William McKeith, Principal of Presbyterian Ladies’ College (such a quaint name!), Sydney, at Croydon, has this to say in today’s Herald:
…For some unaccountable reason, preschool study is deemed to be more important than the sciences and the understanding of the cultural world around us gained through familiarity with a foreign language. At least that must be what our politicians are hearing. Funding and supporting foreign language study, as well as Asian and Middle Eastern studies, will be like the study of religions in school: ignored by politicians in these elections. The divisions in society are those surrounding differences in faith practice.
It is all very well to tell our young people about the values that supposedly bind us as one, but what about the values of those on our borders or those who are coming to our country from abroad?
This is a time when we should be learning about those values that bind us as global citizens, and addressing and eradicating extremism in our schools, whatever the religious or cultural foundations. Just as NSW public policy confronted the rise of Christian extremism in schools of the Accelerated Christian Schools’ movement in the 1980s, so we should be getting in among what appears to be a new wave of schools that represent small and extreme interest groups. And we should be developing courses in comparative religion, teaching understanding and knowledge of what it means to be a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, an atheist. This doesn’t just happen. It requires government support.
At the chalkface, there is an urgent need for more government funding and a greater public recognition of the importance of children. Teachers and children deserve a better deal. Politicians pick at and demoralise the education profession. It is most evident in the tertiary sector, but primary and secondary schools do not escape free of insult.
Our children have great needs, some more so than others. Politicians need to identify the big problems, not necessarily those that draw the most media grabs. Elections are times of opportunity and we should do what we can to influence politicians to give leadership in the big issues that will affect our children’s futures.