The public sector has become a particular Australian focus in the worldwide imperialist offensive against the people. The desire to destroy any vestiges of working class organisation, to exercise ideological control over what and how young people learn and to exploit new areas for profit, come together in public education. Education becomes a commodity to be bought and sold in the market place.
Universities have funds cut, research privatised to suit multinational corporations, tenure systematically attacked, courses and work hours cut, class sizes increased, student services slashed and fees increased. Courses encouraging critical thinking are replaced by those that make money. Staff and student representatives on boards are removed. Private universities grow in size and influence.
The same occurs in TAFEs, with years of funding cuts, and huge increases in casualisation. The latest Federal Government catch cry, “contestability of funding”, creates a massive ramp-up of publicly-funded privatisation. Giant corporations like Coles and Woolworths offer courses vastly inferior to those once run by TAFE. Shonky operators offer ipads or iphones to potential students and sign off on courses without delivering them. These companies pocket the profit, while working class kids are deskilled.
Likewise, decades of anti-public school propaganda and a massive funding shift created a tiered school system, with elitist private schools at the top and public schools at the bottom. Under the secret tutelage of self-styled education expert Rupert Murdoch, who covets the online provision of education worth $55 billion in the US alone, Gillard ramps this up through nationwide high-stakes testing. This has seen league tables published on the MySchool website and in newspapers, leading to a rush by the most economically and intellectually advantaged students from the “lowest performing” schools to “better” schools, including within the state system, a narrowing of the curriculum and widespread teaching to the test and even cheating.
Meanwhile, the break-up of the state system into “empowered” local schools spreads from overseas and from Kennett's Victorian experiment to other states, despite overwhelming evidence that this leads to worse educational outcomes. Scrutiny of teachers shifts towards the oppressive inspectorial systems of the past. The aims? To further commodify and charge for education, while financially supporting the future managers and exploiters, to enforce principals' roles as economic managers not educational leaders and force them to accept individual blame for government funding cuts which they impose at the school level, to destroy permanency, to divide and rule our youth on economic, ethnic and religious lines and, critically, to disempower education workers and their unions.
This roll-back of education into nineteenth century organisational conditions is lauded as moving us into the twenty-first century, with a constant hymn that individual “teacher quality” is the key cause of student success and failure.
The multinationals alternately use federal and state governments, Labor and Coalition. As illustration, the NSW Coalition Government shifted TAFE, already carved up into corporatised individual institutes by Labor, to Gillard's FairWork Australia, to hamstring joint TAFE-school industrial action.
The CPA (M-L) supports education workers in resisting the neo-liberal push to further privatise education. We support their vision for a public education system funded to meet the holistic needs of students to develop as united, empowered and ethical citizens of Australia and the world. Instead of importing failed ideas from the imperialist heartland where education systems are performing badly and failing working class and minority children, the Government raise teachers’ wages and reduce the teaching load to provide time for collaborative practises such as peer classroom observation, lesson preparation teams, and school-based research groups. These are the features of those systems that perform well internationally in cultures as diverse as Shanghai and Finland.
Public education workers are the key to achieving this goal, and must build a united front with parents, students, the public sector and the wider community. Action based must be based on systematic study of all aspects of education. The first priority must be to maintain the ability to organise and fight. Holding back and even reversing the twin juggernauts of devolution and “choice” is critical. To do this they must place the needs of their students front and centre in the minds of the public, and take full strategic advantage of their presence in every community across the country. In an increasingly national fight, they must overcome petty regional or state jealousies, build tactics that support victories even if in only one state or locality rather than action that tags behind those states where ruling class strength is greatest.
More importantly, anti-imperialist consciousness must be raised, so that the mass of teachers learn and not only understand what is happening, but why and for whom, and begin to spread this analysis wider still.