Saturday, February 19, 2005

Archival Rescue 4 ~ Book Burning

Inquiry no witch-hunt, says Nelson
By Kelly Burke, Education Reporter
February 18, 2005 Sydney Morning Herald

A national inquiry into teacher training sparked by the comments of a Sydney academic will examine whether education faculties in universities have become "quasi-sociology" departments.

The federal Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, announced the House of Representatives Standing Committee inquiry yesterday, but dismissed suggestions the move was an ideologically driven exercise in rooting out Labor-voting teachers.

Dr Nelson said the inquiry was about raising the status of the teaching profession.

"What I'm trying to do, perhaps in a sense using my former profession of medicine as some sort of template, is to bring the same kind of professionalism to teachers, because goodness knows they need it," he said.

The inquiry would, however, examine "in particular the people that are being attracted to teaching", along with a careful examination of the philosophical underpinnings of teacher training.

"In too many instances I've had teacher-education faculties described to me as quasi-sociology departments," Dr Nelson said. "We've had some, obviously anecdotal, evidence ... [but] there is no doubt in my mind that there is a problem in terms of standards, scientific and academic rigour and indeed the resourcing of education faculties."

Dr Nelson flagged the inquiry on Monday after being questioned over an article published in a teachers' trade journal last year by University of Western Sydney academic Wayne Sawyer. In the article, Professor Sawyer, who is also president of the NSW English Teachers Association, questioned whether English teachers were equipping students with critical thinking skills, given that young people had helped return the Coalition Government to power at last year's election.

The Opposition education spokeswoman, Jenny Macklin, yesterday described the inquiry as an outrageous diversion of desperately needed funding.

As one of three inquiries called by the minister in the past two years, the latest was one inquiry too many, she said.

"Brendan Nelson is yet to demonstrate that he will listen to the advice any of his welter of inquiries provide," she said.

A national inquiry into literacy was set up by Dr Nelson in December, and is still accepting public submissions. He said yesterday the new inquiry would complement the existing literacy inquiry, which is expected to report its findings towards the end of the year.

But the Opposition called on the Federal Government to instead guarantee the $100 million recently promised for teacher training would be spent on students and not rolled into universities' general grants.

Dr Nelson said the inquiry's terms of reference included following the money trails from university bank accounts to education faculties.

The chief executive officer of the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, John Mullarvey, said the committee did not foresee any problems with an inquiry.

But the senior vice-president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Angelo Gavrielatos, called on the Government to rectify a funding model that delivers 73.7 per cent of federal recurrent funding to private schools, which educate 32 per cent of students.

The inquiry is expected to take 18 months.


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