This article appeared in the Tasmanian Times on 24th November 2014.
Last Friday I had the privilege of watching children from northern Tasmania’s public schools play at the annual Esk Band Extravaganza, and wondered how many more years I would be able to do so before the present government ‘comes after’ the program with its cost and opportunity cutting scythe.
During his compering on Friday night, Esk Band Director Peter Quigley was at pains to point out the benefits of the program, specifically its relevance to an education system now obsessed with numeracy. Has ever a word been co-opted in such a stultifying manner? That he should have to do so is an insult to his skills, and the creativity, confidence, accomplishments and capability the Esk Band generates in our young people. This program sets them uprichly for life, and is run by real, dedicated and knowledgeable educators, people who know how to take a child and form them into a successful, well rounded young adult whose talents and ability to integrate and succeed in society are fully realised.
Through the teaching of the Esk Band team and Launceston College, four students were accepted into the Australian National Youth Orchestra in 2012. This is an outstanding achievement in a state where such excellence should be treasured, and the people and institutions generating them fostered and nourished.
Despite the Esk Band concert, Friday was a depressing day for me. In my work as a writer, I interviewed a community leader in Avoca where the school will shortly be closed. When the school closes, the shop will close and that will be the end of that rural community. In Meander Valley the school, which this year achieved joint second NAPLAN results in the state, will also be closed, and another community will be scattered and dispersed.
I have witnessed the systematic dismantling of communities, industries, health and education systems once before, during the Thatcher years in England. There is no recovering from it. The health system in England continues crippled. The education system is characterised by cut throat competition for places and young people under extreme pressure. In some ways, those former mining towns in the north may have recovered after the coal industry was shut down, but in many ways they have not and those century old communities with all their social heritage and history are dead and gone. More broadly, the legacy of those years leaves an unbreachable north-south divide in England, and a sense of a ‘them and us’ society split between the haves and the have-nots.
When I look at the current program in Tasmania of closures and cost cutting, staff reduction, unwanted amalgamations, mooted closures of teaching programs, and schools increasingly cut to the bone, I see that our private school children will continue to engage with the Chinese President and enjoy all the privileges and advantage of wealth, and our public system school children will continue to have opportunities punitively grabbed away from them. I see an education system which takes away richness and creativity and replaces it with a system designed to satisfy bean counters who have no real investment or interest, who are not educators, and who appear to have zero social conscience about the two tiered system and society they spawn. I wonder how they sleep at night.
Over the next few days I will be contacting Keith Wenn, the Principal of Launceston College where the Esk Band program runs, and Peter Quigley the Director of the Program, to ask what I can do as a parent to prevent the Esk Band program or indeed Launceston College from falling to the sweeping scythes of the cost-cutters. I will be contacting the President of my School Association, and my School Principal, to ask that they write a formal letter to the Department of Education and the Minister, instructing them to reverse their decision.
If you are a parent of a child in the state school system, I suggest you look to your guns and do something. Your child’s rights and opportunities are at risk. As a teacher at my school put it, we must all be very careful how we vote. That includes you parents who educate your children at a private school – your vote affects my child as well as your own and I would like you to remember that.
Those in power are not infallible or all-seeing or all-knowing. They are our public service employees, elected and placed there to do the job we expect of them, and they are failing us and our children miserably, and they are set to continue doing so. For the sake of our children, we should stop them.
*Fiona Stocker is a freelance writer based in the West Tamar. Her two children attend Exeter Primary School.