Pining for a Fair Go

So the rumour I heard was true. Christopher Pyne told the ABC’s 7:30 program that women won’t be impacted by the Coalition’s cuts to higher education because they don’t study expensive degrees like dentistry and law. However, according to the Australian Department of Health and the Australian Human Rights Commission, 58% of dentistry graduates and 61% of law graduates are women.

It really is draconian that a 46 year man like Christopher Pyne would share the views of an older generation that women simply won’t utilise a particular tertiary education – despite hard evidence to the contrary. I suppose I should recognise that it’s an improvement on the views of men like my own father, now in his 60s, who thought that a girl child like me simply wouldn’t need an higher education fund by virtue of my gender alone, so he told my mother when I was still a baby – I hadn’t failed one test at that point! And yet I went on to become the first of his four children to gain a degree and then an Honours Degree. But he did stand by his commitment not to fund my unnecessary higher learning; he never paid for one textbook, let alone the fees, and I have the HECS debt to prove it!

My mum at least had broader views and assumed that as a child of the 20th Century, and the child of parents who both had higher qualifications, I was likely to require tertiary training of some sort. She too had her limitations though. My interest in becoming a police officer was met with concerns over safety and apparently poor wages for the work. Later, I was fascinated by history and I studied Modern European and Classical History in my final high school years. These though were met with concerns over job prospects. So it was that I entered a teaching degree. Don’t get me wrong, it was my choice but my personal pathway had been obscured by the so called ‘knowledge’ of the limits to my long-term prospects due to my unfortunate gender and the limited sectors for safe, well paid, certain job prospects.

I didn’t end up being a teacher but the part of the course I loved most was the adolescent literature studies and one small moment of illumination when a Social Studies lecturer noted that wealthy suburbs have trees and poor ones do not. And although there are limits to every generalisation, those of us who grew up in places like Morphett Vale know this to be true when we sojourn through the ‘leafy suburbs’ like Burnside where Christopher Pyne grew up.

It’s likely that when people grow up in such surrounds, they simply lack the imagination to realise that for some kids every new pair of sneakers is a big deal; a drain on your single parent’s weekly budget. They don’t realise that they’ve been born into a privileged life and therefore view the short-comings of others’ fiscal success as being a result of poor decisions. They think that there was a level playing field at the start of each person’s life and this is simply not true.

That’s why free education – or at minimum an affordable loan system – is so important. Because potential to achieve shouldn’t be thwarted by capacity to pay, anymore than it should be determined by gender, or skin colour, or race. None of us have control over these factors of our birth.

And that’s why today we went to Science Alive at the Wayville Showgrounds – our daughter has excellent grades, a love of learning, an inquiring mind, and a high interest in science, maths, English and the environment. She could do anything at university and so could many of her female peers.

I sincerely hope that all of today’s high school students realise that doing something that enthralls them, something that challenges and inspires them, something they feel is valuable, is more important than any other person’s expectations or limitations

We should not hold ourselves back because our parents or our politicians lack imagination for what we might do, what we might become, in a world full of jobs that don’t even exist yet.

Coffin Bay National Park, South Australia, 2018

(c) Palitja Moore, text and image, 2014 and 2018 respectively.

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