Simon Birmingham: Well, thanks very much for that introduction and, well it’s a delight to be here. Quite an act to follow, indeed. I often- there’s some gymnastics involved in politics from time to time. Usually more of the verbal nature. And I certainly won’t be attempting to replicate any of what I just got to take a glimpse of on stage. But thank you for the chance to join you all today. Can I particularly thank Samantha Young, the conference director, and the conference, for facilitating me to give this address, invited to be the opening address, and schedules just meant that I couldn’t quite make the opening. So, in particular thanks to all of who are the true stayers for the day in terms of being here for the opening address at the slightly unorthodox, closing end of the day.
Can I acknowledge the Gadigal peoples of the Eora Nation, and indeed all of Australia’s traditional owners, and as Education Minister acknowledge that we continue to learn so much more of Indigenous knowledge and culture from Indigenous knowledge and culture, and together as a people we build upon that knowledge and culture for the future.
This evening, I’d like to speak about our education system, why it’s the cornerstone in particular of our economic growth and prosperity in Australia, and of course what we’re doing – what the Turnbull Government is doing – to ensure it continues to serve the needs of our community and our economy into the future. If we want Australia to be a successful player in our rapidly changing world, if we want to continue to enjoy the economic strength that underpins our world class standard of living, then we have to understand the seismic shifts that are taking place, so that we can adapt and respond in strategic and informed ways.
Now, Australia has a unique range of characteristics that position us well, indeed, to adapt and to succeed, including; our long-term political stability, strong institutions of governance and commitment to democratic values, our unprecedented run of economic growth, now spanning a record breaking 25 years and leading and exceeding G7 nations, an education system that has long sought to cater for all and has consistently delivered quality and excellence, and our shared values to have a go, while looking after our mates, that build upon the world’s oldest continuing cultures but are successfully complimented now by cultures from around the globe. These factors constitute, if you like, an Australian model, unique factors which position us to respond well to the next wave of change, in whatever form it takes, and to take full advantage of it.
Futurists have been predicting the end of work as we know it, since the time of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century. However, through waves of continuous technological change we have found that while disruptions are real, they need not necessarily be feared. Despite fears of technological disruption, economic liberalisation or globalisation, there is a greater number and a greater proportion of Australians engaged in the workforce today than at any previous time in our history. Change has been proven to present us with new challenges, yes, but also with new opportunities. The Australian model offers a blueprint for how we may also master the future.
John Edwards, in his 2015 essay The Long Golden Run, wrote about the reasons for Australia’s strong modern economy, and pointed to the fact that while Australia built prosperity on the back of agriculture and mining, it is our people, our skilled and educated workforce, that are the key difference. He wrote that education and work skills were nourished by colonial government, which moved faster than most to introduce compulsory primary education. Those primary industries that built this country have in fact spurred us on to world-class research, development, and industry, and many cutting-edge advances that have made these industries so profitable and so sustained through our history. Today, we don’t just export wheat or wine, or coal or copper, we export technology, knowledge and expertise developed in those industries throughout the world, and of course in many others.
Australians have had the spirit, the enterprise, the skill and the natural aptitude to adapt to changing environments. And now, from the high chair and our littlest learners, through to higher education, the Turnbull Government’s education reform agenda seeks to ensure Australia can continue to adapt and to succeed. Our commitment, our ambition, is to ensure every Australian student is supported to be ready for the future. Our funding reforms build on David Gonski’s needs based model for school funding, based for the first time ever on consistently applied principles of need, fairness, equity and transparency. No special deals or favouring one state over another, just a consistent approach to assessing need, applied consistently.
By sticking to our plan to build a stronger economy, we’ve been able to guarantee the essential services Australians rely on, like funding our schools. It means funding grows from a record $18.7 billion this year and increasing it by an extra billion dollars each and every year into the future, while still balancing the budget. And funding grows fastest where it is most needed, with the annual average per student growth of 6.5 per cent across government schools on average, and 4.5 per cent across non-government schools on average over the next four years. Well, we know that while a strong level of funding is important, it’s what we do with it and how it’s used that is most critical. That’s why we commissioned the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, to identify how schools and students can get the most from these record and growing levels of funding.
The review report, Through Growth to Achievement, provides us with a roadmap for how we can achieve excellence in our schools, and meet the needs of every student so that every Australian school student has the opportunities they need to succeed in their school life. These recommendations seek to ensure that every student fulfils their potential. As the reports title implies, they focus on the growth of each student, maximising that growth so that not only do we in future, have fewer low achievers but we also have more high achievers.
And technology will play a key role in the successful delivery of a new agenda focussed on higher achievement through greater student growth. The recommended learning tool will put teachers and school leaders in the driver’s seat, able to themselves assess in real-time the levels of student achievement and growth, and to compare their performance and the progress of their class against the nation or against similar schools.
It will put in the hands of teachers a selection of nationally consistent, evidence-based assessment tools along with resources to guide their future teaching practice and to differentiate student instruction.
With successful implementation, these tools will also create a virtuous feedback loop, providing researchers and policymakers with better data and evidence to further improve their content and application. Ensuring that education is truly based on science and evidence rather than political fads or ideological biases.
You all know the significant role states and territories play in schools, both as majority funders for government schools, the ones that employ teachers run those schools and apply curriculums. So I’ll be working closely with my state and territory colleagues to ensure the success of both our funding and our quality reforms. But even more importantly, we want to hear your perspective as educators and experts to inform the implementation of our quality improvement measures; in particular, the types of assessment tool technology that I was speaking about before.
Our strong commitment to school education is matched by support for early childhood education and care. We know how vital those early years of educational care can be for a child’s future success. And in just four weeks time, we have sweeping reforms that will come into effect and inject an extra $2.5 billion in support for early childhood education systems, to make it more affordable and accessible for many Australian families. Nearly 800,000, and in fact a little over 800,000 families have now embraced our changes, but if you, your family, your friends haven’t yet visited education.gov.au/childcare to switch to the new system, make sure you get it done before 2 July. That’s a bit of a digression, but it’s an important one to make sure that people support from childcare subsidies is uninterrupted. But we’ve also given a further $870 million to ensure every child in the year before school has access to 15 hours of quality early learning through to the end of 2019. The available data however shows that at present, around 30 per cent of children aren’t attending the full 15 hours of preschool that’s been funded, and that attendance is even poorer amongst the most disadvantaged cohorts of students.
I continued funding extensions have demonstrated the firm commitment of our government to ongoing preschool access, but we cannot and will not turn a blind eye to the reality that those who have the most to gain from preschool are currently the least likely to attend. This is an issue I’m hoping my state and territory colleagues will work with me to solve, in the context of preschool arrangements from 2020 onwards.
We want to ensure that children have access to the foundations for learning before school and at home, engaging parents in every stage of education as well as empowering teachers, raising their status and giving them the tools to pursue excellence. While we don’t know all of the changes that are ahead of us, we do know that the workplace that will face the child who starts school in Australia this year will be radically different to the one we recognise today. This is a key reason why we also need to increase the number of students undertaking STEM studies, and create the conditions where excellence can be pursued. STEM subjects are essential to developing critical and creative thinking, and analytical and problem-solving skills. And they’re central to enabling students to take advantage of future opportunities.
PricewaterhouseCoopers has estimated that changing 1 per cent of Australia’s workforce into STEM-related roles could add some $57 billion to our GDP. Part of the driving reason why in December 2015, all education ministers endorsed a 10-year national STEM school education strategy. This aims to ensure students have a stronger foundation in STEM, they’re inspired to take on the challenging STEM subjects. As our Chief Scientist has identified, maths is the language of science and I welcome positive signals sent by our institutions, like the University of Sydney and the Australian National University by reinstating maths as a prerequisite for entering into key university courses.
We also want industry to do more to help schools to access work relevant STEM skills, which is why in 2016 the Turnbull Government extended delivery of the Pathways in Technology pilot. P-TECH offers secondary school students an industry supported education pathway to a STEM-related post-school qualification. Students then have the option to study- to continue to study in the tertiary level or pursue employment in a STEM-related field, including job opportunities with the school’s industry partners established through the P-TECH process. Beyond our seed funding, the P-TECH model leverages the resources and good will of industry partners, but requires no additional state government or school-based funding. I’m thrilled that the principal of Southern Perth P-TECH at Cecil Andrews College, Stella Jinman, is here at the EduTECH Conference, and I am thrilled at catching Stella and a couple of the students just off-stage before. They’re going to be presenting to you tomorrow. It’s a great example of how it is schools embracing new models like P-TECH are building industry connections and new opportunities for their students.
We also know we have to increase the supply of skilled STEM teachers in schools throughout Australia, and from 2019, all initial education students entering a primary teaching course will graduate with a subject specialisation. This will result in us getting more specialist teachers including more maths, science, engineering specialists into our classrooms. We’re also looking at different ways in which we can get more high-performing people who have had outstanding skills in fields such as science, technology, coding into our classrooms, providing direct support for STEM teaching and learning in schools is also critical, which is why we committed $64 million to fund a series of early learning and school STEM initiatives through the Inspiring all Australians in Digital Literacy and STEM measure. Building these capabilities in the early years alongside massive investment in research is a key part of our $1.1 billion national innovation and science agenda, which has most recently been complimented by $1.9 billion in our recent budget to reinvigorate Australia’s national research infrastructure.
Through conclusion, we appreciate, The Turnbull Government knows the challenges our nation and our education system face in preparing for the future. But we’re well down the track to implement reforms, and identifying the measures necessary to ensure Australian students can adapt and succeed in the face of change, just as generations who have gone before us did so, so successfully.
Of course, our partners in this venture are skilled educators and outstanding school leaders and we thank you for your effort each and every day in doing so. But for those of you here participating in EduTECH, for the leadership that you are demonstrating in wishing to be at the front of the curve of change in embracing the technologies and practices that will make a difference in the future, and we look forward to working with each and every one of you in that important task. Thanks very much for being here at the end of the day, with the chance to share a few words with you.