It's only fair to share…


There never seems to be enough money in health or education. The calls for more “funding” become deafening. In Australia we have had numerous “education revolutions” over the last five years each costing more than the previous. And so successful that another is apparently needed.

And there are endless calls for (even) more hospital beds. The assumption being that if we just throw enough money all will be well with the world. Naturally those who scream the loudest want other peoples money to be spent.

So what happens when the fundamental assumption about more dollars equating to better outcomes is questioned.

It turns out that just throwing buckets of money does not lead to improvements in either health or education. In reality this should not come as a surprise. Money is neutral. It can be spent on things that are worthwhile or things that are not. Throwing money at programs or methods, which do not work, will never bring about betterment. In turn cutting spending, which is wasteful, not only frees up money for better use but also stops more harm being done.

Yes that’s right, harm!

An excellent review of education by Jennifer Buckingham summed up the problem in the title “Bad teaching kills reading skills”. In 2013 some 11.5% of Year 3 students achieved at or below the lowest standard for reading skills. Buckingham puts this figure into perspective by showing this is the equivalent of 32000 children who have had 1200 hours of instruction. This is despite billions being spent on programs to improve literacy.

Prophetically Rudolph Flesch wrote in 1955 that the key to improving children’s literacy was the quality of instruction.

On what possible basis can we believe that throwing more money at methods that don’t work will suddenly make them work? It is not a lack of time, teachers or funding that is the problem. It is the methods used to teach reading. For the same money, with the same number of teachers, in the same allotted time, using methods, which have been shown to actually improve reading skills we could   improve literacy.

To quote Jennifer Buckingham: “Despite robust scientific research on how children acquire reading skills… many children are not receiving effective reading instruction”.

Part of this is ideology based as academic teachers are attached to whole of language and reject the use of phonics. Hence this is how teachers emerge from their training. And as a consequence many teachers lack the skills. Surveys show only half know what a syllable is.

Teachers are not going to be able to teach something they don’t know. Money will not solve this. It actually costs no more, in time or dollars, to teach something the right way versus the wrong way.

Thus the solution is a change in approach. Unfortunately this may be something where government policy may be needed. It is unlikely that university academics will change their ways voluntarily. One way to do this may be to threaten the “funding” of teacher education facilities, which do not meet literacy standards.

Countries with internationally high rankings on education focus on getting the methods right rather than being slaves to ideology.

As for “funding “ in health, the USA spend spends double the OECD average percentage of GDP on health. Yet Americans live no longer than anyone else. And as we know there are major arguments about access to the system, which have led to the shutdown in Washington.

Plus there is significant work that shows no correlation between “spending” on health and wellbeing. This is because there is much spending on wasteful procedures and tests, which do not improve health or extend life. And here is something to ponder.

Shouldn’t a functioning health system be judged on its need for less rather than more hospital beds because this would indicate people are healthier?

Yet the medical profession like the education profession continues to argue that the problem is lack of “funding”.

In the real world individuals, families and businesses need to make do with what is available to them. They have to do more with less and become more efficient. Those funded by government avoid this reality.

It is time that instead of assuming that more funding is needed to bring about improvements in health or education, that we ask instead how well is the money being spent?

And can we spend it better?