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OPINION: When it comes to schools, expensive does not equal excellence.

This week in the Daily Telegraph, Louise Roberts wrote an opinion piece: ‘Why I‘m not ashamed of sending my kids to private school.’ Within the piece she stated that: “We only have one chance to give our sons and daughters the best education we can source and afford.”

Roberts says, for her, this is why she decides to send her children to a private school.

And to an extent, I agree with Roberts – we do only have one chance to give our children the best education we can source and afford – and this is exactly why I send my daughter to a government school.

Because money doesn’t mean “the best.” 

Education is not, nor should it be, based around money. Education is greater than that – far greater. 

Viewing it this way is a fundamental cause of the multitude of issues within the Australian educational system today and makes this divide or battle between the “private school brats” and “ordinary kids” Roberts’ references, even wider and more “noxious.”

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As a public school educated woman myself, both at primary and secondary school levels, I received an ATAR of 90, I went to a top Melbourne University and academically I did well.

Some of my classmates have gone on to be doctors, engineers, teachers, nurses, paramedics, tradespeople, business owners and artists. 

They are doing what they are passionate about and they enjoy it.

Our secondary school wasn’t selective. It wasn’t considered the type of high school that people move suburbs or neighbourhoods to be a part of the zone for.

But inside the classrooms, there were young people who worked hard, tried hard, studied hard and there were teachers that were talented, supportive and who absolutely knew their stuff (and also some that didn’t – but you get that everywhere. It doesn’t matter how high the school fees are.)

Money did not make the students work hard, try hard and study hard. Money did not make the teachers talented, supportive and good at what they do.

But these are the components that allowed us to succeed academically. And more than that, it allowed us to succeed as people because ultimately that is what an education should be. And if some of these components were lacking (i.e. you got an ‘average’ teacher) you figured out another way (resourcefulness, I think it’s called.)

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As well as being educated at government schools, I have also taught within them. From my time doing this it is quite evident that motivated students and passionate teachers are undeniably the most effective combination that assist students to succeed. Not money.

Australia’s education system is undeniably and unfairly funded by both the Federal and State Government. Despite not having other external financial resources (like millionaire donors),  that both independent and private schools do, funding somehow disproportionally makes its way to the private and independent sectors while the government system, where the majority of our young people go, is financially underfunded. There is absolutely no debating this.

But what is debatable is the attitude that students who attend the higher-funded schools will receive a better education. 

Yes, money can buy a lot of resources, equipment, materials and facilities. This is completely accurate. It is also accurate to believe that these components can also assist many students in their learning, because absolutely,  having these things at their fingertips makes learning a lot more accessible and simple for them.

BUT, and as the capitals indicate, this is a BIG BUT – money is not everything. 

Money, resources or equipment do not guarantee your success.

Having an Olympic sized pool in your child’s school grounds doesn’t make them a better swimmer than the child training at the local pool. It doesn’t mean that because a student has a 3D printer in their art room they will make a better artist. That is up to the student.

While I agree with Roberts’ point that as a parent you have the absolute right to choose where you believe your child will receive the best education, I do not agree with the idea that if you pay for it, it will be better.

When it comes down to education at its core, more money does not equate better teachers, better curriculum or better outcomes. Ultimately, quality education and its success comes down to the student and that is far greater than the power of money.   

Shona Hendley Mother of Goats, Cats and Humans is a freelance writer from Victoria. An ex secondary school teacher, Shona has a strong interest in education. You can follow her on Instagram.

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