Commercial influence concerns NSW teachers - Education Matters Magazine
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Commercial influence concerns NSW teachers

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Teachers are becoming increasingly concerned by the growing influence of private companies in public education, a survey by the NSW teacher’s union has found.

Education technology companies are benefitting financially from developing standards and data infrastructure in schools, according to the Commercialisation in Public Schooling (CIPS) study, launched on day three of Federation Annual Conference.

Teachers and school leaders are concerned about this increasing “creep” of commercialism into public schooling, a university survey conducted as part of CIPS shows.

“Significant amounts of commercial activity” are already taking place in public schools in Australia, said Dr Greg Thompson, who is Associate Professor of Education Research at the Queensland University of Technology and one of the co-authors of the report. The survey involved 2,193 teachers and school leaders across Australia, with 51 per cent located in NSW.

Around 74 per cent of those surveyed saw the ethics of having student data in commercial hands as a major concern and 72 per cent were also highly concerned at the way public schools are being run as a business.

For nearly half of those surveyed (45 per cent) the most significant concern was business dictating education policy, and 36 per cent were also highly concerned at teacher activities being outsourced. Fifty-seven per cent were also highly concerned about the lack of departmental support.

School principals are also particularly concerned about having to pay for services that were traditionally supplied by the Department of Education, Dr Thompson says. While some respondents saw some benefits to public-private partnerships.

“There’s a really strong sense that commercialisation has no place in public schools,” he said.

“There’s also a real concern I think among participants that Australia seems to be learning the wrong lessons from the UK and the US and bringing those into our schools. As well, one of the really significant things is that people are concerned that public schools will go the way of TAFE.”

Commercial activity is already advanced and currently, Australian schooling now has the most developed national data infrastructure in the world, due to standardisation rollout, the study says. The development of open standards has helped an alliance of corporate interests to grow the value of the overall data “pie” in order to grow the value of their market segment.

A case study presented to conference confirms that commercialism is entering schools through the standardisation of software and data set products under the National Schools Interoperability Program (NSIP), where some policy standards are being developed by the private education technology sector. NSIP is a joint initiative of State, Territory and Federal Ministers for Education.

Queensland academic Professor Bob Lingard, of the School of Education at the University of Queensland, told the conference there are big questions to deal with in this area such as how this trend may change work practices for teachers and learning for children.

“There’s a lot to think about here and there’s a lot going on under the radar which is escaping scrutiny.” NSIP is “quite unknown in the teaching profession and we need to think about it a lot more”.

“The forums that have been established to advance the agenda of standardisation enable commercial actors to shape the demands of users, which in this case are often governments and may further contribute to growing demand for generic products,” the study warns.

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