Parents and staff question funding priorities at Hunter schools and TAFEs

Telstra is advertising heavily in schools.
Telstra is advertising heavily in schools.

NOBODY pretends that this state’s public education system is perfect.

But there is something seriously wrong with government funding commitments and philosophies when Hunter TAFE teachers are battling to get a decent supply of toilet paper, and when the Department of Education thinks it is morally acceptable to allow Telstra to run its promotions in our schools on the basis that the giant telco will hand over a few thousand dollars worth of prizes as a “fair exchange” for access to a market of youngsters lining up for their first mobile phones.

To the TAFE issue first. Unfortunately for the health of vocational education in NSW, the Coalition government’s “Smart and Skilled” policy has been a decided failure. Opening TAFE to competition was supposed to strengthen the sector. Instead, vocational education was swamped by fly-by-night operators who gamed the system and disappeared with the profits. Underfunded TAFEs have been left to pick up the pieces. A broken lift at Belmont TAFE is not by itself proof of a crisis, but taking “the [next] couple of months or so” to repair it – to use the words of TAFE’s regional manager – is less than encouraging.

The Telstra promotion pitting school against school in a “digital futures” competition is more problematic. In exchange for about $10,000 worth of digital technology, Telstra is able to promote itself widely through competing schools in each round. Search online for Telstra and “Maker Party In a Box” – the name of one of the prizes – and you will see how much media coverage, on top of the advertising, the telco has received for its efforts.

It’s a substantial amount. It may be, in many cases, that the schools could use the extra IT equipment being offered as prize money. And it may be – despite the widespread advertising that goes with the competition – that the digitally savvy youngsters and their parents who are the targets of this advertising are aware enough to avoid its blandishments.

The point is, though, that Telstra and other corporates should not be inside the school gates in the first place. Nor should school funding be so tight that parents are required to contribute to “building funds”, as is evidently the case at Newcastle East.

And nor should TAFE teachers have to battle for basics, such as toilet paper.

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