Stone the crows! The feds will spend $5m urging parents to ask their kids what they did at school.

Buried in the budget is $5m for an advertising campaign to “raise awareness of the positive effect parental engagement has on their children’s achievement in education.” This is not a complete waste of money, basically because it is funded from a cancelled commitment, the campaign to sell deregulation of student fees, which the Senate has rejected twice.[i]

Still, it struck the Crows as $5m that could have come straight off the deficit so they asked the Department of Education what the project’s point is. To which the feds responded:

Study after study shows a direct link between the level of engagement a parent has with their child’s education and the outcomes of the child in learning and achievement. It is also clear there is a need for parents to be better informed about the activities and involvement they can have in this process. That is why the government has requested the Department of Education and Training to develop a national information campaign to inform parents about the many positive ways they can become more involved with their child’s school and education. Strategies to increase parental engagement is one of the four pillars of the Coalition’s school education policies.[ii]

Four questions occur to the Crows about this campaign. Why spend money telling people who will actually listen to do something they already are? Do the feds think they can change behaviour with a mere $5m? Even if it has an impact how will we ever know? And, most important, is the money for a social advertising or a marketing campaign? The former is easy to make – just present a case. But the latter requires the target market to change its behaviour and when there is no financial incentive to nudge people in the right direction (as in anti-smoking) this isn’t easy.[iii]

Marketing guru Philip Kotler defined the difference 50 years back; “A social advertising approach contrives only the event of mass media communication and leaves the response to natural social processes, social marketing arranges for a step-down communication process. The message is passed on and discussed in more familiar surroundings to increase its memorability, penetration, and action consequences.”

Professor Kotler did not know it then, but social marketing needs social media.[iv] Although, whether the feds know it now is not assured. Print and broadcast media pick up 70 per cent of Commonwealth advertising.[v]

Whatever form the campaign takes, the feds are allowed to run pretty much whatever they like about whatever behaviour they want us to change. The government advertising guidelines specify campaigns can only occur, “where a need is demonstrated (and) target recipients are identified. Campaign information should clearly and directly affect the interests of recipients,” which can mean whatever the feds want it to. In the 2013-14 financial year, Canberra spent $106m on 30 campaigns on everything from smoking to defence recruiting.[vi]

However, do parents need to be told to get involved in their children’s education? You have to wonder. According to the Bureau of Statistics, people understand that they have to help their kids learn, with 96 per cent of parents of three to eight year olds reading stories to their children or listening to them read in the survey week.[vii]

But a federally funded project, managed by state officials and parents groups, seemed less interested in identifying if there is a problem in low SES communities than assuming one exists and fixing it:

The work of the project highlighted the need for greater community understanding about the role of parents and families as the first and continuing educators of their children and in the ways that all parents and families can be involved in the ongoing education of their child.

And, what a surprise.  It seems Canberra got the idea for a communications campaign from this group, which called for “a broad communications and social marketing strategy” which “is developed targeting parents and families to increase awareness about the importance of parental and family engagement in education.”[viii]

The Crows can’t help but wonder whether the parents who do not care about their kid’s education has got bigger and different problems than advertisements urging them to pay attention can solve.

But there are campaigns, urging people to stop gambling, eating, drinking, and drug taking as well – whatever is wrong, the state is there to help. As

Robert Donovan from Curtin University argues, “Social marketing means no one with behaviour to change is on their own”, and that a core group is “individuals who have political power to determine the allocation of a society’s financial and other resources and to change public institutions such as the media and the law and government bureaucracies such as education and health services, so as to ensure equality of access and opportunity as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” [ix]

If anybody’s rights need protecting, in this case, they are those of kids who grow into illiterate, innumerate adults. Five million big ones won’t buy much media but they can fund teaching people to read and count.


[i] Stephen Matchett, “Motherhood message,” Campus Morning Mail, May 14 @ http://goo.gl/8KIbER recovered on May 17

[ii] Department of Education statement, www.campusmorningmail.com.au May 18

[iii] Mike Marinetto, “Nudge not shove could tackle self-destructive behavior,” The Conversation, May 22 2014 @ https://goo.gl/dQm9Gs recovered on May 17

[iv] Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman, “Social marketing: an approach to planned social change,” Journal of Marketing, 35 (July) 1971 3-12, 6 @ http://goo.gl/Nz1YLZ recovered on May 17

[v] Parliamentary Library, “The administration of Commonwealth government advertising,” January 11 2012 @ http://goo.gl/edgtJj recovered on May 17

[vi] Parliamentary Library ibid

[vii] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Childhood education and care, April 28 @ http://goo.gl/SZmVoF recovered on May 17

[viii] Smarter Schools National Partnerships National Key Reform Project, “Parental engagement in schooling in low-economic status,” recovered on May 17

[ix] Robert J Donovan, “The role for marketing in public health change programmes,” Australian Review of Public Affairs 10 (1) July 2011 23-40 @ http://goo.gl/Eq3sWO recovered on May 17