Remote Rural Poor Women


(Image Source)

Narrative Text for a project on Maternal Mortality – (Text from ARC Discovery Submission 2012)

This project is based upon the proposition that current practice of service design fails when used to develop services for poor and marginalized communities. Service design is currently centered around urban and affluent contexts. I wish to expand the practice of service design to take into account services for the rural poor. My case study is maternal health in India.

Current global practices in service design use a mix of methods added on to conventional system design practices (Manzini, Vezzoli et al. 2001; Morelli 2002). These new tools and methods are in the main drawn from contemporary software development practices in the field of interaction design(Manzini January 2009). By becoming significantly integrated into retail business practice discourses, service design has had a significant and visible impact upon society (Cottam and Leadbeater 2004). The goal of this form of design is to improve ‘ease’ of customers’ access to services, improvement of ‘customer experience’ by the innovative use of internet and telecommunications infrastructure that is common in urban contexts (Hollins and Hollins 1991; Varadarajan 2009). This project is based upon the proposition that current practice of service design fails when used to develop services for poor and marginalized communities(Varadarajan and Fennessy 2007). Further arguing that:

  • Emerging service design theory is intimately bound by service design practice and
  • A project of re-conceptualization cannot be a theoretical discussion of service design and needs to have a case study to underpin the theory development.

Service Design projects in health service delivery have validated inclusive practices such as ‘co-creation’, through examples such as the RED project of the Design Council UK (Cottam and Leadbeater 2004). RED and other milestone projects in service design have been urban projects. The rural poor have not been the subject of a case study thus the practice, and theory, of service design has had little impact beyond the urban(Varadarajan 2009). Elsewhere within conventional service delivery, the preamble to the Indian National Rural Health Mission document amplifies the need to focus upon the rural and mentions the need for an ‘architectural correction’ of the health care services in India(Bajpai, Sachs et al. October 2009). The problem of government health service provision in India being focussed upon urban populations has meant that health indicators for rural populations have been consistently poor and this is manifested in the high incidence of maternal deaths(Padmanaban, Sankara Raman et al. April 2009). Maternal deaths, considered a key indicator for the development status of communities and of the quality of health care services and medical infrastructure of a country, are among the highest in India. With four more years to the 2015 Millennium Development Goals it is expected that the project of maternal mortality reduction would continue to be a location for intense scrutiny of service delivery(Mavalankar, Vora et al. April 2008). This sets up a location for a case study and lends urgency to a peripheral discourse in mainstream design practice, that of services for the poor and rural.

I commenced work on this case study in late 2009. This was a pilot project supported with seed funding from the Design Research Institute at RMIT to trial the project and methodology on a small scale. The research in the pilot project began with a literature review, a mapping of the stakeholder network followed by a field-study phase. The field-study was undertaken in two stages; the first being interviews with key agencies that were either doing research on maternal health or were actively involved in projects at the grass roots level. The second stage was interviews in one specific location, the state of Assam in India, with rural families and key stakeholders in the maternal health system in Assam. The information gleaned from the analysis of the interviews was compared with what I was reading in the literature. The outcome was the formulation of a theoretical strategy as themes for engagement, similar to a set of design concerns that contained both universal elements that applied to other contexts and specific elements that were particular to the local context I had studied. The pilot project concluded that services for marginalized and remote communities are indeed a separate category of services. A methodology of service design practice in such contexts would need to be; one, inclusive and account for traditions and deep rooted community practices; and two, decentralized, to account for both the need to support and stimulate local economy and to build self reliance as a way to tackle potential marginalizations(Gupta 2007). In effect such a practice of service design would do well to be situated in opposition to mainstream service design practice that privileges centralization, use of sophisticated technologies and assumes urban consumption practices. This preliminary hypothesis of ‘service design for the unserved’ was written up and presented at a conference in Assam (Addressing Maternal Mortality in Assam, Dec 2010) and at a public lecture (Bangalore, Jan. 2011).


The project fills a major gap in the theory of service design. Service design theory has evolved with a focus upon privileging expert discourses in a predominantly urban context (Shostack 1982; Normann 2000; Leadbeater and Cottam 2008) This form of practice is focused upon redesigning existing services to either reduce cost, or improve customer experience and is predominantly targeted at urban, educated and affluent consumers of services(Glaeser, Kolko et al. 2001; Frug April, 1998). In instances where projects in health care services have been visualized the significant beneficiary is the client often the publicly owned service(Cottam and Leadbeater 2004). Extending such a paradigm of practice carries the danger of producer side thinking into disadvantaged communities and often the situation turns exploitative(Whitehead, Dahlgren et al. 2001; Wagstaff 2002; Goodman Jan 1968). The current project fills the gap by proposing an inclusive approach; where health indicators take precedence over economics; where people are central beneficiaries and where marginalized communities are supported to become self reliant and responsible for their quality of life outcomes(Yunus and Jolis 1999). This project offers a contribution to a long-standing debate on user side thinking in service design theory.

The project makes a major contribution to current service provisions targeted at rural, remote and tribal communities. Access to service in regional communities, communities distant from economic hubs, is a crucial problem in India. For tribal communities this shows up as a life expectancy gap between urban and regional populations. The conventional approach has been to push services and infrastructure designed for urban population concentrations into regional areas, followed by education to get compliance on proper usage. This project is significant because it opens up a theoretical promise of amplifying notions of alternative forms of development and realizing valuable goals through innovative inclusive designs of services. An inclusive model of service design will impact upon aspects other than just maternal health. In this way the project offers a major contribution to the long standing debate about approaches in service delivery for poor and marginalized people(Wearing).


The project is thematically innovative as it extends a service design research framework to apply to marginalized communities. To do this the project eliminates the commercial client and sets up a research project along the lines of a large action research service design project(Soumitri and Chaudhuri 2001). Such a transformation is crucial for the reformulation of practice as historically service design has evolved from an interest in the design of user experiences. While user experience design is about improving the quality of the event when individuals interact with a service the practice has in the main been about a better design of the graphical user interface (GUI) and about the potential for tangible interfaces in allowing for alternative modes of interacting with service delivery points(Bruseberg and McDonagh-Philp 2001). While service design theory itself has two main themes, that of affordances and technologies of interaction and of increasing ease of access to services, historically a greater focus upon technology has suppressed the discourse of access(Candi 2007). The project design in setting up a problem location where access is restored as a central theme amplifies two key agendas in design discourse: a political agenda, focus upon marginalized communities, and a theoretical agenda, deriving a new model of service design practice.

The project is innovative in its method as it locates the field study in a remote rural context thereby challenging contemporary design ethnography practices. By its choice of location of field work the project changes the form of ethnography that is to be conducted to inform the project. Design ethnography in the service of a client project (Segelström, Raijmakers et al. 2009) is often strategic in its intent and privileges the clients’ intentions at the cost of the genuine needs of the community. Additionally the practice of design ethnography accepts small and sporadic events of immersion, privileging thereby certain categories of information that would be useful for design. A deep and prolonged field study, as has been visualized for this project, suspends judgment till after the research field-study has been completed. The theoretical implication of working in rural, rather than urban areas, therefore has the potential to change the nature of inquiry and the outcomes of research. Further focussing upon just the rural poor allows service design thinking then not to be only about technology, such as internet enabled delivery of services.

The project is conceptually innovative as it keeps the issue of ownership open and unresolved by problematizing the client-designer duopoly as a necessary relationship in the formulation of service design solutions. The removal of a commercial client opens up the potential for service provision, potentially by governments, to be owned in three discrete ways; by community, by service provider and jointly owned by service provider and community, which then mirrors emerges approaches to governance (ref pluralism). In fact approaches to sustainbility outcomes would assume collaborative ownership and community oversight leads to better outcomes(ref). The conceptual framework thus sets up a problem, the theoretical implications of which can be tested in the case study of maternal health for remote poor communities.

Approach And Method

There are two significant phenomena relevant to the current application. One, is a situation of heightened awareness in the Australia to issues of social engagement and service design, where both universities and government agencies have watched events unfold in the United Kingdom’s House of Commons debates and transformation of public services (2008). There is in fact an emerging openness to propositions of service design within local, Australian and Victorian, service delivery practices(Dawes 2009). Two, is a unique situation of rethink and reformulation of rural health services underway in India brought on by its commitment to meet the Millennium Development Goals(Mavalankar, Vora et al. April 2008). This commitment has created a condition of unprecedented openness to innovation among government agencies dealing with rural health. Together the two situations create a space and a need for a robust case study on service design for rural and remote delivery.

The theoretical context of service design for the unserved is set out here. Service design for poor, hence marginalized communities, is a unique field characterized by neglect and poor performance of public services(Sainath 1992; Louis 2007; Mavalankar, Vora et al. April 2009). Approaches to the poor and marginalized in design have been characterized by a discourse of social engagement and social entrepreneurship(Jegou and Manzini 2008). While a focus upon the remote and poor(Papanek 1985) has found form as the practice of social design(Margolin and Margolin 2002) with a strong focus upon artifacts(Rawsthorn 2007) the main paradigm is still one of pushing from the centre to the periphery(Er 2001). Interestingly if we were to pick up the counter current of documenting practices of the poor or old and traditional(Gennep, Vizedom et al. 1960; Varadarajan Jun-2009) and amplify the essential paradigm that characterizes them we see similarities with social design projects in their approach of focussing upon self reliance. Service design thinking in health, universally viewed as a state subject has two key problems; one is the focus upon increasing access to and compliance with state services in remote areas(Humphery, Weeramanthri et al. 2001) and two is that “provider pluralism”, where different forms of service providers are allowed to operate, often goes unrecognized and is marginalized in state plans (2005). Provider pluralism (Chernichovsky 2002; Sheehan Jul-Sep 2009), actively encouraged in urban areas is mirrored by self reliance in remote areas. With more regulation in rural contexts such pluralism often gets ‘written out’ and becomes illegal(Jeffery, Jeffery et al. 1984 Jul-Sep; Ram 2001). To summarise service provision for the rural poor is a complex context for design which demands that service design theory needs to move beyond: one, the urban context and reliance on infrastructure to become more widely applicable, and two, privileging the client’s needs and ‘work creatively with messy and sometimes contradictory realities to achieve better outcomes’ (ref).

The project field work has been deliberately located in a place, the river islands of Brahmaputra in Assam, where the state has failed to and will not provide services(Hazarika 2003) and instead expects the non-governmental sector to be the service provider. While this is a situation that satisfies the current goal of universal coverage of health care the long term prospects of such avoidance of service provision come unstuck especially when seen in the framework of the charter of ‘rights’(ref). The theoretical underpinnings of this inquiry have two components that are crucial; one, is a field study (Wasson 2000; Sanders 2008) to observe and study maternal health in the community and two, will be the definition of the network of actors (Callon, Law et al. 1986; Akrich and Latour 1992; Law and Mol June, 2004) to reconstruct the condition in abstraction. It is the discourse of the actors that will constitute the description of the maternal health condition in the char areas of Assam. The project approach is therefore an inquiry in the reconceptualizing of service design for the unserved that has an agenda of inclusivity(Smith and Fischbacher 2005; Varadarajan, Fennessy et al. 2007; Adler and Kwon January 2002) encompassing the key themes of distance(Tudor Hart 1971; Young 2006), “provider pluralism”, and self reliance.


The method for the project contains three key aspects: an extended field study, a stage of exploring practice that involves reconceptualizing practice by undertaking research through design and a synthesis of the research findings into a specific framework for service design.

Stage 1 – Field Study

The first activity is one of planning the project: this will include recruiting the research assistant (RA) through a limited advertisement and organizing the field trip. Ethics approval will be sought prior to the field study with the submission of the questionnaire and a statement of methodology describing the photography and video recordings that will be done. The ethics clearance is expected to be a more than moderate risk level due to interviews of affected families. On completion of planning and getting the ethics approval I will undertake two field-study trips, of three months each, separated by a gap of about three months to avoid the monsoon season in India. The field study will be undertaken in the river islands of the Brahmaputra, the Char areas of Assam state, where health services for the population are being organized by an NGO, Centre for North East Studies (CNES), and delivered by boat(Hazarika 2010). The field study will involve interviews of three stakeholder groups; the rural remote community, the government health service NRHM staff and the non government organizations (NGOs) working in the community. The community interviews will use a modified version of the ‘verbal autopsy'(Soleman, Chandramohan et al. 2006) to investigate the circumstances surrounding the maternal death in the community (interviews structured like a verbal autopsy were used in the pilot project). The event of the community interview would be photographed to establish the context for design visualizations. The interviews with the government staff and NGOs will be recorded both in audio and video format.

The field study will generate two kinds of raw data – one will be the questionnaire data and interview recordings and the other will be the information from participant observation, video and still photography. This data will be analysed though year 2. The analysis will produce a theoretical account of the condition of maternal health in a remote community.

Stage 2 – Exploring Practice

The field study and analysis will be followed by the activity of ‘research through design’ (quote Cross- and designerly ways of knowing, and Peter Downton – PD in group of experts) which will comprise the two activities of Modelling, and Testing.

  1. Modelling: The activity of modeling will use the sociology of technology framework of actor network theory (which I used in my PhD and in the Diabetes research) to develop a graphical model of actors, and a narrative of the agency contained in each of the actors. This is a variant of the analytical activity undertaken as part of ‘design ethnography’ (Sanders 2008). The key outcome of this stage is a complex portrayal of the system studied in the field.
  2. Testing: The abstract model will be tested in two stages:
    1. Testing Stage 1 – Backcasting and Action Planning: The first stage of testing will involve the use of Vergragt’s (Vergragt 2001) methodology of reconciling future goals with the model of a current condition. The outcome of this activity is both a road map, referred to as action planning, and a map of lesser goals which can be set up as targets. These outcomes are tested through a process of review by a panel of ‘subject experts’ (the subject experts are detailed in the ‘role of personnel’ section of this application). The backcasting activity will produce a set of graphical and outcomes that can be taken forward to further testing in the field.
    2. Testing Stage 2 – Service Design CoCreation: The activity of testing outcomes in the field will be undertaken in year 2 and 3. It will involve testing the outcomes of Action Planning by engaging in Co-Creation with the stakeholders in Assam. This will follow; one, the methodology of community engaged practiced by Cottam (Cottam and Leadbeater 2004) in the RED project, and two; the framework of participatory planning advocated by Chambers (Chambers 1997). The activity of co-creation will focus on two clear community goals for service delivery that were defined through the pilot project: that of ‘safe motherhood’ (SM) and that of ‘emergency obsteteric care’ (EmOC). CI Varadarajan will conduct the co-creation sessions in the community.

Stage 3 – Articulating the Service Design Framework

While the two notions of social design (Margolin and Margolin 2002) and inclusive design(Goodman, Langdon et al. 2006) provide the basis for the construction of the theoretical framework, the goal in this research project will be to: one, establish a specific category of practice that privileges the theoretical discourse set out in the approach and two, set out a theoretical framework for research and practice in service design.


The project sets out to offer a novel approach to service design by focusing upon a case study of an unserved populations (view service provision from the perspective of remote communities) for purposes of developing new process models and guidelines and new results (theoretical frameworks) for the benefit of service users. While the project uses established processes in design research – the artefact outcomes that will be privileged by the way the project is constructed will be different. It is in this context that the following outcomes are visualized. Outcomes that have the potential in this emerging field to become widely disseminated and adopted within an ongoing program of work within the field of Service Design theory and the development of Service Design practice.

  1. An analytical articulation on current practices in service design showing their urban-context embeddedness.
  2. A service design thesis of practice that separates technological affordances from service design.
  3. The first service design research project informed by deep case study grounded in an off the grid context.
  4. New ways of constructing goals, new methods of community engaged service creation.
  5. Improved procedures and techniques in designing and in managing design.
  6. The findings will be published in a book form.


The project would contribute a valuable case study to convince [Australian?] governments of the value of service design. While case studies of improvements in specific sectors of service delivery in Europe have had an impact upon government thinking in Australia, service delivery Australia presents a unique geographic challenge for service designers. Contemporary service design practice, with its combination of communication and interaction design, is almost completely focussed upon urban internet users and the profits of service providers relies on heavy urban concentrations of consumers. While a combination of social innovation and service design is emerging as a practice in pockets in Australia, the focus is still urban. In effect the problem of few urban concentrations, situated amidst a sparsely populated but vast regional landmass, confounds existing capabilities in service design discourse. The project thus picks up a marginal theme in mainstream service design discourse, the focus upon distant and potentially poor regional populations, and amplifies it as a key theme for inquiry. The project has therefore the potential to present new approaches and methods for service design for regional contexts, which can impact upon the social and economic fabric of disadvantaged populations.

Clinton will win by a Landslide

I said this on Oct 7, one month ago, that Clinton will win by a landslide. This was my post.

I tweeted this today:


End this misogynistic horror show. Put Hillary Clinton in the White House

Why do I think that Clinton will win by a landslide? My answer to people was that I believe in the fundamental decency of people. The alternative is not an option.

Its a day & 2 hrs and 32 minutes to the polling. After which I will have to change by ‘feeds’. I will now wait till wednesday (Melbourne) midday for news.

Have you seen a dead person, been with them?

In 2016 there is a national conversation (in Australia) about voluntary euthanasia, as some refer to it, or assisted suicide, another phrase for a voluntary end to ones life. I have listened to the Andrew Denton PodCast series “Better of Dead”. I was listening intently, hunched up and very much interested and fascinated by the journey the podcast took. This was a new dimension to death and I was eager to learn all I could. The campaign to change Australian legislation to make euthanasia, or the practice of choosing to end ones life, legal has been waged for two decades and a bit. It looks like 2016 would be a significant milestone in the campaign. I would hear something similar voiced by the people and campaigners I spoke with. Inspired by the campaign I found myself in Portland, Oregon, to see and hear for myself how a place that has legalised assisted suicide imagines the rights of humans. A full 8 months later reflecting upon my journey I realise this campaign has given me a deeper understanding of the collective navigation towards a shared understanding of death.

For we don’t understand death. We ignore it. We shush people who raise the topic. We would rather death was not brought into the conversation. We are happy for death to be dealt with by experts in technical environments, such as hospitals and funeral parlours. The contemporary period is defined by the removal of death from our lives. Death has become hidden, and unfamiliar. If life is sacred, then death is profane.

Death however happens to us. It exists always as a future event in each individual person’s life. Death therefore ought to be planned for and prepared for. Within the continuum of death Voluntary Euthanasia constitutes one component; the death of a legal entity, a citizen, a tax payer and a law abiding individual. While the material apparatus and practice of taking one’s life is within the ability of an individual the law treats this as a form of crime – the taking of life is a crime. However in exceptional circumstances, such as extreme pain and suffering, it ought to be permissible for society to permit the individual to choose a form of exit and end to the pain and suffering. Those objecting to a law permitting voluntary euthanasia point to the possibility of the exploitation of this option and use the argument of the ‘slippery slope’. The ability of the state to allow for the voluntary Legal Death of a citizen is thus not a straight forward discussion in Australia.

Another component of the continuum of death is what is being referred to as ‘good death’. Chiefly a terminology popular within ‘end of life’ choices within the medical, hospital, ecosystem this phrase refers to the notion that death is largely cast in medical terms. Medical death also largely occurs in hospital where contemporary medicine is confronting the impacts of its practice of aggressively attacking the body to prolong life. Advocates raising the notion of good life are campaigning for doctors, patients and family to have a conversation before undertaking aggressive interventions that would not significantly prolong life but could instead render the person unable to lead a life outside of hospital, fed through tubes and connected to life support apparatus. The notion of good death is thus a way to reimagine the medical death of the person.

Framing the notions of Legal and Medical Death allows me to frame the category of the death of the person: where the death is the end of the social individual, the cultural practice of life. Thus in an individual’s death many things come to an end: the legal entity, the functioning body and the performing individual in society.

In coming to the construction of a location for a project involving students and colleagues I arrived then at the lack and thus the need that we have in society to reframe death. As designers we can do something about a lack – we can populate it with practice, services, products and a discourse. Developing a cultural discourse, we can invite people to enter into an engagement with the notions of death in cultural ways; with amusement, awe and laughter.

Death is a space that is the last event in the journey of life. It then has its own rites of passage, and traditional cultures have many sophisticated, curious and wonderful ways to engage with death. Death thus ought to be designed. Death as this designed practice ought to be framed as a discourse of desirable ways to proceed towards death and constitute the universe of possibilities to reimagine ways of dying. The celebration surrounding the last phase of a life can be so much more than a consumption event, such as the bucket list. It can be the end of consumption too and a repudiation of the mean and the meaningless in the shallows of life.

The proscription of death, and the consignment of the journey towards death, the experience of dying, to a technical facility such as the hospital, a body repair shop, robs society of its past, its ability to enrich social discourse and its ability to build resilience. The banishment of dying from our homes has some horrific consequences in that most people die unhappy and away from their loves ones. People die in horrible ways. We can change this.


(Knight Meets Death, in Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman)

The End studio took a group of design students and teachers on a journey to dismantle death and to put it back together in interesting ways. The goal in this enterprise has always been to be able to take the design outcomes to others who deal with people and families navigating mortality and death. It had been possible of us to construct the studio so that it was embedded within the medical facilities to include experts who deal with keeping people alive. We chose to stay outside of this ecosystem – for a while – so we could create a space that was not about life, where death is the unacceptable, but about dying as a desirable and normal practice.

We constructed dying as a long period. Not just the moments, days and weeks before death and after death. But as a phase that occurs after the end of the working life. So in our view dying commences when you stop working and may extend to decades. Dying in this ways is reframed as something that can be made meaningful and full, rather than empty. We imagine we can speak about death not just with those dying soon, but also with people, such as children, who will die eventually. We can speak of dying as a place where we do things differently, to imagine our lives in ways different from the way we imagined it before we entered the world of work. We can recast dying as the place where we savour. Where we pause to taste, smell and touch. Where we don’t take, but give. Its the location of the poetic phase of our lives.

To enrich ways of dealing with this tremendously important aspect of being alive we imagine we focus not about how we look but upon how funny we are. The attractive person is one who is generous, kind and amusing. We become children and in this we close the loop. Gently and with grace.


We make time to be with a dying person in our homes. We hold them, get them to hold our beer as we munch the pizza, stroke their skin and make them normal. We will have seen many dead people and would be richer for it.


Acknowledging others who came along on this journey.

  1. Haley West:
  2. Libby Molony:
  3. Rebecca Bartel:
  4. Tony Yap:
  5. Swathi Madike
  6. Ian Gray:


This is a great piece. I am looking at this as – the tide is turning folks. I am looking to achieve my prediction of a Clinton landslide. #clintonlandslide

Opinion | I don’t like Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Party. I’m voting for them anyway. – The Washington Post

How much should education cost

Walgett spends $44,692 per student, with $43,501 coming from the federal and state government to support the school’s extra needs. By comparison, elite Sydney Grammar spends $40,982 per student, with $3617 coming from public funding. – source: Liberals trigger storm over private school funding, Australian, STEFANIE BALOGH, 12:00AM September 28, 2016

On Monday on #QandA the Education Minister was precise and stated the problem facing every education minister in this country. As the Australian put it:

Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s concession that some of the nation’s wealthiest private schools are “over-funded” and could lose money has ignited a fresh front in the decades-old ­political firestorm over education spending.

In the same Australian article the Grattan Institute’s Peter Goss said it well:

The Grattan Institute’s school education program director Peter Goss said Senator Birmingham “is to be absolutely commended for calling out the fact that some schools are over-funded relative to their need. That means we are spending dollars and extra dollars each year in places that don’t need it, and that is preventing us from spending it in places that do need it’’. “This must change,’’ he said. “This is about the principles of needs-based funding — arguments about hit lists of private schools are purely self-serving.’’

“This has been a no-go area for far too long. It is fantastic that Minister Birmingham is showing signs of taking it on.’’

School Funding has for years been portrayed as an intractable problem. So the Education Minister is keen to do something about it.

Senator Birmingham said he would not buckle in the face of “scaremongering” from Labor about a schools “hit list” and that he was determined to end the inequalities between states and school sectors. – Revealed: the nation’s most ‘over-funded’ schools, Matthew Knott, SEPTEMBER 28 2016 – 8:38PM, The Sydney Morning Herald

Here is a great Video about the Gonski model that proposed a way forward to resolve this problem.

I was listening to RN (@patskarvelas) and the topic of schools funding came up. Stimulated and curious I decided to have a look.

What is the current situation with schools funding?

First I read the two articles that deal with the comments made on Q&A. I then did a bit of rough research. This involved:

  1. Selecting a set of schools to study. I decided to take up two schools from the newspaper article and added three others – two schools I was familiar with and one school in Melbourne that has a reputation for academic excellence ( and for raising house prices in its school zone)
  2. I then downloaded the annual reports for these 5 schools. And extracted two figures from the report: Income (Government and other) and number of students.
  3. I have also used the figures mentioned in the newspaper article (for Sydney Grammar and Walgett) – expenditure by school per student. There was a discrepancy in the figures for Walgett – so I made two lines and thus kept both figures. The ones quoted in the newspaper and the ones in the annual report. I was using the K-12 figures – both primary and high school.
  4. I then made a simple excel spreadsheet you see below.



Note: The dataI used for the Walgett School is the one mentioned in this newspaper article. Its possible this is a unique school and potentially a special instance of funding.

Its possible that such a spread sheet can be made up – with more accurate figures. It is entirely possible that research such as this may have been conducted by Gonski/ The Grattan Institute and even by the Education Minister’s office. Purely in terms of Government expenditure – which the Minister seemed to be pointing at – it costs roughly 10 to 12 thousand $ a year to educate a single student in the Public-Ecosystem. On the other side the Federal government has to spend 2.1 billion a year on funding private schools.

This simple chart can be used alongside some key findings of educational research. It can also be used alongside key tropes to verify their validity.  That said a few aspects of the current debate are listed below.

  1. School academic performance is linked to postcodes.
  2. Future Employment outcomes are determined by the school the student graduated from.
  3. The Government should fund all students independent of their economic status.

Some aspects of the current debate are unique to the Australian context – such as preserving state funding for Private schools. Its quite common for state funding outside of Australia to be focussed only upon state schools.

How Much Does Education in Australia Cost?

To look at this next question I started with the ABS data on school going population in Australia.

Overall, government schools continued to be the major provider of school education in Australia in 2015, with 2,445,130 students (65.2% of all students) attending, while 1,305,843, students (34.8% of all students) attended non-government schools. Source Australian Bureau of Statistics (

From my previous table and text I have two figures: The federal Government spends 2.1 Billion on education, and the rough cost of per student education in a public school is 12,000 $/year. Here is what I came up with:

  • Current State Funding Total 29,341,560,000
  • Federal Funding to Private Schools Total 2,100,000,000
  • Total Government Funding (State plus Federal) 31,441,560,000

The Federal Government is not a big player in the schools funding/ economic ecosystem. If they were to pull the money they spend on private schools and put that into the state system each student would get an additional 900$ – making the individual student spend 12900. For Balwyn High School this would mean an additional income of 1.8 million. This would come at a loss of 4 million to Sydney Grammar.

Note: Using the Federal Funding of 2.1 billion for private schools, for a student population of 1,305,843 – we arrive at an average figure (all students receiving the same level of funding)of Federal Government Funding of 1608$. This is half the quoted figure for Sydney Grammar – and its possible there is a formula that the Government uses to determine variable funding for different private schools.

How to think about Funding

This was an article in the Age today: “More than 150 private schools over-funded by hundreds of millions of dollars each year” by Matthew Knott and Fergus Hunter LINK.

An earlier article has a list of schools overfunded: Revealed: the nation’s most ‘over-funded’ schools, by Matthew Knott

There are a few issues at stake here, some questions and some narratives:

  1. How is the funding for an individual school determined? Therefore how have some of these schools ended up with such high levels of funding.
  2. My earlier analysis was focussed upon ‘taxpayer’s children’ – that is the government money is the portion of tax paid by the individual. This is the hypothesis that the way to fund private schools could use a rule that specified a ‘rate of funding’ attached to a student – such as 12,000$ per year. This funding then would move with the student to any school they wished to go to – a form of portable funding. So a fee of 32,000$ a year in a school could be imagined to comprise two components – the state fee support of  12,000 and a direct school fee for the balance owed – which would be 20,000 in this example.
  3. Re the phrase “No school worse off”: This rule could be interpreted as a notion of equity – currently some schools are worse off and this needs to be fixed. That all schools get funded by the Government to the same amount.
  4. Re How do elite private schools maximise their income from their three sources of funding – fees, Government subsidies, philanthropy/ endowments? There exists a form of private school funding – such as in the US – that has an established mechanism to draw large amounts of funding to exclusive schools. Australian Private schools that adopt these practices would be modernising their income portfolios and moving to become more resilient and potentially even more well funded. Government funding is easy money and holds back innovation.
  5. Is it correct that federal funding go to private schools and state funding look after public schools? This is a historical anomaly – and needs to be revisited. For income tax that individuals pay is collected by the federal government and no portion of this comes back to benefit the family that sends their child to a public school.
  6. How can an education minister change an entrenched system? The solutions are clear but the political path to an equitable future faces many hurdles.
  7. Public Schools adhere to the principle that schooling is a human right – like the air we breathe its free. Should all schooling be free – and paid for from the tax income, plus the tax on the “high net individuals” and corporations that are not paying any tax?
  8. Should a sovereign fund be established to provide for free schooling?

Till the recent voicing of the notion of ‘over-funding’ it has not been possible to have a national conversation about the future of schools funding.


I have used an old figure of 2.1 Billion – as what the federal government spends on private schools. Recent articles have used much higher figures – I am planning to speak with school principals to correct my figures in the coming weeks and months.

Further Reading

Gonski Report – Download here.

Commentary here.

What is the Gonski Report.


My children went to/is in state schools. I am very happy with their schooling experience. I was prompted to write this – to have this conversation with them – partly to explain how government works in this case in dealing with service provision for its citizens. This information would be useful to them in the event one of them becomes the premier or prime minister.

I write this post – and will keep making additions and edits over the course of time – as a primer for people who may want to read a discussion about school funding.

Loved the Rosie Project

I finished the Rosie Project last night. It was 10.44 PM when I got up from the yellow Ikea reading chair. I had begun the read at 4.30 AM after downloading it on Borrow Box using my local Darebin library membership. I had chosen to download the e-AudioBook version of the book. At the back of my mind was the project – stuff my brain with specific diction – which I researched and did not follow up. This was a project to extend my diction in many different directions. I can Speak English in a few differed ways – multiple Indian ways, but also can do a smattering of Japanese-English, Singlish. Listening to an eAudio book would insert a substantial amount of audio content into my brain – and would be stored there till I accessed it. This book would no doubt be spoken of in the Melbourne-Educated voice. This is a form of hybrid intonation that would contain both the Urban-metropolitan Australian nuances, plus the standard university educated minimisation of local intonations. This voice would be fitting in to a standard-english mode stripped off the colloquial local and socialised intonations. Not posh – just stripped back and pickled. With delicious overtones of the American ‘a’ intoned sporadically for effect, and the conscious attempt at the rounded ‘o’ to denote every so often – responding to the need to have a confusing impact upon the listener.

The usage of the word ‘bastard’ is a case in example. It can be deployed in multiple ways. Its a great word that can be used as a ‘boy hug’ – “you bastard” slowly issuing from the mouth of a colleague is a great way to say “I fucking love you mate”. The ‘a’ in affection is rounded – the flattened ‘a’ in this word would confuse the listener: is this is a quote from a film? For effect the ‘b’ can be used as a projectile, with popping lips.

I am Soumitri of South Indian Extraction, height 167 and BMI 23.7. Average on all scores and statistically normal. No special distinguishing features. Balding, occasionally vegetarian, non-smoker, monogamous, Sporadic quantified-selfer, User of multiple scheduling apps (desultorily). Intellectually I am prone to binge projects – learn hebrew (not all that well), run (reasonably well – though not pushing the limit, desultory). I checked a few times, doing a mental assessment, to see if I figured on the Autism scale. I am hopeless in social gatherings. I can get worked up after social events. I like to work alone. I do not want to play the academic grants game. I would rather do interesting research that is not beholden to money making. Am I like Don (the main chracter in the book). There is a lot to like in Don.


Very early into the reading of the book (I should have said into the listening) I had an impulse that I have had often with authors – my particular and very special favourites being Andrea Camilleri and Shane Maloney. I would love to have coffee with this author. I stopped the audio just as Don was putting the lobster into the freezer. I went and had a look at Graeme Simsion. Then I had a read of a few reviews. There was a lot to like (“Warm-hearted and perfectly pitched, with profound themes that are worn lightly, this very enjoyable read promises to put Don Tillman on the comic literary map somewhere between Mr Pooter and Adrian Mole. Through his battles to understand and empathise with other humans, Don teaches us to see the funny side of our own often incomprehensible behaviour – and to embrace the differently abled.”) and not like (“The Rosie Project is 1930s screwball comedy updated for 2013.”) in the reviews.

I am prone to preferring the notion of affection in my engagement with literary charatecres of this genre.

I loved the book. I cried at many points. I stayed with the book. I stand with the voice of the narrator. I finished the book in a day.

If you want your treat in audio this is a gorgeous morsel.

I am next going to have a look at/ a listen of:

“The Rosie Effect – the book’s sequel, released last September, about the birth of the professor’s child with Rosie – was recently named by Bill Gates as one of his five favourite reads of 2014.”