By Paul Howes
[Paul Howes is a year 10 student at Blaxland High in Sydney's west and a member of the socialist youth organisation, Resistance. The following speech was given to the 10,000-strong rally against education cuts in Sydney on August 7.]
For the last year, I have been using a maths textbook that is five years older than myself. My school is so desperate for funding that now our name is "Blaxland High — Proudly brought to you by Panasonic and NEC". The average class size at my school is 30 students. This means that the most time a teacher can focus on each student individually in each period is two minutes. Over the whole day, that's just over 10 minutes per student.
The Liberals' attacks are on education in general, not just against university students but high school students as well. We are already feeling the attacks, and as a Resistance activist I'm going to fight against it!
One of my closest friends is going to have to quit school to try to find a job because the Liberals plan to axe Austudy for high school students. If she actually manages to get a job, she won't be working for much, either. She'll be working for the average youth "slave" wage, which is just over $3 an hour.
The scrapping of Austudy for high school students will mean that a lot of people won't be able to go to school, let alone to university. It will force young people who have left abusive homes and are surviving on Austudy to go back home.
The Liberals' plan to take away Austudy for high school students will mean taking away our right to a decent education. We will not stand for this because education is a right, not a privilege!
High school students in NSW are under attack not just from the Liberal government but also from the state Labor government. The state government has been holding back on teachers' right to decent pay, so that teachers here are working almost a whole semester for free. Labor is continually cutting back on funding for our public schools while increasing funding for private schools. It has also made plans to cut humanities subjects and even wants to cut our summer holidays!
High school students don't want these attacks, but it's a lot harder to organise. We have no national body, such as the National Union of Students, to help us organise. Yet, we are feeling the brunt of the attacks and do want to fight for our right to free and quality education. That's why we need support from SRCs and student unions, because we are the next generation of uni students.
High school students need to and will fight alongside university students and academics against the Liberals' funding cuts and fee increases. We must unite with all sections of society to stop the vicious attacks on funding to hospitals, schools and welfare, to stop them privatising Telstra, to stop the attacks on migrants and the unemployed and — last but definitely not least — to stop the cuts to education.
I was told when I was younger that education is a privilege, not a right. This is so wrong. It is clearly an injustice for rich people to be able to go to university just because they can afford to go, while poor people aren't able to. If the Liberals have their way, people from poorer backgrounds will not be able to go to school or university and will be forced into either unemployment or getting a job for slave wages at McDonald's or KFC. So let's fight together to stop this. Let's fight for education to be free and accessible to all!