SA Labor is pledging to boost the capabilities of regional students and pathways should it win the next state election, but the state government has dismissed their plan.
Labor leader Peter Malinauskas has released a suite of policies aimed at reforming the state's education system, including a plan to introduce universal pre-school for three-year-olds, providing teaching scholarships to increase diversity and building new technical colleges.
In a Zoom conference with representatives from regional media outlets on Friday, Mr Malinauskas and Shadow Education Minister Blair Boyer outlined their plan for education.
Mr Malinauskas said they had been working on the policy for the better part of the past two years and saw education as a key election focus.
"Education is a long-term economic policy," he said.
"Our children are the best resource our nation has in 15 years time.
"People are not talking about this right now, it is all about COVID and hospitals, but I want to talk about things others aren't, things that matter in the long term."
Mr Malinauskas said the policies would look to stop the slide of Australia's school average performance.
He said state and federal governments, both Labor and Liberal, were responsible for the decline, but "we must draw the line somewhere".
Key elements include a plan to ensure principals and their leadership group are empowered to take a greater role in decisions regarding who is on their staff; keeping a higher remuneration for teachers in country areas past the first few years; introducing three-year-olds to preschool; have a royal commission to examine the structure of the school day; investing in mental health services in schools, building five technical colleges; and looking at mid-year intake for reception students.
He said the policies would provide "more choice" in early years education, reception start dates, and pathways from school.
Mr Malinauskas said regional areas would benefit from the policies.
"The school day does not work for double-working families, especially working mums, and a royal commission will examine the school day - there is free four-year-old preschool available, but the take-up is low as it is inconvenient," he said.
"If a school needs a specialist to help students who may be falling behind or have learning difficulties, we will have more available. We are investing in 100 at a cost of $50 million, and this will help regional schools."
"Rather than cutting off the allowance for teachers in regional areas after five years, it should be maintained, which helps to keep the community in place."
Mr Malinauskas said two of the five technical colleges to be built would be in regional South Australia, but said the locations would be announced closer to the election.
Mr Boyer said the state government's policy "looks pretty with nice graphics" but had little money behind it, while Labor was "serious about tackling education".
"Our policies are a reflection of what we are hearing in communities and out on the ground," he said.
Mr Malinauskas said he was aware of issues in regional areas in relation to childcare services and skills shortages and that there would be more discussions with regional councils on these issues in the coming weeks and months.
Education Minister John Gardner said Labor were "doing backflips" after 20 years in government and opposition of opposing proposals to put children's needs first, and that Mr Malinauskas had "no faith" in the shadow minister or his team to develop the policy.
"Labor and Pete would prefer to spend millions on royal commissions and hundreds of thousands on QCs than undertake real policy development which requires hard work, deep research and strong consultation."
Mr Gardner said Labor's country policy was a "pale imitation" of what the state government had announced.
Their three main objectives are to deliver quality and expert teaching; to ensure country schools and preschools have access to the systems and support needed; and to provide country children with access to quality learning and pathway opportunities.
"The Marshall Liberal Government is committed to improving opportunities for those who live and work in our regions and delivering world-class education for every child and young person, in every classroom right across the state," he said.
"We are very confident our strategy addresses the challenges in a much more comprehensive way than Labor's proposal."
Mr Gardner also said the state government was "concerned" about Labor's push to abolish giving teachers a right of return to the city, noting it would make it "extremely difficult to attract teachers to serve in certain areas".