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Corporations and education

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by Alex M.

In another attempt at being seen to be doing something about the decimation of manufacturing in Geelong with its consequent job losses, the Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced that the city would be the site for a pilot program.

The program, based on a New York educational initiative sponsored by I.B.M. amongst others, is predicated on greater involvement of corporations in setting curricula.

At first glance there are two obvious ways that this initiative is bound to give rise to cynicism and concern.

The first is that like a number of announcements coming from Federal and State MPs, assorted Ministers and local political identities about trying to help troubled Geelong, it is a band-aid solution. There is little or no consultation with the people of Geelong, a substantial number of who are workers who have lost their jobs or are about to.

No, what has tended to happen, for example, is that a suggestion  and sometimes even a decision is made to re-locate a government department making Geelong the headquarters of such and such a bureaucracy. Some jobs are created, some opportunities are there for local people to find employment, but for the majority of workers employed by the likes of Ford, Shell, Alcoa and QANTAS at Avalon they are not going to get work in public service or administrative jobs; they usually don’t have the experience or skill sets.

It is clear that there is little to no long term planning or vision that informs such suggestions and/or decisions. Band-aid solutions and superficial tidying up after corporations cut and run is the lot of bourgeois politicians. After all, businesses must be free to go where profits can be maximised. 

Local people are quite sceptical about the approaches by the mainstream political parties to the problems facing Geelong, particularly in the run-up to Victorian state elections in November.

Geelong Region Local Learning and Employment Network chief Anne-Marie Ryan addressing the Coalition and state Labor support for relocating the Victorian WorkCover Authority's head office to Geelong, (which supposedly will bring 550 jobs to the city) said: ‘I wonder whether any of that is the answer to our issues. It just kind of feels that there's stuff coming from everywhere, but it's very prescriptive.

‘Politics aside, I think there's a real need for some kind of bipartisanship around some of these issues, rather than people competing and upping each other on what they can throw at us.

‘The workers themselves don't see that the new things that are coming in are for them.

‘They actually think its spin because their actual experience of what it is like in the community at the moment is that they've just been cut loose.’

Unemployment in Geelong is running at 9.5% according to September ABS figures, with 12,000 out of a job and seeking employment. Anne-Marie Ryan believes that this underestimates the real situation with many people under-employed.

Even the official figures put in perspective how large the problem is in the region and how inadequate the responses have been including Pyne’s trumpeting of a new secondary level education pilot program to be based in Geelong. How many workers will this program give jobs to? Remarkably few it would be safe to say. 

P-Tech program in Geelong: opportunism and neoliberal ideology combined
Which leads to the second reason for feeling cynical and concerned about the latest announcement from Education Minister Pyne regarding what is called in the US the ‘Pathways to Technology Early College High School’ program (P-Tech).

The Federal Government, in partnership with the Victorian Department of Education, has allocated $500,000 in seed money to set up a P-Tech type program in Geelong. Under the cover of being seen to be doing something for a city and region which is doing it tough, opportunists like Pyne and Tony Abbott can point to the P-Tech pilot program as proof of their commitment to the city and its future workers.

Abbott paid a visit to the original P-Tech site in a Brooklyn, New York school in June this year after hearing about it through President Obama’s touting of the school program two years ago. Abbott met the school’s principal Rashid Davis. Davis defends the program by asserting that it wasn’t ‘turning over teaching and learning to industry’. He maintains that despite the involvement of I.B.M. and 65 manufacturing, telecommunications, health and financial companies involved in P-Tech schools across New York, Illinois and Connecticut, the program prepares ‘our students to be the best citizens that they can be so that they have viable options.’

However, as Davis points out I.B.M. is involved directly in the student’s education: ‘They are direct in providing mentors for students; they are direct in providing curriculum for a course, called workplace learning, which helps to prepare students for the mentoring as well as to prepare them for the internships.’

Pyne and Abbott, like Davis see nothing wrong with such direct corporate involvement in education and the influencing of curricula, with Pyne gushing about ‘McDonalds or IBM or BHP Billiton or Iluka or Santos or manufacturing businesses involved in their local schools’.

Such schools would necessarily lead to the indoctrination of students with a narrow corporate-centric worldview. Also, the contraction of education to that of mere vocational training for sponsoring corporations speaks volumes for how ideologically driven people like Abbott and Pyne are.

Abbott and Pyne really don’t care for the lives and education of working class people in Geelong, the region and the country as a whole. They are opportunists. Like mainstream politicians of all political persuasions they can see no alternative to capitalism and many of them are committed to neoliberal ideology.

We need to advance an independent working class agenda that addresses job creation, manufacturing and education amongst other things as an integral part of the struggle for an independent socialist Australia.


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