Like most people, I suspect, some things have become clearer to me over the years and certain things still lack clarity. One thing that has become clearer to me is the value of education and in particular public education.
I’m a proud product of a public school system. While I completed my final two years of secondary education at a country Victoria boarding school, my formative years at Pakenham High School will stay with me forever. So much so that when approached to join the school council several years ago I had no hesitation and soon become the school council president. A title I proudly hold to this day. Fair to say the reputation of the school had suffered in the previous years and I have made it a mission to address the public image of the school and in turn the academic results.
Recently I was approached by young university student Holly Parker for an interview. She was particularly interested to know why I had such a keen interest in developing a new Wonthaggi education precinct. In her final years of university, Holly is a former Wonthaggi Secondary School student and the daughter of current Wonthaggi campus principal Darren Parker. When I met her in reception I was reminded of my own daughters. Full of enthusiasm, eyes wide open and eager to get on with the next stage of life, whatever that may bring. I was more than happy to share my views on our public education system.
So, to Holly’s question. Why am I so committed to delivering a new education precinct at Wonthaggi?
Education strikes at the absolute core of our society. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
To deny access to a quality education is to deny access to achieving one’s full potential. And delivering a quality public education system is surely one of the key functions of our state government. Is there a more important use of public funds? Health, perhaps? Roads, transport? I’m splitting hairs and opening debate for another time.
The focus in this article is the critical importance of providing a quality education system that anybody, regardless of financial circumstances, will be able to access. We must provide the high achievers with an environment to flourish, the middle performers with a chance to reach their full potential and the more academically challenged with a supportive and nurturing place to find their place in life. Is there a more critical period to influence and leave an indelible mark on a person’s life than the ages between 13-18? I don’t think so.
Let me be very clear. The current Wonthaggi Secondary College, under the direction of Garry Dennis and his team, provides an outstanding education for the youth of Wonthaggi and surrounding areas. Since 1922 the school has helped to shape the lives of thousands of students, with many going on to enjoy extremely successful and rewarding careers.
While the physical conditions are not ideal, the culture is first class. From the moment I set foot in the school, I was impressed by the warmth, friendliness and respect for one another between the students and staff . This was reinforced when I ventured out from the office at lunch time and met the students as they mingled with shopkeepers while proudly wearing their school uniforms. It was a united, embracing and nurturing community. Wonthaggi should be very proud.
But the school is already bulging at the seams and the classrooms are stuck in the 20th century. Imagine, on the other hand, a greenfield site with new modern buildings, the latest in technology, a quality library, shared teaching spaces, sports and arts facilities and breakout areas to relax and reflect.
Imagine a Wonthaggi education precinct with a secondary college, a TAFE and a university campus. Imagine an education precinct where everybody of all ages and all academic abilities can find a place to learn, qualify for a job or gain a qualification they not previously thought possible. A place that will attract people from surrounding districts who will want to send their children there, or perhaps even families from further afield who will relocate to give their children access to the excellent education facilities in Bass Coast.
Towns are built around education precincts. They attract families, business and in turn jobs. They are a major boost to the local economy.
Wonthaggi deserves such a place. This project is long overdue and I will continue to advocate for it while in office.
Footnote: While I was writing this article a rather public spate took place when a Xavier School student denigrated students from Pakenham Secondary School on social media, sparking a raging debate on the values of public versus private education. I won’t repeat the language he used but fair to say it wasn’t complimentary. As president of the Pakenham Secondary School council, I dismissed his comments as a juvenile rant and rang the Xavier principal to assure him that we did not take personal offence or consider the remarks as reflective of his school community. He was thankful for the phone call. --Brian Paynter
November 23, 2015
I just read Brian Paynter’s article on Wonthaggi Secondary College. As a former student of the college, father of two former students who struggled with sub-standard facilities, and the son of a respected teacher at Wonthaggi Tech/High, High school and WSC senior teacher, I would like to ask him why his coalition partners have not pursued the promises of a new senior campus, upgrade of hospital to sub-regional status, cultural centre and the non-payment of rates by the desal owners.
I would also like to ask why our letters regarding concerns about impacts on the Bass Coast marine environment have not been acknowledged. We know that your predecessor decided that desal was alright because "it looks good", but we also know that you are "not Ken Smith".
Our group has many unanswered questions about the desal hangover, and it would be helpful to know that our elected representative "was listening" and communicating with us.
Mark Robertson, president, Watershed Victoria