In his keynote address at Annual Conference, Federation President Maurie Mulheron shone a light on neoliberalism’s powerful and insidious influence on public education.
“Neoliberalism is an invisible ideology that has an impact on schools in our daily lives,” he said.
The President drew attention to the proliferation of hugely influential think-tanks and foundations that are flag-bearers for the profits to be made from that ideology, specifically, the billions of dollars being made now from schooling.
“Why is education such easy prey? Because everyone has to send their children to schools. Schools are always there — it’s a gravy train for life,” Mr Mulheron said.
“We will never do well at NAPLAN because Pearson [the edu-business giant which runs the tests] will lose in selling a product as a solution.
Mr Mulheron focused on teacher qualifications as one redoubt in the battle against neo-liberals. Federation has always urged higher entry standards for teacher education at universities, enhanced qualifications and the importance of accreditation.
We’ve got to fight government attempts to downgrade teacher qualifications or remove the need for it entirely, he told members. This had already happened in VET, bringing learning in that sector into disrepute, and the government wants it to happen in prison education.
“There will be hundreds and hundreds of new players in tertiary education if the Liberal Party achieves its aim of deregulating the university sector, and they will reduce the time needed to train teachers properly and offer online courses without any face-to-face teaching.”
“We must protect our qualified status,” Mr Mulheron said. To have unqualified teachers will result in the suppression of teacher salaries.
Federation has commissioned a four-person team from the University of Queensland to study the reach of edu-business in Australia, and the President asked members to support this effort by participating in greater numbers in an information-gathering survey that will soon be re-launched after a poor pick-up rate the first time it was emailed out to members.
Mr Mulheron said the reason he had chosen to speak about neo-liberalism was because it was concern about its influence on public education that had informed the Gonski campaign. “This is a really profound campaign,” he said. “It’s not just about being able to pay for a literacy support teacher, it’s about workload, professional development, salaries – every single thing that comes out of recurrent funding.”
Mr Mulheron said one of the tenets of neoliberalism is that inequality is important because its proponents believe it motivates people to change and claim it as a generator of wealth, even a reward for those on the winning side of inequality.
The reality of neoliberalism, he said, is seen in effects such as the global financial crisis, the transfer of wealth overseas, the privatisation of public utilities ranging from banking to schooling and social alienation.
Neoliberalism is “private wealth, public squalor”, Mr Mulheron quoted the economist J.K. Galbraith as saying; an OECD report has found that the gap between the rich and the poor is at its highest in 30 years, the years of neoliberalism.