Saturday, 17 September 2016

Big business encroaching into schools

This morning the Age reports  that  the Victorian Education Department does not track businesses' involvement with schools. But critics say tougher rules are need to ensure school lessons and teachers' independence are not compromised by commercial pressures.

It's a trend no one is monitoring, and it's benefiting some of the largest companies in the world.

Businesses are infiltrating Victorian schools to spruik technology, energy drinks and cars to a captive young audience.

Major technology companies have gained access to schools under pressure to create technology oriented classrooms. Microsoft, Apple and Google provide training, accreditation and awards to Victorian teachers, who in turn promote the products in schools and on social media

The companies are also creeping into classrooms as they compete to teach a new generation of students to code, a new requirement for students around the world, including for Victorian students by 2017.

Apple's coding curriculum for teachers is expected to be adopted in many schools, as well as its new educational coding app, Swift Playgrounds, which will compete with Google's popular project, Scratch.

But technology companies are not alone in their bid to access students.

Multivitamins group Swisse, Medibank Private, Telstra and Transfield Holdings have either sponsored school events, or developed marketing programs and work placements for students.

Feminine hygiene product company Libra runs a year 6 and 7 education program called "I am changing". (The company provides free resource kits to schools with tampons and sanitary pads.)

Last month, Mazda handed out a show bag stuffed with a Mazda monopoly game, pens and drink bottles to 70 year 10 Shelford Girls Grammar students after a car maintenance lesson.

Principal Polly Flanagan said the session was "purely educational". "No one said you have to buy a Mazda car," she said. "It was instructive."

Mazda's senior manager of service training Michael Thompson said the session was not about self-promotion, but conceded he wasn't shying away from an opportunity to harness "customer loyalty".

High school students are being hired as "brand ambassadors" to talk up products to their friends at parties and on social media.

Year 13, a company that has worked with Virgin Money Australia, Student Flights and Red Bull, is advertising a job for a high school brand ambassador who "has a way with words and ... can run their mouth with their friends and over social media".

Co-founder Will Stubley said the ambassadors did not work in schools, and it was a good opportunity for them to gain valuable work experience and money.

"As an overarching policy, we say, if you do want to distribute materials in schools, make sure you check with teachers and parents first."

Paul Harrison, a senior lecturer at Deakin University, said advertising had no place in schools.

He said school councils were often "quite naive" about companies wanting to be involved in schools, and undervalued their promotional capacity.

"The reason corporations are in schools is because they know there is money to be made.

"I think it is a clash of objectives: you have schools whose responsibility is to create critical thinkers, but they are buying into a corporate mentality."

Greens spokeswoman for education Sue Pennicuik called for stricter rules around businesses in schools. "It's not just an altruistic act," she said.

She said many schools were allowing companies in because they were underfunded. "They shouldn't have to rely on companies to deliver programs and provide services," she said.

Steve Brophy, Ivanhoe Grammar School's e-learning co-ordinator who received a Microsoft award this year, said he was not obliged to promote or use Microsoft products, adding that his school's primary students used the Apple iPad.

Mr Brophy, who used Microsoft's OneNote program with year 7 students while creating a 3D printing replica of the school, said new technology added substantial value in the classroom.

"Schools are savvy enough to have processes around this. For us, we don't feel they sell us anything. We make rational decisions based on the needs of our kids."

The Victorian Education Department's policy states that schools should enter partnerships with businesses only if they can "demonstrate a contribution to improve learning".

A spokesman said the business community offered "considerable benefits for students and schools" by boosting science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills and connecting students to local industry.

Apple, Microsoft and Swisse did not provide comment to The Age by deadline.
Interesting story from Timna Jacks and Henrietta Cook and one worth keeping an eye on.

A simple DET provided policy and  activity or contact log would at least give them some authoritative data to use to determine how prevalent commercial intrusions into schools are. They don't know because the system is not set up to monitor it and because, to be fair it is mostly surreptitious and probably at the moment quite adhoc.....but give them time.
It has been going on for ages of course. Colgate send out a kit full of their propaganda and tiny toothbrushes, feminine hygiene products have been sent out by Johnson and Johnson for ages and it's not unusual to have other companies sending out their material, offering a learning kit ( I got one the other day from the Australian Mint) and  spruiking their wares. 
There have always been competition between Apple and Microsoft in schools but Apple is certainly more active now, since the iPad and Google is a new player in all this. Your report seems to indicate that they are taking it all up a notch! Real Estate companies have been promoting themselves on 'free' school signs ( that nit-wit Kelly O'Dwyer even did that during the last election) The product ambassadors approach is born out of social media where Youtubers and Facebookers become spokespeople for clothing lines and cosmetic companies. Kids would relate to that in schools because it is something they are exposed to online. 
I think it is right to keep tabs on this in our schools to ensure that their influence isn't becoming pervasive. I would be very concerned about gambling companies ( I can envision them packaging it up into a 'responsible gambling' course!) junk food manufacturers and  'energy drink' manufacturers getting involved in school curriculum ( tobacco companies would have been at the forefront of this year's ago and would now if they could) I think if principals are aware of this they can monitor it and keep rampant commercial interests at bay....providing they aren't offered inducements! (That might keep ICAC busy in the future?)
My biggest concern is that the big education publication machines from the US see Australia ( Pearson for example) as their next conquest. Text books ( that schools can't do without ) commercial tests ( that will give your school the edge) have to be kept out of curriculum design in our country. Sadly I can see lazy, ( probably conservative government's like WA and NSW) anti-state education governments deciding to 'out-source' curriculum and assessment to save money and burden us with a teach to the test, education as a product regime in the future like many US states.
( Sadly multinationals are not lining up to dump their products at Glen Park PS let alone line my lean pockets.....)

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