A farewell note from Melanie Morrison: 

March 17. 2020

Over the past three and a half years as Communications Manager at the Public Education Foundation I’ve spent a great deal of time, too much perhaps, on social media. As a proud product of public education, I feel compelled to back a system that provided me with a good education and solid values. A system that makes a difference to every child, regardless of social or economic background.

All too often I scroll through social media posts and despair at the constant criticisms made by commentators on public schools and attacks on what the public system stands for. I despair when the chair of the NSW Parliament’s Education Committee feels the need to criticise teachers for developing successful well-being programs and then go on to cynically attack the Secretary of the NSW Department of Education.

I despair at the fact that Sydney’s wealthiest private schools have more than $1 billion worth of building projects in the pipeline in an arms race for prestige.  And that Australia’s four richest schools spent more on new facilities and renovations than the poorest 1,800 schools combined. I despair when I read about recent revelations that the government’s $1.2 billion ‘choice and affordability fund’ enable private schools to squirrel public money for their own investment returns.

These are stark reminders of the inequities in our education system. The shovelling of funds into private schools is not only grossly unfair but detrimental to Australia’s success as a nation.

But social media posts can be heartening too. The posts that remind us of the many wonderful things happening in our public schools. The newly arrived refugees who beat the odds as they head off to study medicine at university or make it into Australia’s premier film and television school, driven by a passion to tell their own stories. The schools that are closing the gap with Australia’s Indigenous students, the schools in Australia’s most disadvantaged areas that punch well above their weight, the teachers who go above and beyond every single day, encouraging students to seize opportunities to see what is possible. And teams at Departments of Education who work tirelessly to keep students, teachers and staff safe in face of the Coronavirus pandemic or the devastating bushfires.

I applaud the public education warriors – and they are warriors because this is a fight for a fairer and more equitable Australia.  The Principals’ Associations, the various Teachers Unions, the Departments of Education across Australia, the teachers, the students and the public education advocates who tirelessly call out inequity and injustice.

Few encapsulate this fight more eloquently as our irrepressible board director Jane Caro who writes:

“There is a terrifying arrogance among those who have no understanding of the importance of public education in ensuring the strength and resilience of both an advanced economy and a functioning democracy. Caught up with their own personal agendas – proselytising a particular religion on the part of those who run such schools or buying an advantage for their own children on the part of those who choose them – they totally miss the bigger and more important picture.”

I will remain proud of Australia’s public education system. It’s not perfect. Nothing ever is. But I when look at my two children and their friends at our local public schools, I see what fine, upstanding young people they have become. They are kind, tolerant, accepting, hardworking and engaged in the world around them.

As Craig Reucassel says in our Building Great Australian Lives Campaign: “There is no better place to instil values than a school that comes from the very idea that anyone can go there.”

I may be leaving my role at the Foundation, but I will continue to join the keyboard warriors in defending an education system that is for all Australians.

Photo credit: Australia for UNHCR