The Gonski Report for Disadvantaged Children: The Problem Is the Parents As First Educators

The long-awaited Review of Funding for Schooling is now complete. The Report of the distinguished panel of Australians, chaired David Gonski AC, has been published.

This Submission focuses on Chapter 3 with regard to equity and disadvantage, but I also make comments regarding disabled children.

Because I live in Sydney’s western suburbs, I also have a focus on schools in the western suburbs. My children went to a catholic school in the western suburbs before they moved to an independent school.

The Report is comprehensive and well-researched and deserves to be commended. It also contains a number recommendations that, if implemented, may improve the education outcomes of some Australian children.

The Gonski Report’s ‘Pink Elephant’

However, I feel that the Report fails to recognize ‘the pink elephant’ within the classroom. That is, parents are the first educators for their children. This foundation is what many Australian independent schools believe. PARED (Parents For Education), for example, excel academically every year. However, they do not offer scholarships and are not selective.

Schools that recognize parents as the primary educators of their child work together with parents to ensure that they communicate the same expectations to the children at home and in school. This is not just for academic expectations, but also for behaviour. The parents should raise their child with the end in mind (i.e. The parents raise their child with the end in mind (ie. adulthood), and not the present. They focus on building a strong character by modeling this behavior and expect the child to exhibit human virtues like sincerity, cheerfulness and generosity. It is expected that the child will do their best in school and other endeavors. They should also respect school property and care about others’ feelings and help those who are less fortunate. This is the learned character of the child, and is not related to socio-economic status. These schools are often found in poor countries like the Philippines, where most children live below the poverty line. However, these children emerge strong and independent young adults who are grateful and determined to make the best of their lives. Southridge, in Manila-Philippines, is one such school. The fees paid by day students go to pay for an afternoon school. This allows students to avoid the need to attend a public school with poor resources. In fact, the university admission marks of afternoon students far exceed those of more financially well off students.

Socio-Economic Status & Academic Performance

Southridge’s experience shows that socio-economic status doesn’t have to negatively impact academic performance. The Gonski panel believes equity is the belief that students have the same underlying talents and abilities that allow them to succeed at school. This belief is central to their definition of equity. According to Caldwell (2008) and Spinks (2008), all children can learn and achieve at school if they are given the right conditions and support.

My belief is that success depends on whether the children have the right support and circumstances. This is not always tied to socio-economic status. However, there are often social welfare programs available in Australia. The high-achieving children of immigrants to Australia have been well represented over the decades. Their parents have had very little, if any, formal education (which is contrary to the Gonski Report p 114) while they worked long hours in menial or manual jobs with low wages. Although these families were always in low socio-economic status, the children were raised to believe that education is key to success. They also had the expectation from their parents that they would work hard and attend university. This was a given. The children were taught to respect their elders, to be grateful and to serve others. Many migrants supported their family back home even though they had very little.