Educational reform, with the intention of building strong educational opportunities for all children of a nation, is something that all voters can support. Whatever reform is proposed, it is always backed by a plan for significant funding in order to signify the seriousness and importance the politicians are giving to the policy.

The thing is, funding won’t even come close to improving education. Yes, we definitely agree that all students should have access to the resources they need and a comfortable educational environment. Funding is needed to bring equity to physical school environments. But to what extent will that really improve educational quality?

Here in Australia, under the Gonski reforms, funding will be used to try and bring balance and equity to all students in all schools. There are many reasons why this seems highly unlikely to happen, but the main reason is that while funding can change environments, it cannot change culture.

Charlene and I have both taught in some of the best resourced high-fee paying secondary schools in Perth. Students and teachers alike want for nothing. If there was ever a new piece of educational software or hardware we wanted to try, we only needed to ask. Professional development was always strongly encouraged and budgets to pay for seminars and trips were always generous. Our professional networks were wide and we were privileged to work with some of the best mathematics educators in the state. Yet we still encountered many students lacking confidence and competence in mathematics. The parents of the children we taught also often felt frustrated and ill-equipped to support their children’s learning and many found it difficult to understand why the high fees they were paying were not resulting in the individualised resources and solutions they were expecting.

Many parents when choosing a private secondary school, and especially a high-fee paying private school, believe they are investing in a unique educational culture of high expectations and academic excellence. This is true relatively speaking. To attract families, private schools obviously need a positive image and need to offer an educational edge. And while many of these schools do offer a greater academic focus than their public counterparts, the differences in academic emphasis that students encounter on a daily basis within their own school is wide ranging, no matter which school.

Some classes have expert teachers, interested and devoted to developing potential, focus, drive and success. Other classes have teachers who are content to ensure the students are happy rather than challenged, and that life is easy rather than hard work and rewarding. This is widespread between different subjects and within subject departments. This is true even in the very best schools in the nation.

So while parents might believe that they are investing in an exemplary environment and a unique culture, in reality their child is no doubt experiencing many mixed messages and various expectations as they attend their different classes.

The clear answer is to provide children with a solid and consistent educational message and environment. Since it is not useful to expect this from a school, it is essential that this occurs at home.

What sort of educational experience do you want your children to have?

We suggest it should be challenging yet empowering.

It should have a strong focus on skills and many opportunities for exploration.

Its aim should be to develop life-long resourcefulness to enable learning anything, and yet testing should occur regularly to help determine progress.

It should meet students where they are, all the while driving them forward and leading them towards their potential.

It should allow for individual interest but be guided by educational expertise in curriculum design.

Each of these must be developed by you as parents. The educational culture that you want for your children must be firmly established well before school begins, and must be the firm foundation that supports your child through the contradictory and mixed experiences at school. Your child must see themselves as an independent learner who has a strong sense of why they go to school each day. They need to feel secure in the knowledge that you will support, encourage and assist them.

Mark Latham wrote this year that one of the reasons Australia falls so far behind its Asian counterparts in international testing is because as Australians we don’t construct the sort of educational culture prevalent in Asian households. It certainly cannot be argued that Asian schools are better resourced and funded than Australian schools, and so his point of view makes a lot of sense. As he states:

“Asian parents are highly devoted to the education of their children: assisting with homework, organising extra tuition, forever encouraging excellence.”

Hand in hand with what happens in the home, in most Asian cultures parents are in a respectful partnership with their children’s teachers, treating teachers as noble members of society.

Whether you agree with the Asian approach to education or not, it cannot be denied that throughout the world, parents are the common denominator. Where parents are engaged and involved, the educational outcomes are positive and successful.

There’s no need to focus your energies on finding the perfect school or saving enough money for the very best school in your city. What matters so much more is that you invest this time and energy into the educational environment you develop and promote at home.

Begin with ensuring you are an asset and a resource to your children, confident and competent to help them with their education and to work with them in partnership. Be informed about their curriculum, monitor and modify their homework,  and work with them on improving their skills and understanding. It is the most important and rewarding work you can do.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on educational funding and what you think will make the most difference in improving our educational culture.

Photo credit: Shanghai Daddy / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND