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Questions, Questions and more Questions

Posted by Philip Smith on 11 November 2019

Will the Answer matter?

For more years than I care to remember I have beaten this drum - If we pose the wrong question the answer is irrelevant and any action based on the answer, likely to be futile. 

Last month I wrote about how red tape is drowning not just the public service but private enterprise as well. - Link

During this last month there has been a raft of incompetence revealed in the media and somehow, a day later, it is forgotten only for the next bit of lunacy to take its place.

To illustrate my contention regarding wrong questions I will describe just two of the recent events, then you decide.     

Reported in The Australian Friday Nov 8, 2019

Consultants to advise how to cut consultants. ( QLD Government )

A two year budget of $ 10 Mil has apparently already been blown, in an effort to reduce spending on consultants by $ 200 mil a year. 

Trying to get a grip on government numbers is normally like nailing jelly to a wall, slippery and ever changing, this story is no different.

To quote from the article " The levels of consultants' fees are too high and we're looking to reduce it." The government spends and estimated ( yes really , estimated!!  Who knows ) $1.5bn on consultants and contractors each year, on top of more than 40% of the budget that pays for public service wages and expenses.     

For a moment lets digress to an October 1st 2019 Courier mail report.    

Hire and Higher

This report covers the astonishing growth in the QLD public service with the addition of some 33,000 new positions since 2015, including 3,375 senior positions.

In summary the QLD government is spending money and using consultants to advise them on how to spend less on using consultants, while at the same time employing even more senior civil servants.  The fox is in the henhouse, but then it appears that the fox owns the henhouse.   

The question that should have been asked is not how to spend less money on consultants, it should have been "why are we spending this huge amount on consultants?"         

This is an easy question that most people would be able to answer.

To avoid using consultants for everything -  Employ competent staff, it is as easy as that.    

I wonder where I can send my invoice for this advice and considering that they will have saved a huge amount of time, have one simple answer and can act on it immediately, I should be able to ask for a miserable $ 1 mil.   

Then again, they will need a team of consultants to create a strategic draft report to provide direction for the development of the strategic plan to implement whatever the strategic committee determines to be important.  

The amount spent on consultants, despite the huge increase in government employment is an absolutely clear sign that the senior government staff can simply not do the jobs they are employed to do.

No doubt a really nice looking report will be produced containing many words and probably an entire new lexicon to explain why the use of consultants is a great deal, unavoidable and the only practical solution.   

Maybe the report might recommend an entire new department to be created, to manage consulting assignments and they could propose a small group of consultants to assist in this creative process. 

One might think this unlikely, but I have a report on my desk from a Federal taskforce who proposed almost exactly what I described.  

On a more positive note - I have a range of fantastic government reports. Created to a high standard, clear on issues and accurate descriptions of the problems, however it appears these reports end up on the shelf and no action is taken. 

The right question then would be why are these reports ignored ?


Last night I watched a television show ( 4 Corners ) on the problems of teaching children to read and write.   

They showed Australia at the bottom end of all the international ranking tables and they state that this will have to be fixed, soon...........

With an emphasis and ongoing debate on what the best teaching method might be, they do not pose the most basic question.    

Why despite spending vast amounts of money on education, education research and a 100 years of running schools do they still have this problem?   

They interviewed recently graduated teachers who stated that they had never been taught how to teach. A bit of a problem I would suggest, but moving forward....   

It gets worse, considering that every state and territory has a department of education, and we have another at Federal level. Most universities will have "expert" staff in this area and no doubt they attend conferences, local and international, but somehow still this whole mob have somehow not been able to figure out how to teach basic literacy. 

To illustrate just how unfocused this entire cabal is, I recently received a tender request from the Tasmanian department of education.     

Make sure you are sitting down for this one

Incompetence on an Industrial  scale Tasmania - Education

Oct 2019

Department of Education
Letitia House
Olinda Grove
Mount Nelson TAS 7007
Education and Training Services

Curriculum Services seeks the services of a professional learning provider to develop and deliver a series of spaced workshops that focus on building teacher knowledge of, and facility with, teaching the Big Ideas in Number.  The workshops will introduce classroom teachers to the importance of students' mathematics and learning of key concepts such as place value, multiplicative thinking, partitioning and counting.

The workshops are expected to be delivered over four days each year.  Two days will be delivered in Hobart, and two in the north.

The provider must have a recognised research base coupled with acknowledged expertise in the development and use of supporting classroom activities that will be shared with participating teachers.

What on earth is all this about, I wondered, and had to research the terminology ( see links at the bottom of this article ).   

In short this fancy lexicon describes very basic arithmetic and reading the tender description again, I was struck that the purpose was to "introduce" teachers to these basics.

Really after qualifying as a teacher, somehow there is a need to "introduce" them to the most basic of basics?.   

The Tasmanian department of education proudly proclaim

We are one of the largest government agencies in Tasmania.  A range of staff are employed to fulfil organisational and functional needs across a range of areas, particularly in schools and colleges, corporate services, adult and community education, library and archive services. The main occupations include teachers, teacher assistants, librarians, social workers, speech and language pathologists, school psychologists, education facility attendants, general administrative and clerical support.

How many teachers are employed vs the vast list of other types of employees I wonder and this is an open question to all departments of education, good luck to try and get an answer to that question.

How can anybody with a brain be surprised at the outcome, when all those involved will pose only questions where the answers are irrelevant.

For anybody interested in Education I could recommend two books, where many of the real questions are not only asked but answered. See list below   

While ongoing debates appear to revolve around issues of gender and associated woke issues, everybody has forgotten the purpose of education and so the wrong questions will continue to be asked and our educational system will contnue to decline..   

These two examples clearly illustrate the value of asking the right questions and the cost of asking the wrong question.

 This leaves us with a Question -   

How good are we at framing the correct questions and what can we do about improving our ability to formulate better questions?

Reference material - Education

Big Ideas in Number   

Place Value    

Multiplicative thinking   

Partitioning and Counting


Books on Education in Australia

Kevin Donnelly
Why Our Schools Are Failing - 2004

How Political Correctness Is Destroying Australia
Enemies Within and Without ( 2018 )

Article by Kevin
Dr Kevin Donnelly was co-chair of the National Curriculum Review and is a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University.



Philip SmithAuthor:Philip Smith
About: Philip specialises in getting projects and businesses that are not performing as well as expected, back on track.
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