This video, shared on Twitter this week, really struck a chord with me.
I saw it on the same day as our P&C Association (Parents and Citizens Association) were discussing ways to spend the incredible amount of money that they have been able to raise in fundraising for our school this year. Our community has been so generous in their fundraising that we can now afford to put air-conditioning in each of our classrooms. Originally this was planned to be rolled out over a number of years, but we’ve raised so much money that we can complete the work straight away.
It just feels so wrong to be discussing whether or not to buy air conditioning units, when some people don’t even have books in their schools.
And the awful thing is, here in prosperous Australia, with the 15th largest economy in the world, we have indigenous communities that live in third world conditions, much like some of the people in the video.
We are in a prosperous nation, but with an ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.
My school is fortunate. We are in an affluent part of Sydney where the community has the capacity to raise huge amounts of money that they invest in our school. They don’t just pay for air-conditioning units. Our P&C also pays for a full-time teacher to provide numeracy and literacy support and extension. They provide computers, interactive whiteboards, books, classroom resources, sporting equipment and landscaping.
I am grateful to them, and we rely on their funding for many of our great programs.
But I always feel slightly uncomfortable with it.
The generosity of our community serves to highlight the gross inequities in our system, and the appalling lack of funding for public education by our governments.
Education is a basic right, and the quality of one’s education should not be determined by an accident of birth. It is the responsibility of government to see that every child has access to a quality education, regardless their circumstances. That is why we have a public education system.
So why do the P&C have to pay for a reading support teacher and for air conditioning?
Because our government does not provide it.
And what happens to the schools where there just isn’t enough money to raise the kind of amounts that we see?
They miss out.
The underfunding of public education and our reliance on community fundraising causes an increasing divide between schools in communities with the capacity to raise funds, and schools in communities who have very little.
This is why the Gonski recommendations are so important, and why the NSW governments decision to cut public education funding by $1.7 billion sickens me.
Without adequate funding, our schools rely upon private, community contributions. And communities vary in their capacity to raise funds.
So much for a guarantee that the quality of education will not be determined by where you live, or how much money your community has.
As a society, we can do better than this. We just need to remember what public education is about.