Graham Bury, Mayor, Kingborough Council
Nothing is more important than education to our local communities’ health, economic competitiveness and resilience. Education is the most powerful, the most effective and in fact the only way to reverse a cycle of poor health, poverty, underemployment and disadvantage into an upward spiral of hope, jobs and achievement, for individuals, for communities, and indeed and for the State as a whole.
I will not dwell on figures save to point out that our unemployment rate in Tasmania is 8.5 (Australia 5.8) and the life expectancy of an infant born in Tasmania today is 2 years less than if born on the mainland of Australia. And adults who have completed their education, are half as likely to be obese and 16% less likely to smoke, regardless of their age, their sex and their income levels.
The jobs forum held last year, well intentioned though it was, seems to have ignored education as a key element in having a work force ready and capable for a modern economy.
Communities that have transformed themselves from one of under employment and poor health have done so through one avenue, that of education. Yes, education is considered to be a state and federal responsibility. But how would it be if we as individuals and communities took an active interest in what is happening in the schools around us?
Ample evidence exists to point out that children do better at school when parents take an active interest. So why should not Local government and in fact local communities take an interest and for this to pay off as well? According to Geoff Masters, the head of the Australian Council for Educational Research, ‘effective schools have a number of characteristics, one of which is a high level of parent and community involvement. The school is seen as an important part of the local community’.
Do you know what the NAPLAN scores are at your local primary school or what proportion of children leaving your local high school enrol in a formal training programme or go on to complete year 12? I don’t, but I am certainly going to find out. And is there any good reason why educational outcomes in Tasmania should not be at least the equal of the best in Australia?
This is where Local government can, I believe contribute. And yes we have plenty to do in meeting our more traditional responsibilities without putting our hands up for more. Let’s go back to the traditional role of local government, to check where I see education fitting in. Supporting economic development has long been accepted as one of Local Government’s key roles. Education is one of the key determinants of economic competitiveness, a driver of future success and sustainable growth right up there alongside infrastructure, essential services, market size and natural resources.
The message here is loud and clear: if we don’t ensure much better educational outcomes in our communities we undermine our capacity to grow, develop and compete economically.
It is recognized that good educational outcomes, from the earliest years onwards, are crucial to communities being healthy, capable, innovative and resilient. So education is about much more than preparing for work. But many Tasmanians still think of school as ending at Year 10 with the next two years mistakenly seen as optional, for those “academically” inclined. Recent Tasmanian Qualifications Authority data shows that just over a half (54%) of our Year 10 students progress to Year 12, with the greatest loss (about a third) occurring between Years 10 and 11. These figures vary across our regions in predictable patterns relating to distance from cities and the levels of economic disadvantage.
There is a commonly expressed view that many Tasmanians accept educational under-achievement as the norm. Whether this is fair and accurate is unclear to me but its confident repetition can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, with whole communities missing out on the benefits of senior secondary schooling. These attitudes and assumptions are a problem when we are about to receive funding through the Gonski reforms that for the first time, follow the student. In other words, where the need is greatest, be this socioeconomic or learning difficulties, that is where additional funding will be provided.
We must ensure that this increased investment makes a difference where the need for change is greatest. So instead of leaving it all to the Education department and the individual schools, who can’t do this on their own, we need to be collaborating with local schools as they set their and our community targets for the education of the young (and not so young) in our own areas.
I believe that Local Government, our Councils and leaders can make a game changing difference. And just as importantly, in each and every one of our local communities, we must challenge negative conversations about the value of education, instead talking it up and walking the talk whenever and wherever possible. By taking a keen interest in the new educational possibilities for our young people, and for those who missed out earlier in their lives, local government can have a profound, long lasting impact on the health, safety, welfare and creativity of our communities – and boost our economic development.
Education is a priority for both state and federal governments; partly because of the kind of research referred to above, and partly because of concern that Australia as a whole – not just us! – is failing to keep pace with educational investment and achievements in other countries, most especially in our own region.If local government gets on board too, in all of our communities, Tasmanians will gain the skills and confidence to realize the full potential of this extraordinary island. Tasmania – Nowhere Better!
A LITTLE MORE DATA
- International research by the OECD shows that early school leaving (defined as leaving before completing Year 12) leads to a greater risk of poverty and likelihood of welfare dependency, poorer health as well as severe difficulties in entering and remaining in the labor force, together with lower wages.
- In Tasmania 60% of our working age population are early school leavers by the OECD and Regional Australia Institute definition, and almost exactly the same proportion of us have at least one key health risk factor: smoking, (we have the highest rates), obesity or type 2 Diabetes.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics data indicates that Year 12 or a Certificate II (or above) is the entry level qualification for 86% of the jobs available in Australia, whereas currently 62% of Tasmania’s working age population do not meet this basic requirement.
- Survival for males in Tasmania is 77.9 years (Australia 79.7) Women live about 4 years longer but the proportions are the same.
Note: This the full text of an article with this title published in The Sunday Mercury in November 2013