Fail the education revolution, fail a generation
IT WAS promised as an education revolution that would secure Australia's place as the clever country for decades to come.
But piece by piece, that great Labor promise appears to be unravelling. In recent days there have been increasing doubts about the future of the Gonski reforms to education, as budgetary pressures bite and states begin to waver on their obligations and control under the proposed overhaul.
Australia's chief scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, has questioned the quality of the research being funded in Australia and suggested that we have an overinflated view of ourselves as punching above our weight when we are not.
The state-federal bickering is nothing new - just another chapter in the never-ending debate about which level of government should control important services such as education and health - but the latest stoush appears to be risking a once-in-a-generation opportunity to overhaul the education system. Such reform is too important to be let fall victim to a political power struggle.
The Gonski report has been widely hailed as a ground-breaking piece of work, but it comes with an enormous price tag - billions of dollars - while the mining tax that was supposed to pay for it is failing to deliver.
The Prime Minister's challenge is to find a way to fund Gonski's recommendations while ensuring money is not wasted and navigating the power struggle with the states. While the government seems determined to push on regardless, and Julia Gillard has all but staked her legacy on her former education portfolio, there are great risks that need to be guarded against.
The ''Building the Education Revolution'' school halls' program delivered much needed upgrades to hundreds of schools around the country, but it also highlighted the inefficiencies of centralising the control of funding too closely. An analysis found that the non-government school systems that were given direct responsibility for spending their share got much greater value than those in the government sector. This is a lesson that needs to be heeded before another cash splash.
With some of our leading universities slipping down the world rankings lists, a growing threat from surging education sectors in China and other Asian countries, and few other highlights in our mining-dependent economy, there is a lot at stake.
Get the education revolution right and Australia could be setting itself up not only as a clever country with new smart industries but as an exporter of some of the best education services in the world.
Get it wrong, and the ramifications will be felt for decades to come.