Education, education, education. It worked OK for Tony Blair. Will it work for our own Labor leader, Kevin Rudd ?

“There is now incontrovertible evidence that education should be understood as an economic investment,” Rudd will say in a policy statement today.

“Australia has been insulated from this underlying deterioration in its economic performance in recent years,” it says.

The resources boom has masked the impact of slower productivity growth on employment and living standards but Australia will not be able to escape the consequences of falling productivity over the longer term.

“Our investment in human capital is essential for creating an innovative, productive workforce that can adapt to a rapidly changing world. We must embrace a new national vision – for Australia to become the most educated country, the most skilled economy and the best trained workforce.”

The statement says long-term under-investment in vocational education has contributed to the current skills crisis while universities have been among the hardest hit over the past decade.

Yet there’s more to education than this. Say the word and most voters think schools and universities – wild and wacky worlds.

The news is out today that the Carpenter Government in WA ditched its New Age teaching practices in a reversal that has stunned critics of Outcomes Based Education .

John Howard and his ministers spent plenty of time walloping the teaching unions in the lead up to the November 30 industrial day of action. Clearly something showed up in the polling. After all, teachers – particularly state school teachers – and education bureaucrats still dwell on the wilder shores of Marx. Labor education spokesman Stephen Smith has noticed this, too.

For Labor to have credibility on education, it needs to demonstrate that it will pull the states into line and tame their education ideologues.

The education sector is important, but it doesn’t need mollycoddling. Indeed, if Labor is serious about skills, it will need to look at how existing resources are allocated within in the sector.

It might be blasphemy to say it, but not everyone needs to go to university. Paul Keating was almost right when he deployed a good old Australianism and yelled “Get a job!” at a mob of student protesters back in 1995. What he should have said is “Get a skill”.

University courses in golf course management don’t fit that description. Instead, they drive up costs and waste money. As a social democratic party with its roots in the labour movement should well know.

Peter Fray

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