Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies

Ideas@TheCentre

Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

Mandatory maths won’t STEM decline

Fiona Mueller

01 November 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

Even with 400 hours of secondary school mathematics under their belts, it seems that Year 10 students in New South Wales remain underprepared for the 21st century. One proposed remedy is to make mathematics compulsory from Kindergarten through to Year 12.

Prioritising mathematics was announced as part of the NSW Government’s promise to ‘take the curriculum back to the basics’ — apparently in response to the interim findings of the recent NSW Curriculum Review.

Unfortunately, with the Review’s author conceding that the main question is whether the proposed reforms are even heading in the right direction, the report epitomises the lack of clarity, vision and strategy in Australian education.

Weirdly, while chewing up a lot of taxpayer dollars, the NSW Review is being undertaken well before a planned review of the Australian Curriculum in 2020. So policy decisions will be made for students and teachers in one state that may turn out to be even less aligned to practices applying to students across the country than they are now.

Rather than starting with a post-mortem of how we got into the current mess, the NSW effort echoes other misguided reviews, showing a fixation on globalisation and technological threats and promoting yet more educational experiments.

Technology specialist and CEO of global marketing company Freelancer, Matt Barrie, recently referred to Australian education as a “basket case” that produces “avocado toast” graduates whose poor skills – especially in computer science and engineering – explain the national slump in productivity.

Any curriculum can set forward priorities. The NSW Government seems intent on bringing mathematics to the fore, but does this make STEM the holy grail?

Education systems that regularly outperform Australia do not expect their school leavers only to master STEM subjects. In Finland and Singapore, for example, there is also an intensive, sustained focus on languages and humanities subjects. Producing well-educated citizens who can contribute to the national good is a sophisticated undertaking.

Improvements do not come from the ad hoc compilation of ideas or from intermittently bolting subjects on to the curriculum.

A more constructive approach would be to identify policy mistakes that have let down many young Australians, but which have been cleverly avoided by high-performing school systems elsewhere.

This should include an honest analysis of what has worked, what has gone wrong and why, and what can be done – without fear or favour – to change things for the better for future generations.

Uluru spotlights prosperity question

Jacinta Nampijinpa Price

01 November 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

Progressives have been celebrating the closure of the Uluru climb as a triumph for Indigenous rights. The reality is such politicisation detracts from the deep spiritual significance of the closure for the current Traditional Owners. As Australians, we are not strangers to acts of politicisation; but ultimately all it contributes to is further divide and less understanding.

I shared the closing celebrations with those of my Anangu family through my connection with one of the many dreaming stories that come together to create Uluru itself. My connection comes through my great grandfather named after the ‘Mala Jukurrpa’ (Mala dreaming) which connects us Warlpiri to the Anangu. And many are right that we do not own the land but are deeply responsible for its spiritual maintenance — which was the main reason behind the closure of the climb.

The climb was a potential source of income that has been diminished or closed off now, according to some. There are those who suggested an alternative may have been that Parks & Wildlife in partnership with Traditional Owners could have established paid guided tours with safety equipment. This idea similar — much like the climbing of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge — would have provided a means of controlling climber numbers and better safety.

But the decision to close the climb was unanimously determined based on one of three pre-conditions being met: that once the percentage of Uluru visitors who intended to climb dropped below 20%. In fact, at the time the decision was made in November 2017, only 5% of visitors actually made the climb.

Will it impact economic development for the local community? My discussions with Yulara resort staff indicated that bookings for March-April 2020 remain around the same as for the same period in 2019. I was told the majority of the 250,000 visitors per year are there for a cultural experience.

If this is the case, the resort (owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation and Parks and Wildlife) has to invest in opportunities. Due to the township lease signed over to Traditional Owners, the Anangu are in a strong position to create economic development opportunities.

They must make the most of those opportunities in order to thrive if cultural tourism is now the main drawcard.  To avoid becoming another example of ‘culture’ holding the Indigenous community back economically, the Anangu must develop ongoing partnerships and collaborations with Parks, the resort and private enterprise.

Ultimately the supply chain for cultural tourism must be supported. This includes better educating Anangu children in both the modern world and for their families to have the strength to teach their culture in a healthy and fostering environment.

Fix super first

Simon Cowan

01 November 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

At the end of last month, the government announced yet another retirement incomes review. That we have had so many inquiries by so many different bodies in recent years indicates there are real issues that needs resolution.

Superannuation is a prime example.

There are good reasons why  the compulsory superannuation model should be completely overhauled. The system is set up to channel fees and income to super fund managers. It does not deliver for many participants.

For young people and low income earners, superannuation is a pretty poor deal in reality. The tax benefits are fairly minimal. The high fees are particularly damaging. Unnecessary insurance erodes balances quite quickly.

Even more importantly, forced retirement savings may be undermining the ability of young first home buyers saving for a deposit. Yet, making superannuation voluntary — however appealing this may be — is almost certainly beyond the scope of this review.

However, there are two reforms that would make a genuine improvement to the super system.

First, the minimum income at which super becomes compulsory could be increased. Currently, as soon as someone earns more than $450 a month, they must pay into super. This level has not increased in a number of years.

Increasing the minimum level at which contributions become compulsory, perhaps as high as the full time minimum wage, would be a good starting point in getting people who shouldn’t be in the system out of its clutches. At a minimum, you shouldn’t both be eligible for welfare and be forced to save.

Another thing that should be right at the top of the agenda should be halting the increase in the guarantee rate. There is no case to increase compulsory contributions to 12% of income, and many good reasons not to do so.

Most importantly, as that money is coming out of workers’ pockets, is that the country could probably do with keeping its wage rises.

Further, the government should address the growing gap between age pension eligibility age and the age at which you can access super.

Currently you can access super at age 55, while the pension age is already on its way to 67. From a public policy perspective, it makes little sense to incentivise retirement saving, only to allow someone to retire early on their savings, blow through the cash, and then go onto the pension.

This is an edited extract from an opinion piece published in the Canberra Times as To fix retirement incomes, let’s start with reining in superannuation.