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Sun Herald Editorial - Why our education system is fraying at edges

[This is the text of the Sun-Herald – Our View (Editorial) of February 4 2007. The article commented on a number of education stories which appeared in Sun-Herald on that day. Specific comment is made in the article referring to opposition to the proposed St Andrew’s Redfern campus – REDWatch]

THE DYING days of January always mean one thing- back to school. Around the state, gleaming black shoes shuffle around train stations and neatly pressed pants settle onto bus seats.

But there is little fresh and exciting about our education system. Indeed its cracks and tears give us much to think about, especially the cash-strapped public system, which has begun fraying at the edges.

Today's Sun-Herald reports on several significant trends facing our education system. Armed police are being invited into high schools to advise principals, teachers and students on issues relating to schoolyard violence; public institutions, mainly primary schools, are being forced to turn away students, partially as a result of implementing a new, smaller class size policy; and a new report commissioned, though not necessarily endorsed, by the NSW Board of Studies is highly critical of the state's maths syllabus.

Individually, each of these issues is important; collectively they signal the size of the task faced by our educators.

No longer is it just the content of the syllabus and the style of teaching that educators must consider.

Instead they must scrutinise the physical environments in which children learn and the practical realities that they face, such as racism.

Meanwhile, new socio-political issues confronting the outside world are taking centre stage in our schools. Consider security and terrorism, for starters.

Schools must be places where children are shielded from harmful outside influences, yet provided with supportive open-minded environments where they can lean about the world. Even that basic principle seems high and mighty given that many classrooms still do not have proper cooling systems.

One of the few moves to reach out to strugglers in any meaningful way has come from the private sector. The Sun-Herald reported last year that Sydney's St Andrew's Cathedral School planned to set up an Aboriginal only campus in Redfern. Now, sadly, those plans are in jeopardy due to opposition from the Redfern community.

The private school had hoped to open the campus for the new school year, with individual children sponsored World Vision-style.

But after fiery community meetings, City of Sydney council has extended the development consultation period, delaying the school's opening. Already 10 of the 13 submissions received have opposed the plan.

What a sad indictment on our community when even the most well-intentioned are thwarted in their attempt to give everyone what they deserve -a decent education that will allow them to grow into valued members of society.

Perhaps it's time we all went back to school. We might just learn some valuable lessons about mixing well with others.

Responsibility for election comment in this issue is taken by Simon Dulhunty, 201 Sussex Street, Sydney, 2000.