SUNS 55 & 56 ‘NATIONALISING EDUCATION’ and ‘SCHOOL DENTAL CLINICS’

IN THE NATIONAL INTEREST

The nationalisation of Australian Education is long overdue. Historically, vast distances, poor communications and travel time made it impractical for Australian education to be founded on a national basis. Each State and more recently the NT developed educational systems to suit their particular needs.

As a modern nation, Australia has reduced the tyranny of distance. Technology has enriched our capacity to communicate. Reasonable costs make both travel and communications far more affordable than in earlier years. To consider educational development at a national level makes sense. Instead, education remains trapped within the confines of state and territory mentality.

Reaction

Suggestions that we should think nationally about educational futures are received with suspicion. One of the fears held by States and Territories with smaller populations, is that they will be prevailed upon by the voice of our major states. When nationalisation is brought up, objections are invariably raised by State and Territory politicians and educators because of ‘big brother’ mentality. Each educational jurisdiction wants to set its own agenda and resents being told what to do by Canberra.

Three areas

There are three areas in which a nationalised approach to education would benefit students and assist teachers. Only one has been introduced. In 2006 the
Australian Government introduced the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). Year 3, 5,7, and 9 students sit literacy and numeracy tests held over three days in May each year.

While these tests offer a ‘snapshot’ of competence for all students assessed, they were and still are premature. National testing that is not based on a national curriculum is somewhat illogical. While test administration is being refined each year, the National Curriculum on which tests should be based is a long way from being in place in all Australian Schools. Furthermore, the national agenda is not being uniformly introduced. States and Territories will roll out the National Curriculum when they are individually ready to make the change. This staggered start is confusing.

National teacher registration is the third area needing to be addressed. At the moment, registration is only valid in the teacher’s State or Territory of residence. National registration would enable teachers to seek employment and possibly facilitate transfer from one jurisdiction to another.

Police clearances

Obtaining police clearance, a prerequisite to gaining teacher registration and employment is also administered by each State and Territory. It would make sense to nationalise this requirement or to allow police clearance to have Australia-wide portability. In order to obtain an NT Ochre Card, teachers coming from interstate, again have to go through the clearance process. This can take some weeks.

Student awareness would be greatly aided by a nationalisation strategy.
* Tracking student movement between States and Territories would be easier.
* Transfer of student records to and from interstate schools would allow the gaining school to have an up-to-date picture of new enrolees coming from interstate.

There is much to celebrate about education within Australia. But a deterrent to progress has been the obstinacy of State and Territory Governments to support nationalisation. Rather, systems have dug in and hung back. Australian educational oneness and unity still seem a long way off.
__________________________

SCHOOL DENTAL CARE WAS PROVIDED

Jill Poulsen’s story ‘Kid’s clinic is helpful way to healthy smiles’ (NT News August 13) was a reminder of the way dental care was provided in our schools. Newcomers to the Territory reading Poulsen’s story, might believe that dental care for primary school aged children is a new initiative. This is far from being the case. We had a superior school based service in our urban schools which was second to none. There was also dental outreach stretching far beyond Darwin and Palmerston.

When it comes to dental health, Territory children are in a perilous place. “Ms Lambley said research from 2010 showed the NT has the highest rate of tooth decay in six year old children at 61 per cent.” (op.cit.)

This story reflects on a sad fact; We used to have excellent, school based dental support services in our NT schools but that service has slipped into history.

How it was

The Departments of Education and Health placed a high priority on the need for children’s dental care. Most urban schools had a room set up as an on-site dental clinic. Dental therapists and technicians held clinics in each school for a week each month. During that time, dental staff offered screening programs for all students. Dental records detailing inspection and treatment were maintained. If children moved, dental records could be sent to their new schools.

Dental records were regularly updated. While a major focus was on dental health and hygiene, therapists were able to carry out simple dental treatments. This happened only after parental permission was obtained. More major work could be undertaken by a dentist who periodically visited each school clinic. Alternatively, parents could arrange to take children to the Darwin Dental Clinic where work was carried out. Newly enrolled students were notified to dental staff and checking of teeth quickly followed.

Dental care was included in the oral hygiene program offered to school classes by dental staff, as part of the Health Education program.

School dental clinics remained open on roster during school holidays. Parents were able to make appointments for their children. If a particular school clinic was closed, parents were welcome to attend which ever school on the roster was open and operating at the time. Dental clinic phone numbers were provided to parents by school administration staff and through newsletters.

Regional

There was reasonable access to dental services offered by health clinics in places like Nhulunbuy, Alyangula on Groote Eylandt and other regional centres. Regional dentists visited nearby Aboriginal communities as time allowed.

Service decline

About ten years ago, dental support offered through the schools program began to decline. Some clinics were no longer deemed to meet occupational health and safety standards. While sterilisation facilities existed, these clinics could not meet changing protocols. Where one room had been sufficient, it became necessary for the waiting area, treatment room and sterilisation areas to be visually separated. For some schools these building changes were impossible to achieve.

Transfer or resignation of dental staff was another issue. Those leaving were often not replaced. Today, clinics remain in very few schools and are open for a strictly limited number of days each year. They also have to service children from nearby schools where clinics have been dismantled.

Northern Territory students and parents were supported by a quality program ensuring that dental care was very much to the fore. Sadly that program has all but gone. It is small wonder that dental health for children is now such a problem.
______________________________

Note:

I have now been writing a weekly column for the Suns Newspapers, community papers for Darwin, Palmerston and Litchfield for just over twelve months.

Someone suggested that there would be an end to topics with appeal to newspaper readers. Not so. Education is never-ending in terms of its topical nature.

I aim to write in a way that is timely, relevant and contributive to the educational debate.

Feedback is always welcome. In addition to my blogsite I am at henry.gray@bigpond.com

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