Doctor and activist

ABC Cuts are Part of Dumbing Down Australia 28/6/20

It seems that Australia, like the US is ‘dumbing down’.  There seems little doubt about this.  Fewer people study history, politics, geography and science as a percentage of the population.  I would be interested in figures on this if anyone has them.

A key item in all this is that there is more to learn.  Computers and how to work and programme them were certainly not at school years ago. But it should not be beyond the wit of syllabus-makers to give importance to things that are important.  It seems that a culture of choice has not helped. Children can choose to opt out of subjects before they realise the significance of not knowing any science, or history, or foreign language.  In a competitive world they can say that they are not good at it.  In a specialised world they can say that they do not need to know it.  In a world of choice they can choose something more exciting or more titillating.

If this happens at school, it happens even more in what might pass as continuing education.  Your Facebook feed puts you in contact with those of similar interests or prejudices, and what pops up is what is most likely to interest you.  It is more likely to be what titillates as click bait, than a more serious analysis of what might be worth knowing.

News may or may not be good, but it is not as entertaining as something made to be entertaining, so there is the rise of infotainment. It is all about ratings; people have to be encouraged to watch so that they can see the ads; whether they are any  wiser is quite irrelevant.

In the days when Barry Jones was king of Quiz shows, were all about history, geography and science, and we checked our knowledge against the champions.  Then TV quiz shows became about their programmes; who was the star of Sitcom X?  Those who had no hope with Barry Jones but watched that Channel felt much better.  Now even the ABC’s  Hard Quiz asks what you are an expert in and researches to tailor the questions.  All great entertainment perhaps, but the opportunity cost of all this is that programmes that deal in facts are correspondingly less represented.

Some years ago I wrote a paper bemoaning the fact that journalism was an arts-based subject and scientific information was thus not seen as news, more a specialty like architecture, medicine or music.  But now there are whole cabinets of politicians with law or commerce backgrounds, successful with their own areas or in politics, a few even both, but with no idea what they do not know.  When Barry Jones became Science Minister and spoke in the Parliament he was given a good humoured roasting as if he was a comedy, some light entertainment.  It was easier than listening to him and making the significant changes that he advocated.

The huge mess of Australia’s copyright laws being applied to software, the fears of porn stopping Australia hosting datastores, the huge bungling of the NBN and the electronic health record are testament to ignorance in high places.

The influence of the market imperative on everything has meant that everything is expected to make a profit, and if it does not, it should not happen.  This has distorted many areas of society, but sticking to the media, we all observed that while tobacco was advertised, we could not get the media to take tobacco control seriously.  Media content is affected by advertising.  Alan Blum, the editor of the Medical Journal f Australia left because of an argument over how advertisers were treated.  Stories of consumers being dudded do not get carried if it would offend an advertiser.  Advertising used to fund TV and newspapers.  As advertising has moved online (and its revenues offshore),  free to air TV has declined and Murdoch, with 70% of Australia’s media wants the ABC to lose market share so he has more people getting their news from him and he can prolong the dying funding model that he has traditionally had.   The government, demanding that everything make a profit, and hearing the lobbying from Murdoch about his competition being subsidised by the taxpayer is happy to defund the ABC. It is also the last large critical voice that keeps them accountable.  How much preferable it would be to have only entertainment or infotainment acceptable to advertisers as the fare for Australian TV. 

The idea that everything must make a profit led to the absurd Wills report on medical research in Australia, which wanted more cooperative research with the private sector.  The hope was that the private sector would share the profits of the research, so that government funded research would pay for itself.  What has happened in practice is that the private sector sets the research priorities and things that do not make a profit are less likely to be done.  If a discovery could save a fortune, but that fortune would not be made as a profit by the research facility, the research is unlikely to be commenced.  The government has defunded the CSIRO, lessening its commitment to knowledge there.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics is defunded, which could allow us to base social policy decisions on known and measured trends. Sorry- no data now.

The Saturday Paper yesterday (27/6/20) had an article saying that the change in University funding that made Arts degrees twice as expensive and science and nursing cheaper may have no effect.  The students have to pay off their courses over a period of years, so if the course take 14 years to pay off instead of 10, that is a problem a decade away, so may not affect the student much as his or her decision as to what course to do relates to his or her ability and perception of the prospects of that career.  Previous research showed that  ‘the price elasticity of education courses is low’. But if students are not much affected by the changes Universities might change a lot.  If they are squeezed for money and they can get twice as much for an Arts degree, they are likely to market it much harder and may even overcome the price effect.  The assumption that producing more science graduates will produce more jobs may also be wrong. The lack of an industry policy has resulted in a huge collapse in our manufacturing industry and our research industry as CSIRO has been defunded also.  What will the science graduates do?  Many arts and law graduates have jobs, hey look at our politicians! 

An understanding of history and culture gives us a sense of place and an understanding of our world, the idea that we exist only to be job-ready is a level of Philistinism that would be laughable if it were not now our Federal tertiary education policy.  The promotion of ignorance has now reached the highest level in the land. 

Watch out Mr Trump, Australia is coming!

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

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