INDIGENOUS leader Noel Pearson has laid the blame for poor educational standards in Aboriginal Australia at the feet of ”ideology producers” in academia, ”ideology upholders” in the public service and the white middle-class left whose sympathy for the disadvantaged is hurting those they hope to help.
In a scorching Quarterly Essay to be published next week, the controversial lawyer and activist argues that the key to bridging the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous children is a ”no excuses” intolerance of underachievement, backed by a greater focus on numeracy and English literacy.
Mr Pearson, the director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, says that because teaching jobs in remote areas are regarded as hardship postings, such schools have to accept high staff turnover and a significant proportion of inexperienced teachers.
But Mr Pearson says that with the right approach to instruction – including the use of the phonics method to teach reading – even teachers ”of average aptitude” should be capable of high quality teaching.
”Teacher autonomy is not necessarily a good thing in itself (although educationalists and teachers’ organisations tend to assume it is),” Mr Pearson argues. ”The lower the expected aptitude, the more imperative is prescriptive instruction.”
”We will take what we can get in the charisma and dynamism stakes. But we will need to ensure that we can succeed even with teachers of average academic aptitude.”
Mr Pearson says that in disadvantaged aboriginal populations as much classroom time as possible should be devoted to numeracy and English literacy in primary school. But he also argues for greater efforts to preserve aboriginal language and culture, including official recognition of aboriginal tongues as national languages.
He says young indigenous people should be able to ”walk in two worlds and enjoy the best of both.”
Mr Pearson is scathing in his criticism of ”progressive” ideas about education, criticising their emphasis on creative and critical thinking skills and self-esteem.
”That student esteem became the alibi for the agendas of educators is plain,” he writes. ”It is not the students’ self esteem that is insulated by resisting data-driven teaching, including testing, it is the educators’ accountability for poor outcomes, and what needs to be done about them.”
Mr Pearson argues that ”progressive thinking represents so much of the barrier to democratising educational advantage,” but says his anger is not directed at teachers.
”Frontline educators are highly sensitive to the needs of children, and if they can see how these needs can be better met, they will be attentive to them. The problem is the ideology producers in the academies, and the ideology upholders in educational bureaucracies.”