Monday 2 February 2009

What drugs is our government consuming?

The NSW government decided to ruin what was left of the state school system last week by announcing that kids would have to stay "in school" until they are 17.

I know that sounds like a wonderful "skills building" exercise, but to me, it looks like an almighty sellout to the Teacher's Union.

To start with, the announcement was totally uncosted. I have been unable to find a press release anywhere that mentions a single dollar figure. The NSW budget is already buggered. The school system is a mess, and now they want to inflict on it a costly disaster of Godzilla proportions.

Something like 30-40% of kids drop out in year 10. No, bugger an estimate. Here are the actual enrolments from the Education Department for 2007:

State schools

Year 10 - 52,411
Year 11 - 43,699
Year 12 - 36,141
31% drop out by year 12.

Aboriginal kids

Year 10 - 2,293
Year 11 - 1,274
Year 12 - 833
64% drop out by year 12

Private schools

Year 10 - 32,141
Year 11 - 27,815
Year 12 - 25,572
20% drop out by year 12

If we ignore the different drop out rates for a moment, consider how many extra kids are going to be taught in years 11 and 12. There will be an extra 14,000 year 11's and an extra 22,000 year 12's, or an extra 36,000 kids in the system all up - private and state.

This should do wonders for unemployed teachers - assuming schools want a ratio of 1 teacher to 20 kids, that means an extra 1800 teachers will be required, plus the usual army of non-teaching assistants and admin staff. Assuming an average salary of $60,000, and not including on-costs, the education system needs to find another $108 million per year just for salaries. Then there is the cost of all those extra classrooms (can't teach them under a tree all year), extra school bus costs (got to get them to school somehow) and all the other malarkey. Given that we know it costs something like $7,000 per year to educate a high school student, that puts the extra annual cost up around a quarter of a billion dollars - and that ignores the capital works to build extra classrooms etc.


Do we really expect to get better educated kids for all the money? Will we accrue $250 million worth of benefits every year?

I doubt it very much.

Let's divide people into talented and useless, and hard working and lazy. You can be one of four types:

  • talented and hard working - the high performers
  • talented and lazy - poets
  • useless and hard working - a potentially dangerous group
  • useless and lazy - the dregs
Everyone fits somewhere along these two axes. I have known two extremely smart and hard working people - both won a University Medal, both studied hard sciences and they are the two biggest brainiacs I have ever met. I went to school with one and uni with the other. I am in awe of both of them - for their unbelievable brains and their fearsome work ethics. Most of the people I choose to associate with are pretty smart (in one way or another) and work their arses off. They don't need to have brains the size of a planet like JC and the Rock Lobster, but they need to have enough smarts to carry on an interesting conversation and to have the gumption to be working hard at something - I don't care what. Anything. I'm just not that fond of lazy people. Don't just sit on your arse I say - go do something.

That aside, this group do well at school, they enjoy school, and teachers tend to enjoy teaching them (unless they are the type that get annoyed at being shown up by a kid 92 times smarter than they). When the Rock Lobster did his PhD in some obscure branch of astro-something-or-other, there was no one qualified in Australia to mark his dissertation. You need an IQ of about 150 just to understand how smart he is.

I also know a poet (of a sort). A bloke who has spent years working his way through all the classic works of philosophy and literature, and who is easily one of the most erudite and witty people to have over for dinner. If you can get him out of bed. He is prone to being utterly bone idle. I love him, but he shits me at times. A brilliant waste of God-given talent.

Again, I am sure this lot are not that hard to teach - if they bother getting out of bed and going to school. The poet could be the sort of annoying prat that, when asked by a teacher if he had read any Shakespeare, would reply by speaking half a play from memory, and then asking if the class wanted to hear any other of the Bard's plays.

Then we have the hard working thickos. At school, these were the farmer's kids - brought up to be immensely hard working from dawn to dusk, but not much smarter than the average sheep. They somehow battled their way through to year 12, scraping passes in all subjects, and then retired for several years of drinking and ute rolling at an Agricultural College. They're quite happy to spend all day up to their armpit in a cow's bum, but at the end of the day, can't count how many cows they probed that day. They're the type that used to be sent down a coal mine at age 12, where they did an excellent job of whacking coal with picks for 12 hours a day. Solid, dependable types. Funnily enough, a lot of them ended up being stockbrokers or real estate agents.

There is a place in school for these people. Maybe not in an English Lit. class, but certainly in the more practically minded courses.

And then there are the stupid and lazy. The dregs. The grogans. The bumwipes. They have a talent for shoplifting, manufacturing bongs from anything that can hold water, stealing cars and telling lies. They're not interested in learning anything. They're waiting for the day they qualify for the Dole, and from that point on, they are going to embark on a career in waster leisure activities.

These are the sort of people that drop out of school at the end of year 10. These are the people that the government wants to retain for another 2 years at our expense (yes, ultimately the taxpayer has to pay for every stupid government decision - there is no magic pudding that creates government funds).

There are some very gifted and talented and caring teachers out there that can reach these creatures, and get them to take an interest in doing more than impregnating 16 year old girls with blond streaks and facial piercings. Maybe 1 in 1,000 teachers can do it.

We need 1,800 teachers. Given a ratio of 1 in 1000 really talented ones, we are going to get 1.8 outstanding teachers who will really make a difference to these kids lives. Let's call it 2 teachers.

Great. We are going to force 36,000 useless bags of shit to remain in school, and 40 of them might get something out of it. $250 million dollars a year down the toilet for 40 drones to be saved. I am so far gone, I can't even work out how much that is per drone. Let's call it $6 million dollars each.

They'll be the Six Million Dollar Men and Women. Except they won't be able to run fast or lift things with a du-du-du-du sound effect.

At least the Teacher's Union will get another 1800 dues-paying members. You have to remember that there is upside for some.

PS - fascinating to note that the group with the lowest drop out rate is the English not spoken at home crowd. It looks like the number of Chinese kids that drop out in year 10 would all be able to sit in a rather small wok.


1735099 said...

The issue is not raising the leaving age - it's what happens to these kids when they return to school.
The current model of schooling is about twenty years out of date.
We need a model which integrates these students into the community. They don't have to go to a place called a "school" to learn.
There is a notion called "Schools at the Centre" where from 9 to 5, students work in a wide range of community based settings under the guidance of people who are both teachers and workers in skilled or semi-skilled trades. Managed well, it works, and produces young people with skills and a work ethic. It's also not expensive because it uses existing infrastructure.

An Irritating Truth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
An Irritating Truth said...

I took a look at the statistics in the enrollment figures,
for state schools:
The listed enrollment number for year 11 students is 43 352 for and 35 490 year 12 students.

How did you get the figures of 43,699 and 36,141 respectively?

Also, where are you getting the extra 22 000 year 12 students from?

Is that figure assuming all of the kids that are being forced to stay in school go on to year 12?

The statistics record the percentage of children that drop out by year 12 (but that also takes into account all of the children that have dropped out since year 10. It's not an additional number).

Boy on a bike said...

I got the stats from this DET report:

page 8.

The DET site contains an avalanche of stats. Making sense of them can be a problem. I sometimes have to take a number from one report and add it to a number from another report. They could learn a thing or two from the ABS about presenting stats in an easy to use format.

The way I got my numbers was like this:

Here are the year 10, 11 and 12 stats from 2007 for state schools:


(notice how they are accurate to one decimal point!)

I figured that if the kids in year 10 last year were told that they had to attend school for another two years, then in 2008, the number of year 11s would be 52,411 - not 43,699.1. In 2009, the number of year 12s would be 52411, not 36141.

I added up the differences for both years and got 22,000 extra kids.

Of course not all kids will see year 12 out to the end. If someone really doesn't want to be at school, and they turn 17 in Feb, they might only attend school for 2 or 3 weeks - an utter waste of everyones time. But they will show up in the stats, and the department will build more classrooms based on them being at school, even if only for a week.

I forgot to include all the extra desks, chairs, computers and textbooks that will be required.

An Irritating Truth said...

You make a good point, however the initiative is only to take affect from 2010 which means last years year 10 students would already have graduated.

I turned 16 in year 10. Which means that I wouldn't have had to stay a full term of year 11, had this initiative been enacted whilst I was still at school.

Sure there were a handful of kids 9 months to a year younger (making their HSC year more difficult than the ones legally buying booze) lol.

But what I'm saying is that the proportion of year 12 students would be significantly reduced simply because most students turn 17 in year 11 - it kind of renders the extra 52 411 invalid.

That and we simply don't know how many kids (who would otherwise be leaving school early) are going to advance to year 12 as a result of this initiative.

The fact that there are so many reports with conflicting information goes to show how incapable our state government actually is - putting together a plan to save the education system with money we don't have based on information that isn't current, and isn't necessarily correct.

An Irritating Truth said...

Also, I got my data from the statistics based on the age grade distribution of students in state schools, as I thought it would be more relevant given the discussion is about school leaving age.

see page 13.