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Nobel Prize winner Brian Schmidt calls for public school renaissance

Date

Ben Westcott

An Australian Nobel laureate says some parents are doing a 'disservice' to their children by sending them to private schools.

Professor Brian Schimdt talking at the National Press Club, Barton on Thursday night.

Professor Brian Schimdt talking at the National Press Club, Barton on Thursday night. Photo: Melissa Adams

Australian Nobel laureate professor Brian Schmidt has called for a public education renaissance in Australia, saying some parents are doing a 'disservice' to their children by sending them to private schools.

In a speech at the Australian Education Union's annual Public Education dinner on Wednesday night, Professor Schmidt said there needed to be a renewed focus on the government education system, including greater accountability for principals and proper use of NAPLAN testing.

He also said the Gillard government's Gonski reforms were important to ensure money was well directed in the public school system, which was essential to a healthy democracy. 

"I do believe the stakes are high the fundamental tenant of Australian democracy, that we all deserve a fair go is at risk of being eroded away along with our public school system," he said.

Professor Schmidt said there was no difference between private and public schools in terms of actual results, when socio-economic advantage was taken into account.

In fact, he said wealthy Australians who sent their children to private schools got essentially no advantage for their money.

"I'll say that my own teaching of kids at the Australian National University, kids from non-government schools have some different characteristics than kids from government schools but I see no evidence at the university level that they have an advantage," he said.

"Indeed sometimes that they are more poorly able to cope with university than their public school counterparts."

Speaking at the National Press Club, he said he was often told since he moved to Australia that he had done his children a disservice by sending them to public school.

But he said the benefits of going to school in a diverse socio-economic environment were enormous, speaking enthusiastically of his own public schooling in Alaska and Montana.

"I went to school that on the edge of a military base and 50 per cent of my cohorts came from very low socio-economic backgrounds and the other 50 per cent came from people like my father, very rich wealthy people," he said.

"That mix was a great thing that I would never, ever get rid of. I am so lucky that I had a school system which spent about $25,000 per student on public schools."

He said it was important to keep public schools competitive with the private sector, with 35 per cent of Australian children currently enrolled in non-government schools.

"We're beginning to form a two-tier system where we have the better off people sending their kids to private school and the less well off sending their kids to public school," he said.

6 comments

  • Thanks Brian, a voice of sanity in crazy times

    Commenter
    Matt
    Date and time
    May 23, 2014, 7:57AM
    • The government should encourage sending kids to boarding schools in Asia. No need to worry about funding for education and more bang for your buck.

      Commenter
      whatwasthat
      Date and time
      May 23, 2014, 9:12AM
      • Absolutely. A well-funded public education system with students from diverse backgrounds underpins an egalitarian and innovative society.

        Commenter
        Trish
        Location
        Saunders
        Date and time
        May 23, 2014, 9:37AM
        • I think we are going down the wrong path. We are still funding institutions ... the health and disability sectors are moving down a client centric path and we should do the same. Fund the student and give them choices. Industrial scale education is stuck in the past.

          I would rather see a system that gave each student (via an education voucher) a base level of funding, with a means tested bonus (say family income below $75k) and then special needs payments based on perhaps learning needs or particular talents. Then get schools to differentiate ... offer real choice.

          A number of years ago I sat in a class as a parent helper ..... I was amazed to see a small number of kids monopolising the teachers effort and the majority being left to their own devices (doing the tasks well and in time and by instruction). I was struck that these kids were subsidising the few. I wondered how many of these could have moved from solid to exceptional if they were given their fair share of effort. I also wondered of the few that were monopolising the effort could be taught in different ways to respond. I left with the realisation that industrial scale education is optimised for the average .... not the high needs nor the slightly above .... and there are very few average kids. National curriculum and standards reinforce mediocrity ... or "standardised" people - we don't care about those that are making the standard to strive for more .

          Commenter
          SpinSick
          Date and time
          May 23, 2014, 9:41AM
          • "Kids" Brian Schmidt? It's amazing how a professor can't think of a better term. Are their parents nanny goats?

            Commenter
            Sharron
            Location
            Canberra
            Date and time
            May 23, 2014, 9:45AM
            • Well said, Brian. Couldn't agree more.

              Commenter
              Correa
              Date and time
              May 23, 2014, 10:07AM
              Comments are now closed
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