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The price of education

3 April, 2008

As a grad-student I often complain about the price of an education these days but, aside from my social life, my schooling has cost me only money. However, for many people education costs much more.   Social reformers seem to have latched onto education as the latest trend but in many cases I have to wonder if ‘education’ provides a less problematic framework for ‘development’.

A recent CCTV the headline reads, ‘Tibet people’s living standard improves over the years’.  The report tells us that

“Chinese anthropologists have spoken out saying that Tibetan people are better off under Chinese rule because children have greater access to education than before.

The riots in Lhasa two weeks ago claimed 18 innocent lives and injured 382 people. Hundreds of stores were destroyed, and seven schools and five hospitals were burnt down. According to one anthropology expert, these numbers indicate the riots are a violation of Tibetan people’s human rights.

Hao Shiyuan, Principal of Institute of Ethnology & Anthropology, said, “It’s a typical example of the violation of human rights, by destroying the atmosphere when a society is experiencing a peaceful and harmonious development.”

According to statistics, before 1960, the enrolment rate for children of school age was only 2 percent. That number has now risen to 99 percent.”

See whole article at –

The argument seems to be that the Tibetan people should be happy about being given an education and if they lose some of their ‘culture’ well that is the price of joining modernity.  While many people empathise with the Tibetan plight, here in Australia, similar arguments about education are being made. The Federal Government is using these arguments to justify the building of bordering schools in regional centres, away from family and community, to improve the education standards of Aboriginal Australians.  One article says,

Boarding schools not the answer, Indigenous group says

“The Federal Government is building hostels in the Northern Territory and Queensland for Indigenous children to live in while they attend schools in larger population centres.

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin says encouraging Indigenous children to attend boarding schools away from their families is a world of difference from the treatment of the Stolen Generations.

The Alliance’s Central Australian representative Jackie Baxter says often students who go to boarding schools cannot adjust back to community life when they finish.”

See whole article at –

The introduction of boarding schools for Aboriginal children is based on research like-

Indigenous test scores narrowest in early years: study

“”The fact that we observe a much smaller gap in the early years suggests that improving school quality for indigenous Australians may help to close the racial test score gap.”

But the researchers also found that about one-third to two-thirds of the score gap could be explained by family demographic factors.

Researcher Dr Xiaodong Gong said policies to improve incomes and parental education might help to close the gap, but were unlikely to entirely solve the problem.”

See the whole article at –

This research claims that low test scores can be explained by ‘demographic factors’ but that improvements to things like ‘parental income’ will not solve the entire problem. It seems that they are saying that Aboriginal communities cannot produce children who perform like ‘other’ children on standardized tests therefore aboriginal children should be taken away from the community so that they can learn to be more like ‘other’ children.  Macklin may argue that boarding schools represent a ‘world of difference’ from the treatment of the stolen generations but when governments take away choice under the guise of empowerment I have to wonder; how can education provide people with a choice if they are not given a choice about how they want their children to be educated?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 6 April, 2008 9:08 am

    To what are they attributing the improvement in the boarding schools? Is it something as simple as reducing levels of malnutrition, which has a big impact on school performance?

    And call me skeptical, but I’m doubtful about the clarity – in the Tibet case especially – of the distinction between education and indoctrination.

  2. james permalink
    11 April, 2008 4:59 pm

    As everyone knows, education has always been a major component of the colonial system and the cornerstone of assimilation. Your question is bang on and it people are always afraid of being judged “anti-education”. I remember in one of Jan Wong’s (journalist) books on China, she clearly stated that Chinese administration of Tibet was a positive since the literacy rate had improved. In all states, education is the flagship of creating individuals forged with a ‘desirable’ value base.

    Maybe indigenous test scores are lower because the kind of education is not in line with who they are and the values they deem important. Why not find what education they would like? Maybe bus kids from out of town to be ‘educated’ in their communties according to their values, their hitories and their values? Maybe while the state is at it, they can find who they are as a people, rather than a problem to assimilate and collapse into the colonial project of the nation-state.

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