an incredible
strain on our education resources. The result has been that many of the
generation reaching young adulthood, having overcome difficulties in the
earlier stages of their educational progress, eventually reach the tertiary
level and find frustration and disappointment to be the fruits of their
labour. This bright new generation who we fondly hoped would inherit a brave
new world after the war met a teacher shortage, overcrowded class rooms,
temporary accommodation and finally the quota guarding the gateway
to the achievement of their university education ambitions. In Victoria
alone this year, 2,800 students were unable to gain admission to the three
universities-Melbourne, Monash and Latrobe-because of quotas. In 1966, some
1,900 were rejected.
We must insist that the quota should not be the answer.
It is bad enough when restrictions on university entrance are justified
on grounds of lack of finance, staff, facilities and so forth. But it is
even worse when attempts are made to defend quotas on a basis suggesting
it may be wrong to allow a matriculated student into the university unless
he could be regarded as likely to complete his course in the minimum time,
or the minimum time plus one year. This is a novel approach. The Martin
Committee saw this as the desirable standard, not for entry to the university,
but for the award of a Commonwealth University Scholarship.
We cannot tolerate an approach which shrugs off the problems
of economic inequality as though they were minimal. There were some
sobering figures in the Martin Report to show that real equality is still
a long way off. The Committee quoted figures from a publication by Dr W
C Radford, of the Australian Council for Educational Research, concerning
school leavers in 1960. Of those school leavers whose fathers were in the
category unskilled or semi-skilled and who totalled 33% of the fathers of
male leavers, only 1.5% entered universities. By contrast, only 2% of the
fathers of male school leavers were classified as university professional,
but 36% of their sons entered universities.
In 1962, the Australian Council for Educational Research
was asked by the Minister for Education in Victoria to give a general ability
test to a sample of children in the three upper forms of Victorian secondary
schools. At Form 4 level, about 3,800 children were tested. At or before
the end of that year, some 1,600 of them left school for work-about 40%.
According to Dr Radford of that 1,600 slightly more than one quarter-or
10% of total enrolments at that level-should have had the intellectual competence
to continue at school with good prospects of successfully completing at
least one and probably two more years of schooling. At least one-third of
these able leavers-from the top half of their form on the tests used-came
from homes of the unskilled worker or from farms.
There is a lesson in these figures for those who are prone
to think that all the problems of educational opportunity are being solved
rapidly and that there are only mopping up operations left in the
field of education.
We cannot tolerate an approach which shrugs off the problems
of cultural deprivation as too difficult for an education system
to handle. It is established that it matters a great deal whether a child
comes from a high or low occupational group if we are to predict his chances
of leaving or surviving at a high school. Dr M Balson, of the Monash University
Faculty of Education, has said in a recent study on performances of children
from various occupational levels in Geelong:
Each year, a substantial group of students fail to make normal progress in their school learning. These are generally the students whose school motivation, early home experiences and future vocational aspirations are of such a kind as handicap them in school work. The roots of their problem may be traced to their experiences in homes which do not transmit the cult patterns necessary for the types of learning characteristics of the schools.
Our aim must be not to waste talent or potential in any child, whatever background he comes from, whatever school he attends. This attitude will involve a revolution in our traditional ways of thinking and acting. It will involve a bold new approach to the role of the educator, the teacher. Our system must be able to afford teachers capable of doing what is essentially remedial work with the handicapped child. In the next decade, we should be capable of bringing an entirely new atmosphere into the search for fulfilment for the individual child.
This brings me to the question of teachers. This is critically
important in any consideration of the future of education.
Shortage of Qualified
The shortages of properly qualified teachers are serious; the morale of the teaching profession has had to withstand the buffetings of community neglect and apathy; indeed, the profession has even begun to undervalue itself. Some teachers are giving up in disgust; Victorian and even New South Wales teachers are going to Canada in large numbers because the salaries and conditions offered are immensely superior and their professional status and competence recognised.
Nothing less than a thorough-going overhaul of teacher
training will meet the present unhappy position. We can't have a first class
education system without a sufficient number of first class teachers. We
must dispel the atmosphere of gloom about prospects in the teaching profession.
Why should students with the necessary dedication have to put up with second
class status for themselves? And why should women teachers not receive full
and equal salaries and status in the teaching services in their own States?
Things are getting better, of course. Only this week, the Queensland industrial
tribunal decided to grant equal pay to women teachers, with the increases
staggered over a few years. That leaves only Victoria and Western Australia
retaining this blatant and outmoded discrimination. Of course, it is not
only the salary differential for women teachers that should be finally removed.
Attention must also be given to measures which will help to keep married
women in the teaching service and play a full part in the shaping of Australia's
So far as teachers' salaries are concerned, we all noted
the recent announcement by the Minister for Education and Science of substantial
increases in the salaries of university professors and other university
staffs. This is good news, but why should not the teaching profession also
get the same good news? If the reasonably generous approach of the Government
to university salaries were applied to teachers, this would be striking
a really significant blow for education in the next decade.
And the picture would begin to look even rosier if there
were agreement to pay for better schools and equipment and sub-professional
teacher aids and clerical staff. These things would be an indication of
significant change in the way in which the community regards its teachers.
I want to conclude this lecture with some suggestions for
urgent action to make the next decade one of achievement as well as of decision,
so that we may look back in 1980 and see how far we have come from 1967.
What I have tried to do is to indicate the wide variety
and complexity of problems at all levels of education, and the need for
resolution and bigness in setting guidelines for future development, in
the interests both of the community and of the millions of individuals who
will become caught up in the education machine, either as the teachers or
as the taught.
And so my first plea tonight is for a national enquiry
into all aspects of primary, secondary and technical education, in both
Government and non-Government schools. The case for the appointment of a
committee to make such an enquiry seems to me to be unanswerable. I do not
mind whether it be in the form of a Royal Commission, or specialised Committee
along the lines of the Robbins Committee in the United Kingdom, or an all-party
committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, or a Commonwealth-States body
specially appointed for the purpose. What is important is that Australia
take positive steps to find out what the national needs are, what is best,
policy-wise, for Australian education in the next decade or two. Until we
are prepared to make this obviously needed move, we will flounder about
in the dark, talking about the millions we are spending on education not
conceding that, despite the millions, things are getting worse not
better. We cannot delay this move any longer. Although Mr Holt has personally
refused the request which the Australian Labor Party has many times made
in the Federal Parliament, the appointment of such an enquiry is an indispensable
first step in an assessment of national needs for the purpose of determining
national objectives and targets.
Recently, at the annual conference of the Australian Teachers'
Federation, the Labor Premier of Tasmania (Mr Reece) called for a national
review of education. His plea was strongly supported, not only by the Federation,
but by the Melbourne Age in an editorial which said that the consensus
of opinion was that the proposed review or enquiry would "persuade
Canberra to loosen the purse strings further". The Age went
on to say: "There are some educational problems crying out for solution
which a national meeting of minds might help to solve."
Of course, we may have to wait in vain for this Government
to act. Indeed, I feel bound to say, more in sorrow than in anger, that
we have yet to hear any speech on the subject of education from the present
Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister or the Treasurer, whose responsibility
it is to find the money for much of Australia's future educational development.
One problem which we might hope to tackle as a consequence
of a full enquiry is the tangled web of Commonwealth-State relationships
in the provision of funds for education. Nowhere is the effect of Commonwealth-State
wrangling over finance more damaging than in the field of education. Those
who suffer are the students, their parents and the community itself.
The second urgent need today is that the Commonwealth Government should reverse its ill-conceived decision to reject the recommendations of the Martin Committee on teacher training. The Committee said it was convinced that both the increase in the supply of teachers and the improvement in the quality of their professional preparation were matters of urgency in the interests not only of the schools concerned but of the whole of the nation's educational structure. It was equally convinced that this dual demand could not be met without a special endeavour involving both the States and the Commonwealth.
The Martin Committee did not pull its punches. It said:
It is clear that, in order to cope with the increasing population and to reduce classes to a reasonable size, Australia needs many more teachers, and this need will continue in the future. Consequently, additional places will be needed in teachers colleges and additional colleges will have to be established. It is estimated that about 10,000 new places will be needed for primary teaching alone in teachers colleges by 1975, as well as extra places for secondary teacher trainees and places in universities for the training of secondary and some other teachers.
The Martin Committee recommended that, in each State, a
Board of Teacher Education should be established as a statutory body, the
principal functions of the board being to approve the content of courses
and the standards in all institutions training teachers, and to be the authority
which will grant the teacher's certificate to be recognised throughout the
State. Ultimately the Committee believed that it should be the prerogative
of this board to grant the first professional degrees in education. Among
the reasons which the Committee gave for its conclusion were that it considered
that all teachers should be professionally trained; that it believed that
there were dangers latent in the close relationship between State departments
of education and teachers' colleges preparing teachers for Government schools;
and that the staff of all teachers' colleges should be recruited through
I believe the Government's attitude in rejecting this part
of the Martin Committee's report was completely irresponsible and that
Australia will have to pay heavily for this mistake in the years to come,
unless the Government is prepared to reverse its stand. There is not a single
educationist in Australia who does not support the Committee's proposals.
A Federal Labor Government would enable sufficient teachers
to receive an adequate professional education to meet the essential requirements
of both Government and non-Government schools along the lines recommended
by the Martin Committee.
I have no doubt that, in the fullness of time, the recommendations
of this Committee will be accepted. But the situation does not permit of
any delay, and the recent Act providing funds for the construction of teachers'
colleges shows how little the Commonwealth has so far moved in the direction
of the Martin Report on this point. The money voted in this Act will make
only a very small dent on the problems of teacher training and teacher employment.
The third proposal I make is that Australia should aim
in the 1970s to double the percentage of its Gross National Product which
it now spends on education. We must set a target. Individual opinions may
differ as to what can be achieved in a given time. I would like to see a
five year plan to raise the proportion from 4% to 5% or 5.5%. And I would
aim at 8% in or before 1980. Education is already the largest item in State
budgets. The best way to measure up to the challenge of the future is to
pin ourselves down to specific objectives.
If we achieve these objectives, we should reach the end
of the 1970s in good order and condition. We should by then have rid ourselves
of quotas and we should be free from the reproach that not all children
are equal before the education system. We would have scholarships for all
students who could profit by them, and not for just a proportion of such
students. And, above all, we would be able to concentrate the resources
of the system on the business of helping all students to realise their full
It is wise to appreciate that all this cannot be achieved
by waving a magic wand. The problems are complex, our resources not unlimited.
But it is not unrealistic to set our sights high. It is right to know how
tall the mountain is. Today, we talk so much about the millions being spent
on education that we are anaesthetised by statistics. In fact, the magnitude
of the sums involved obscures the magnitude of the problems that are left
The final comment I would like to make concerns the changing
concept of the educational process itself. There has been an immeasurable
increase in the sum total of human knowledge in this century. And this increase
has far outstripped the capacity of any one individual to be absolute master
even of a single discipline. There was a time when a Leonardo da Vinci or
a Michaelangelo or a Bacon could sit astride a large part of the storehouse
of knowledge of his century. But this is a phenomenon of the past. As one
distinguished educationist, Mr Henry Schoenheimer, has put it recently:
There has been a change in the relationship between human beings and knowledge... The knowledge explosion has put an end to mental warehousing. This kind of education is not going to serve the last third of the 20th century ... The trained and educated human being is now, in one of his roles, much more basically a user of information. Education will involve learning the skills of obtaining, sorting, assessing and integrating the new knowledge. Far more of education must be of the nature of independent enquiry, minimally teacher-guided but not teacher-controlled.
I commend those words of wisdom to you. Those whose responsibility it is to shape Australia's future education policies would do well to ponder on them. I feel confident that John Curtin, whose memory we honour tonight, would have given his blessing to those who strive today to guarantee a full and rewarding life to the children of tomorrow.