Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
Bundle of advertising ... or bundle of worries?
They're sharp, these capitalists, aren't they? And they're right up to the mark with uses for new technology, too. One of our readers brought in a letter a few days ago that she had received from the American International Assurance Company (Australia) Limited. She has a two-year-old toddler, and AIA's letter — and accompanying bumph — was presumably sent to her after computerised trolling through records of births correlated with electoral rolls. The envelope was adorned with a colour photograph of a baby playing with a computer keyboard, watched over by a cute little teddy bear wearing a scholar's mortar-board. The link between the infant and its future education was obvious. Why was American International Assurance gracing their envelope with this particular image, however? Well, that was to some extent revealed in the slogan printed in red above the photo of the baby and its playthings: "Bundle of joy ... or bundle of worries?" Actually, it was a bundle of advertising — for insurance that will allow parents to pay for their children's education. "Like most parents", says the glossy leaflet enclosed, "you have probably given thought to the future education of your children and the funding that goes with it." Note how neatly they tie thinking about education for your children to the concept of you paying for that education. The leaflet nails AIA's colours to the mast with the proclamation that "education is not free, and it is definitely not cheap". Certainly, the insurance companies don't want it to be free (or even cheap), for there would be no business opportunities for them if it were. And now for the scare bit To reinforce their message, and hopefully scare parents witless, AIA's leaflet asserts that "One year's worth of education in high school costs anything from $3,000 to $9,000 depending on choice of school. Tertiary education costs even more." However, AIA is not advocating that people take to the streets and protest about this dreadful state of affairs. Or elect a government committed to providing free education. Oh, no. The insurance industry has an entirely different "solution" in mind: the "Gold Scholar children's education savings plan", a form of term insurance. By coughing up a monthly premium starting at a mere $42.57 — "dependent upon age of the child" — you can start a plan "with a guaranteed cash payment designed to pay fully/partially for the cost of education at secondary and or tertiary levels". Fully/partially? So even with Gold Scholar insurance you may not be able to pay for your kid's education. However, they are at pains to reassure parents that it won't be too big a burden. "The key", it seems, "is planning, regular disciplined savings and, most importantly, an early start." And they mean early: you can start insuring your child's future education costs when the scholar is as young as four weeks of age! Unashamedly, and outrageously, AIA urges parents to "channel birthday monies and/or Centrelink family payments to partially or fully fund these plans" with the comforting words that "it will save you the 'financial pain' in later years". Just so long as the insurance company gets its premiums. The letter enclosed with the bundle of advertising highlights what David P Murray, Vice President — Agencies, calls recent "cost of education" news allegedly from "around Australia". This "news" is divided into two sections, under the headings UNIVERSITIES: "Two more universities set to raise HECS fees" "Five figures for cheapest degrees" and SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES: "Parents reject state schools" [that disposes of the less expensive but obviously undesirable public school option] "Fees on rise at top schools". Interestingly, the glossy leaflet proclaims that "it is every parent's desire to give the best education to their child". Is it? AIA may like to think that it is up to parents to provide education for their children, but I think that is actually the role of society as a whole. I think it is every parent's desire that their children receive the best education that society can provide. And I think that is also every child's right. Education free, secular and universal Education should be free, secular and universal — available equally to all, regardless of parents' income. Of course, there would be fewer opportunities for corporate profit-making under such a system and no need for the likes of AIA's Gold Scholar scheme. But what a world it urges us to look forward to, where educating your children can put you in the poorhouse. It's a world that capitalism embraces and promotes. ABC radio reported only a few days ago that fourteen million children in the once socialist now capitalist former Soviet Union cannot afford to go to school. What a comedown for a country that once boasted the best educational opportunities for children anywhere in the world, a country that provided free education to everyone, from kindergarten to university or vocational training. Fourteen million children who cannot afford to go to school should make the leaders of the various countries that were the Soviet Union very worried: in 1917 that sort of thing led to revolution. This is a world inevitably created by capitalism as the State steadily cuts its responsibilities and funding and money-grubbers move in with their "Gold" schemes to rip off parents and make them that much poorer while shareholders whiz off to the Gold Coast to enjoy their ill-gotten "rewards".