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  • Selected Responses to Editors’ Queries on Education
  • Robin Burns (bio), Grace Takaheebwa (bio), Robert Aspelagh (bio), Erica Frankenberg (bio), and Sylvère Farraudiere (bio)

Race/Ethnicity recently called upon keen observers of their respective national educational systems to offer insights on a number of issues regarding the present and future of those systems and the children they serve. [End Page 175]

Race/Ethnicity: Education is often understood to serve several official purposes, including intellectual development, preparation for citizenship, and vocational development. What ends does your education system, in fact, serve?

Robin Burns: In principle, all three functions mentioned in the question are important functions of the Australian education system. The recently defeated Conservative national government tried to emphasize citizenship, for example, by making educational grants dependent on a school flying the Australian flag. They also attempted to make the study of Australian history compulsory. However, education is mainly the responsibility of the governments of the Territories and States, and it is difficult to generalize across the country. Up to one-third of students attend private schools, which all receive grants for operations and buildings from the national government and are required to conform to certain standards, though no particular curriculum is imposed. During a nine-year Conservative period at the national level, there was constant concern that state school teachers, who are highly unionized, were “brainwashing” children on “leftist” issues such as multiculturalism, peace, and sexuality, and there was teacher resistance to the compulsory testing and ranking of pupils. The moderate Labour government is moving towards a more centralist approach to education, and a national curriculum in all major areas is currently under preparation. But given the long tradition of teacher and school independence within a guiding framework it remains to be seen how schools will react to the proposals. Impressionistically, it seems that Australian schools are especially concerned to transmit capitalist ideology and marketplace skills. The use of final school examinations (year 12) to determine entrance to universities and other post-compulsory education opportunities restricts learning especially in the final two years of secondary education. Many teachers oppose this, although no acceptable alternative for higher education selection has been formulated.

Grace Takaheebwa: The Ugandan educational system is progressively focused on both intellectual and skills development. This is done by revising the examination-targeted education system based in a British framework that churns out graduates who anticipate getting “white-collar” employment. Under the British system of education, there is limited focus on citizenry development. The focus is on reading to pass examinations with limited provision for quality extra-curricula engagements that target personal growth. Many students belong to institutions by virtue of registration—nothing identifies them with the systems beyond that. But Uganda’s progress in the education system deserves credit in that it helps impart necessary and relevant skills, producing trained human resources for the job market. The success of higher education is demonstrated by the large number of students from countries like Canada, Germany, [End Page 176] and the United States in Makerere University. Unfortunately, within higher education, there is limited vocational development because the education sector and the employment structure do not promote skills development, which in part explains the spiraling levels of graduate unemployment. However, a number of jobs have been created especially from vocational institutions.

Robert Aspelagh: Education in the Netherlands serves many purposes, including promoting citizenship, preparing youth for the work world, contributing to the economic and social prosperity of the country, and improving personal development. To this end a national curriculum has been developed that includes performance targets for each discipline. Although all schools in the Netherlands are financed by the state (some exceptions do exist), most schools are independent schools. These independent schools include Christian and Muslim schools, as well as so-called “neutral” special schools such as Montessori schools. These schools must follow the national curriculum and students are obliged to take the national exams. Also, schools have the right to establish somewhat distinct identities by choosing to offer subjects like religion.

Erica Frankenberg: The goals of the U.S. education system have been continually changing; today it is focused on ensuring that students have basic academic skills, which for some...


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