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Inside Teaching : August 2010
Editorial State of the nation Students in 10 New South Wales primary schools piloted a new ethics course last term. Former Premier Nathan Rees agreed last year to the trial as an alternative to religious scripture lessons. Designed by Associate Professor Philip Cam of the University of NSW, the pilot course was run by parents trained by the St James Ethics Centre with support from the Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Association of NSW. According to St James Ethics Centre Executive Director Simon Longstaff, between 50 and 80 per cent of students don’t attend scripture lessons. Students in the pilot addressed ethical issues like fairness, honesty, care, and rights and responsibilities. David Hill, writing in the National Times in July, praised the pilot as an alternative to watching videos, going to the library or picking up rubbish. Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen in February condemned the pilot as an attempt ‘to remove all traces of religion from public life.’ Catholic Cardinal George Pell said in May the pilot indicates a ‘general hostility towards religion.’ According to Bob Dumpling in the now- defunct satirical magazine New Matilda, ‘Giving our kids the option of thinking about ethics instead of picking up litter is a very slippery slope the NSW Department of Education has decided to throw itself down.’ Dr Sue Knight, a lecturer in philosophy for children in the School of Education at the University of South Australia, has been appointed to evaluate the pilot program. The Queensland Minister for Education and Training Geoff Wilson in July announced the establishment of an expert panel to provide independent advice to the state government on social and gender equity; research on early years and middle schooling; teacher education; curriculum and assessment; school leadership; poverty and educational disadvantage; school reform; and public sector education policy. John Smyth, the Secretary of the Tasmanian Department of Education and the man whose task it was to oversee the implementation of the state’s failed post-Year 10 ‘Tasmania Tomorrow’ reforms, has been seconded to the Commonwealth Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations as the interim Chief Executive Offcer of the new National Vocational Education and Training Regulator. Announcing the appointment in July, Commonwealth Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Simon Crean also announced Ian Hawke, Assistant Director- General for Tertiary and Non-State Education in the Queensland Department of Education and Training, would be the interim CEO of the new Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency. Australia votes for the next Commonwealth government a few days from now, with little to separate the education policies of the major parties. Education has played second fiddle to other policy areas in the lead up to the August election, notwithstanding the billions of dollars at stake in the sector. Consider projected schools funding of $12.6 billion by 2016; a forecast loss of $4.8 billion this year from international students in a higher education market worth $18 billion a year; and $16.4 billion spending on Building the Education Revolution (BER). Labor's strategy has been to ask the electorate to judge its record on education while the Coalition's has been to focus on rorting and a failure to achieve value for money in the BER. Both strategies are risky, since voters in some school communities feel they've been winners even if others feel they've been losers. How will they vote? We'll soon know.