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.

Phonics call

Jennifer Buckingham

14 August 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

ideas-image-150814-1Around this time last year, a review of the Australian curriculum commissioned by the federal government called for a revision of the primary school curriculum to place greater emphasis on literacy and numeracy, particularly in the early years. It found that the curriculum did not adequately cover the essential components of effective reading instruction, especially phonics. The results of national and international testing show the consequences of less-than-exemplary instruction-unacceptably high numbers of children failing to achieve even minimal literacy and numeracy standards.

At the time, the review’s recommendations were characterised as proposing a ‘back to basics‘ curriculum, but this view is not commensurable with a closer reading of the report. Far from proposing a hollowed-out, skills-based curriculum, a large part of the review report is devoted to the importance of content – the facts, concepts and ideas that embody what it means to be well-educated.

This week, it has been reported that the draft version of the revised curriculum contains more detail about the scope and sequence of the building blocks of written language – phonemic awareness and phonics. This is a welcome development. While schools often claim to teach phonics, the existing Australian curriculum gave the impression that this was a minor aspect of early literacy teaching.

Again, this has been described as a back-to-basics approach. Or even worse, as ‘drill and kill‘. Yet phonics instruction is far from basic – it is highly specific and scientific, and for many children, essential. Even the most ardent phonics advocate would not suggest that phonics is all children need to be good readers. They also need a good vocabulary and good general knowledge. First you need to be able to work out what the word is, then you need to understand what it means.

At this stage it is not clear exactly how other areas of the primary curriculum might have changed.  New ACARA chair Professor Steven Schwartz has said that the revised curriculum will allow schools more ‘creativity‘ in their teaching of subjects like history and geography. Ideally, that means that history, geography and social sciences are embedded in comprehensive literacy programs, and vice versa. Either way, it would be wrong to assume that phonics comes at the expense of knowledge.

We decide

Peter Kurti

14 August 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

ideas-image-150814-3The issue of marriage equality will now be put to the country at the next election, rather than a plebiscite before then. And this is exactly what should happen.

While there may be support – even strong support — from the people for same sex marriage, it is the people who should decide the issue; and they do not see it as an urgent one.

Polls show voters rank same sex marriage 13th in order of policy importance, well behind health, education, and economic growth. Clearly, there are more pressing issues on the public’s mind than the question of who people can or cannot wed.

It is right to put the decision in the hands of the voters.

This is very different from changing the rate of the GST. Changing marriage will change society. It requires the express consent of the society – the electorate.

Opponents and proponents of same sex marriage need to continue to make their respective cases without rancour or gratuitous abuse.

Acceptance or rejection of same sex marriage can’t be imposed by unelected judges or by politicians acting without a mandate. The people’s voice needs to be heard before any change is made.

This persuasion lies at the very heart of democracy. Progressives don’t believe in mandates because they don’t see the need for them.

It is not certain what will happen after the next election. But what is clear is that voters will know exactly what they have voted for. The people will have decided.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Patrick Carvalho

14 August 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

ideas-image-150814-2The Productivity Commission interim report on workplace relations falls short of the changes Australia desperately needs in the quest to achieve the politically feasible. Sadly, lack of political leadership will probably deliver us not even a set of hopeful incremental changes.

The good thing about the report is that it stands as the first serious opportunity to improve Australia’s workplace regulations since the introduction of Fair Work system in 2009.

In the 1,000-page draft document, there are some well-intentioned proposals to reduce business hiring costs (and therefore make job creation a less risky venture). For instance, the suggested replacement of the better off overall test for a new no-disadvantage test during the bargaining process is a welcome incremental change. Other excellent recommendations are the push for a more flexible work agreement called enterprise contract and the proposals to increase the accountability and governance of the Fair Work Commission. Additionally, the advocated penalty rate reform constitutes a good – albeit timid and constrained – start.

The bad news is that the report does not properly address the main hurdles in our workplace relations system, namely a byzantine Modern Awards system; the un-fair ‘Unfair Dismissal’ clause; a national minimum wage system that does not recognise disparate regional living costs and economic environments; the legal obligation to negotiate (the so-called ‘good faith’ bargaining requirement), which eliminates the fundamental freedom of contract; and the list goes on

ad nauseam.

On the ugly side, there is the widespread pusillanimity of politicians failing to defend and promote even the incremental changes sprinkled through the report. For one, the Opposition is hostage to the trade unions support in its caucus; whereas the Coalition is too self-obsessed with survival, avoiding the political costs associated with any resemblance to WorkChoices.

In the end, once again we as a nation risk missing the chance to take control of our own destiny by implementing productivity-enhancing structural reforms. Failing that, Australia can only rely on its luck to sail through the challenging days ahead.