Carmen Lawrence


Public Education Day

This week is an opportunity to celebrate the strengths of our public schools and commend the many who make it possible – the teachers, support staff and administrators - and to remind ourselves of why quality public education is so important to our national and personal wellbeing.

In particular, I am reminded of John Ralston Saul’s observation that it is the “single most important element in the maintenance of a democratic system. The better the citizenry as a whole are educated, the wider and more sensible public participation, debate and social mobility will be.”

Vital too is the role of public education in reducing inequality. The recent public exposure of significant inequalities in access to the basic resources necessary for home schooling – no revelation to our teachers – should underline how critical public schools are in providing opportunities for Australia’s less privileged children. Universal provision of quality education is key to reducing inequality and enhancing people’s opportunities. Public schools can be the great equalizers, but only if they are properly resourced. It is time for governments to renew their commitment to reducing the gaps- in retention, access, performance and subject choice.

Our public schools are central too to maintaining social, cultural and religious tolerance – but they should not be left alone in carrying this responsibility. Reducing school segregation would bring children of different backgrounds together so they experience first hand the lives of others and learn to like and respect them, not matter what their background.

Dr Carmen Lawrence, Australian Academic and former Premier of Western Australia