Alan Reid for Public Education Day 2020
Public education has been central to the fight against Covid-19 in 2020. From the outset, and even as the health strategy changed as circumstances changed, public school educators acted in the same spirit in which public schools were established – in the public interest and for the common good. In so doing, they demonstrated the key values and characteristics that are the essence of public education, such as universality, equity and community.
Thus, public schools remained open throughout the crisis, educating children whose parents could not teach them at home; public educators bore the significant extra work-load involved in teaching students at home and at school, working in partnership with parents; and public systems and schools ensured that the needs of children with educational disadvantage - the vast majority of whom are educated by the public system - were catered for.
For these and other reasons, Australia owes its public educators and public schools a significant debt. If the crisis tells us anything, it is that for too long public schools and the educators who work in them have not been sufficiently recognised for the key role they play in Australian society. As post-pandemic planning starts, this can and must change. New approaches should be based on at least two key principles.
The first principle is that well-resourced and inclusive public schools are the central educational provision in our society. They do not exist as an alternative to private schools. Once that principle is accepted, it is clear that the grossly inequitable funding arrangements which have short-changed public education for so long can no longer be tolerated.
The second principle is that from here on, the knowledge and professional expertise of public school educators - so profoundly relied upon during the crisis - must be used in the formulation of education policy.
Public education day in 2020 is a time not only to celebrate the importance of public schools to the health of Australian society, but also to thank public school educators for their selfless contributions during the Covid-19 crisis.
Professor Emeritus Alan Reid AM
University of South Australia.
18 May, 2020.