Study: Aussie governments spend $71.5 billion on education

As education costs continue to rise, Australian governments spend $71.5 billion on education and childcare services, according to a new report.

School is back and parents across the country are busy making sure uniforms fit, books have name labels on them and lunches are packed ready to be eaten by hungry students.

And while everyone knows education is important, it can also be a costly exercise with mums and dads spending more than just their spare pocket money on making sure the next generation's leaders have everything they need to get through the day.

In previous years results from the nationwide Clarks Back to School Saver Survey of 1,000 parents suggest that parents spend an average of $600 per child in order to make sure their kids are ready for the new school year.

And the findings are similar to those produced by The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM), with the organisation saying parents spend an average amount of $50,000 on education and child care.

But more recently it has become increasingly apparent that parents are not the only people spending big when it comes to teaching young people, as the 2012 annual Report on Government Services, released on Tuesday (January 31), has found that the majority of the government's education spending is dedicated to schools.

Of the $71.5 billion allocated to training young people in 2009-10 roughly a quarter of the total budget made it into the country's many universities.

Researchers also found that more and more people are utilising federally funded child care services, with estimates that a million children under the age of twelve attend these centres.

Early childhood education is also on the agenda for people living in the nation's territories and 117,615 young people attended state funded centres in these areas, while their peers in preschool reach around 224, 699.

For many parents making the decision to enrol their kids in preschool can be difficult, but it is one that the report suggests may improve their performance on key indicators when they finally graduate to primary education.

The report found that more than 77 per cent of the nation's young people have the basic language and cognitive skills they need to make a successful go of life when they make the transition from preschool or childcare to primary school.

A major part of this relatively high rating may come from the hard work and long hours that parents put into their kids, with statistics suggesting that almost half of all children between the age of three and eight were read to daily.

Photo credit: © sallydexter –

Overwhelmed? How old are you? By Emma Grey

With a thirteen-year-old heading into Year Eight this week, I’m reminded that many of us first learn how to ‘do overwhelm’ when we’re confronted with a higher workload than we’re used to, at high school. Chances are that the first time you experienced a train of thought along the lines of, ‘Too much to do! I’ll never get it done! I’m going to fail!’ – coincided with first crushes, first zits and first periods.

Hemmed in by that four-part history project of research, a poster, constructing an Anglo-Saxon village out of twigs and doing a talk in front of the class, (which clashed with your netball try-outs and was weighed down by the fact that you were supposed to tidy your room) – perhaps you responded the way that any self-respecting teen girl would.

Drama! Lots of it. Panic, procrastination, denial, lots of ‘talk’, little ‘action’, lashings of ‘I can’t do this!’ – egged on by friends.
The drama-teen under pressure grinds to a halt – flapping around what needs to be done like a sea-gull – hoping a piece of fish will be tossed to her on a platter. The question is: when does she grow out of it?

In a recent workshop, I asked a group of professional women to list elements of their current ‘strategy’ when feeling overwhelmed at work. The group described a response that was almost an exact replica of the teen approach:

  • I tell myself I can’t do it
  • I whinge to my partner
  • I don’t do anything
  • I get irritable and take it out on people around me
  • I lie awake at night
  • I tidy my desk
  • I make a coffee

In essence – I do anything but get on with it.

So – with my daughter teetering on the cusp of a vortex of ‘Eek! Overload!’ that – presumably – could suck her in from Year Eight until Thirty-Eight unless I equip her with some resourceful strategies NOW… I’ve done some reading. (I also watched a chick flick, tidied the linen cupboard and spent a couple of hours on Facebook – but that might be the drama-queen mum in me – running my old teen strategy for overwhelm in the unfamiliar face of mothering a teen…)

The good news is that I uncovered an idea for managing pressure that resonates fairly clearly. It’s attributed to Dr Paul Ware, and I discovered it in Dru Scott’s book: ‘Stress that Motivates’. Now – I warn you: it’s based on a baseball analogy (caveat: my entire knowledge of baseball comes from Madonna’s ‘A League of their Own’).

All it is, is an effective ‘time out’ process.

Confronted by ‘too much to do’, say to yourself:
If I am feeling overwhelmed, I protect myself by taking time out for a few minutes so that I can think clearly and creatively:
1. I relax and I breathe deeply
2. I accept my feelings and the realities of my current situation
3. I picture, in my imagination, how I want the situation to be
4. I take some action to get there. I do something purposeful even if it is not the total solution. I work towards a solution or mastery of the situation.

Where does the baseball thing come in? Just picture a baseball diamond to remember the 4-step approach:
Base one – Relax, breathe
Base two – Accept your feelings and the realities of your current situation
Base three – Picture how you want the situation to be
Home Base – Do something towards the solution

I reckon my thirteen-year-old will easily master this strategy, and I intend to master it by her side. It’s so much better, surely, than the ‘flap-deny-panic’ thing we were both heading towards in early high school – two-and-a-half decades apart…

Photo credit: © xalanx –

Women having kids later in life: AIHW

Women are waiting longer to have children with many choosing to start a family at the age of 28 or above.

Aussie women are ready to take on the world and embark on overseas adventures, study at university and climb the corporate ladder all before they hit the tender age of 30.

But when it comes to having children and taking the next step in life – which for many people is parenthood – it seems that women are increasingly happy to wait until the time feels right.

New figures show that more than half of all Australian women are giving birth after they turn 35, which confirms reports that the average maternal age has been increasing since 2000.

The Australia's mothers and babies 2000 report was released earlier this week (December 21) by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Along with providing an insight into social trends, birth rates and mothering in the nation the study also raises important questions about parenting and fertility.

Elizabeth Sullivan, a spokesperson for the institute, said that women in years gone by were having larger families and may give birth to their fourth or even fifth baby by the age of 35.

"From a fertility perspective having babies in your 20s is advantageous because you're less likely to have age-related infertility, but there may be other social factors or career issues that make that more difficult," asserted Ms Sullivan.

However, it seems that starting a family during this time may be a thing of the past as more and more women choose to delay this important phase until later in life.

The typical Aussie mum is normally 30 years of age when she gives birth, which is an increase on previous years and demonstrates that women are waiting longer to have kids.

In fact, women who were 40 or older accounted for five per cent of all those who gave birth during 2009.

And despite some women bucking trends and having children in their early 20s the vast majority seem to prefer to wait until they approach their 30th birthday.

As many as 294,540 women gave birth during 2009 to 299,220 babies, and for the most part the new editions were healthy and strong – there was also a 16.3 per cent jump in overall birth numbers, adding to the baby boom which began in 2004.

The average age of first time mothers was approximately 28 years, but the number of mothers who waited until they were 35 or 40 also rose.

Photo credit: © AVAVA –

Penny Wong announces birth of baby Alexandra

Finance minister Penny Wong announces birth of first child . The finance minister and her partner Sophie Allouache have publicly announced the birth of their first daughter.

Earlier this week the prime minister promoted a number of working mums in her cabinet reshuffle, emphasising the importance of real-life experience in political decision making.

And while women such as attorney-general Nicola Roxon and health minister Tanya Plibersek were listed as examples of high-profile mums, senator Penny Wong's name was not mentioned.

However, this all changed over the weekend when the finance minister and her partner Sophie Allouache become first-time mothers to baby girl Alexandra.

"My partner, Sophie Allouache, and I are thrilled to welcome the arrival of our baby daughter, Alexandra, born in Adelaide on December 11," Ms Wong wrote in an official statement.

"Like any family welcoming a new addition, we are looking forward to spending time at home together and ask for our privacy to be respected at this time."

Despite a somewhat stressful entrance into the world Ms Wong said that both mum and bub were recovering.

"They're both well," reported Ms Wong, before adding that "Sophie was pretty tired but she's much better now".

The senator appeared lost for words when asked about the newest addition to her family – who was conceived using IVF and the sperm of a donor known to the couple – saying "she's wonderful, just wonderful".

Ms Allouache had a natural birth and baby Alexandra – who was given her mother's middle name – entered the world last Sunday weighing in at just 3.23 kg.

Ms Wong told reporters that she had "texted" the PM who was delighted with the news.

"The PM's given me a bit of leave so I'm going to take time off and hopefully we can get the important things in life like feeding and nappy changing and sleeping under control."

Ms Gillard was one of the first people to congratulate the senator and her partner on the arrival of baby Alexandra saying: "I am thrilled for Penny and Sophie – this is wonderful news and Alexandra is beautiful and a source of joy."

Senator Wong has been open about her sexuality and is seen as an ambassador for same-sex marriage within her party – it is an issue she championed at the recent ALP conference where members eventually voted in favour of the policy after years of heated debate.

Yet the minister is sensitive to the fact that not all people will hold the same views as she does concerning this issue.

When Ms Allouache's pregnancy was announced earlier this year Ms Wong said she understood the views other people might hold, but she did not want to make a policy issue out of "something that is so deeply personal and so lovely".

Parents and kids to benefit from new decision making program

Decision making is part and parcel of being an adult – fast responses help people complete tasks, build relationships and resolve conflicts.

But many young people are growing up without knowing how to make these choices on their own, which has led to a number of problems for school leavers.

And while learning to say 'yes' or 'no' may seem pretty straight forward most mums will quickly tell you that it isn't always so simple.

Education minister Peter Garrett has met with principles in NSW to talk about extending a new pilot program that helps kids learn how to speak up and includes parents in decisions that the school makes.

Taking time out of an otherwise busy schedule the father of three and minister visited Loftus Public School earlier this week to get feedback from local communities about the government's Empowering Local Schools initiative.

The program, which is still in its trial phase in 47 locations across the state, gives school leaders the opportunity to have a greater say on issues such as governance, staffing mix, budgets, and infrastructure and maintenance.

It also means that people who are regularly on campus – whether that be as students, teachers or parents – can increase their influence on the day-to-day running of local schools.

"Today we heard from these principles about the positive benefits for their students, including improved results, behaviour and attendance," asserted Mr Garret.

He said that the success of the NSW pilot is proof that there is a genuine need to break down barriers to decision making and extend the new scheme to 1,000 more schools across the country.

When speaking about the reasons behind wanting to include mums and dads, as well as young kids in the running of educational institutions he suggested that their own intimate knowledge of the school meant they had the most informed ideas about its need.

"School leaders and parents are best placed to make the decisions that suit the needs and circumstances of their students," said Mr Garrett.

However, specialised training courses will also be on offer for any principles that are keen to up-skill and want to manage their schools more independently.

Plans to extend the program past the original trial group are part of the new funding arrangement introduced by the Gillard government, which has so far dedicated $550 million to the Teacher Quality National Partnership.

The state government is also working hard to make sure the participatory model is a success and has been instrumental in its delivery.

Mums take more time out to volunteer than their peers: ABS

Mums with part-time jobs make up 55 per cent of all volunteers in Australia, with the highest rate of unpaid work in the country.

If you have recently attended a charity function or bought raffle tickets to support an event at the nearby primary school, it may not come as a surprise to learn that mums are often the unsung heroes behind these fundraisers.

According to new data released from the Australian Bureau of Statistics earlier this week (December 1), it seems that the fairer sex is leading the way when it comes to volunteering.

In 2010, more than one-third of Australians did some kind of volunteer based work, with women volunteering more than men.

About 36 per cent of people over the age of 18 participated in charity work during the course of the year of which 38 per cent were female and 34 per cent male.

And despite the pressures of juggling busy workloads and family commitments the vast majority of volunteers were also employed.

Of those who willingly gave unpaid help – which could be in the form of time, service or skills – to an organisation or group 44 per cent already held full-time positions.

Part-timers accounted for 38 per cent, compared to 20 per cent of those who are unemployed and 31 per cent of people that aren't in the labour force.

Working women in part-time roles had high volunteer rates, with almost 50 per cent of all individuals in this group donating their time to different causes.

But it was mums with school-aged kids and a job on the side that did the most unpaid work in their local communities – they recorded the highest rate of participation in voluntary work across the nation.

This means they are not only looking after their own kids, but also taking the time to watch their children's peers.

Activities that were run by sport and recreation organisations – which in other words mean your local football or netball team – attracted the most volunteers.

Dads were also great when it came to helping out with umpiring or coaching duties, as well as at major sporting carnivals.

Retirees were more likely to be found doing work for your local welfare or community organisation and a large number of people took time-out to assist someone close to them with a disability or long term health condition and in need of care.

Yet perhaps the most interesting observation to come out of the ABS Voluntary Work in Australia 2010 report was the fact that kids often follow in their parents volunteering footsteps. 

Have I turned into a Tiger Mother?

Australian journalist and writer Katrina Beikoff experienced first-hand the kind of parenting Amy Chua speaks of in her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

Chua’s narrative of her Chinese cultural approach to motherhood has caused much controversy, prompting many parents to discuss their own parenting styles. Headlines screaming that her parenting is inferior to that of western approaches have caused outrage. Questions have been raised – should we all be stricter? – and some have taken to criticising Chua.

Katrina Beikoff wrote her book No Chopsticks Required about her year in Shanghai, China with her husband and two young children. She admitted she struggled to adapt to such different approaches to raising kids.

In China she faced the prospect of enrolling her three-year-old into her only option of kindergarten: full-time 9am to 4pm five days a week.  What’s more, she was shocked to learn her one-year-old was also expected to attend.

Far from rejecting the option totally out of hand, Beikoff found herself being strongly influenced by the culture and society in which she found herself – even questioning whether she was a bad mother who had stunted her children’s development because she had delayed entering them into such formalised, structured schooling.

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Raising a Child with Cerebral Palsy

As another National Cerebral Palsy Week approaches, I am again reminded of how Cerebral Palsy (CP) has impacted my family, and how important it is to promote awareness and knowledge of disabilities.

We’ve come a long way since the days of tucking disabled kids away in institutions, of expecting and therefore receiving, nothing useful from them. People with disabilities have proved their worth in many ways, and continue to do so. Despite these wonderful strides, ignorance, misunderstanding and at times discrimination, still exist in the wider community.

When that positive pregnancy test comes in, the most distant thought from a woman’s mind is that her child may be anything less than what society deems perfect. It was certainly not something I ever considered during my first pregnancy.

Twelve weeks in I learned I was carrying twins (a shock in itself). Then at twenty weeks my pregnancy stopped conforming to the baby bible’s ideal when I began losing amniotic fluid from around one of the babies. My baby bible—complete with glossy photos of bulbous bellies, detailed diagrams and baby’s week by week stats—didn’t even hint at the possibility of this eventuality, let alone prepare me for any of the events that followed. Needless to say, this fabulous guide to all things maternal soon found itself in the bin.

Here are a few other things the baby-maker’s bible didn’t mention:

  • 15-20 % of confirmed pregnancies will end in miscarriage.
  • 1 in 12 Australian children have some form of disability. Almost twice as many boys as girls are affected.
  • 1 baby in every 134 births is stillborn—often for no discernable reason.
  • Approximately every 18 hours an Australian child is born with Cerebral Palsy.

My sons, Daniel and Joseph made their appearance eleven weeks before their due date, weighing in at barely three pounds a-piece. Joseph being the smaller twin didn’t survive, but I’m pleased to report that Daniel is alive and well and gearing up for his twentieth birthday next week.

For reasons I’ll never understand, it took the medical community eighteen months to admit that my son had a problem (the fact that he couldn’t sit up properly or walk wasn’t a big enough clue, apparently). Incredibly, when Daniel’s Paediatrician finally conceded that I wasn’t as neurotic as he’d earlier suggested and there really was something wrong with my child, he chose not to name that something, said only that Daniel needed ‘a little bit of physio’. The physiotherapist, however, had no such qualms about naming the beast—Cerebral Palsy. And she was only too happy to elaborate, announcing that not only would Daniel never walk, but it was unlikely he’d ever attend a ‘normal’ school. Both these predictions proved false.

What I’ve learned about raising a child with a disability:

  • When a mother gets a deep-down all the way to her toes feeling that there is something fundamentally wrong with her baby, she is more often than not spot on.
  • Just because a doctor / therapist / stranger in the street has an opinion, doesn’t mean they are right.
  • Something is only a disability if you let it be.
  • There is no such thing as nothing to lose.

In the early 2000s Daniel inspired a novel, a thriller about three teenage boys who are stalked by a somewhat mentally unhinged ice-cream man. The Ice-cream Man, a novel for kids 12+ was published by Ford Street Publishing in 2008. Aside from Daniel being my inspiration for this story, it occurred to me how important it was to ensure that like my son, one of the characters should be a kid in a wheelchair. The reason: to show readers just how able so-called disabled people are. Not only this, but kids with CP finally have a proactive character they can identify with.

As for baby and mothering bibles: Would it really be such a bad idea to include a little more information in these texts about how and what can go wrong during pregnancy and childbirth—not to mention advice on how to cope when it does and where to go for help and understanding? : Hmm, I’m sensing a niche. Best get writing!

The Ice-cream Man can be purchased from all good bookshops (see below)  or ordered through the publisher: 10% of the author’s royalties made from sales of this book have been pledged to Cerebral League Queensland.

National Cerebral Palsy week begins August 1 2010 and International Day of People With Disability is on December 3.

Empty Nest – He's Leaving Home

My 22 year old son left home today and while I’m happy to see him go out into the world and establish his independence, I am really going to miss that kid. He’s a very capable young man and I know he’ll be just fine. It’s me I’m worried about!

I have been Aaron’s mum virtually all of my adult life. I was just 18 when I gave birth to him and I can count on one hand the number of nights he has spent away from home. From the moment he was born, I’ve built my world around being a mother and I’m wondering, who am I now that my parenting duties have been restricted to a casual job? I’ve been demoted!

There are lots of parenting sites offering information on how to parent children and to a lesser extent, teenagers. But the experts have virtually nothing to offer about the transition from parenting a child, to parenting an adult. It’s not like you stop being a parent as soon as your child turns 18.

It’s a very difficult transition. It begins even before they hit puberty. Aaron was still in primary school when he decided to limit my affections to just one peck on the cheek at bedtime and the occasional hug (only on special occasions). As he grew older, the list of unacceptable mum behaviours grew very long indeed. What was once considered to be an act of good parenting, was suddenly re-branded as ‘interference’. I soon learned that if he needed my help he would ask for it and if he didn’t ask for it, as his mum I should have known he needed my help. But God help me if my mum radar happened to be a little off that day and offered help when it was not required!

I know it’s hard growing up. But what young people need to understand is that it’s an adjustment for mum and dad too.

I do have a younger child. Cameron is 18 and for the past couple of years he has been dividing his time between my house, his father’s house and his paternal grandparents. He drops by whenever he likes (usually when he’s out of money or he wants to use my computer). Don’t get me wrong, I love the kid. But a visit from Cameron is like having a tornado tearing through my house once a month! He is one of those larger than life characters who would be well suited to a career in television as a game show host. Now that Aaron will no longer be here to maintain that delicate balance between the child who is an introvert and the child who is an extrovert, the universe is out of balance and so am I.

It’s ironic how for so many years I was looking forward to the day when I could live life on my own terms, without having to factor in the needs of my two children into every decision I make. Now it’s here, I have no idea what to do with all this freedom. The only upside I can see at the moment is that come next summer, I can walk around the house in just a t-shirt and undies while singing Celine Dion’s version of “All By Myself” at the top of my lungs – very sad indeed.

Australian Teens Protective of their Online Identity

Comforting new research conducted by Habbo Australia, the world’s largest virtual world for teens, shows that although young people perceive the internet as a valuable tool for building relationships with people they know in real life, Generation Z is generally vigilant, alert and discerning when it comes to who they connect with online.

Habbo has an astonishing 4.4 million registered teens in Australia and more than 161 million worldwide. Players create their own avatar and enter a virtual hotel that allows them to mingle and make friends with teens from all over the world. Operated by the Sulake Corporation, the twelfth fastest growing technology company in Europe, Habbo prides itself on providing an entertaining and safe environment for teens to interact.

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