Subjects: Coronavirus and schools, Year 12 students
Neil Mitchell: On the line is the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan. There’ll be a phone hook up with state ministers today. I’m afraid our state minister, even in this crisis, won’t lift his black ban on me. Anyway, let’s not dwell on that. On the line is the Federal Minister. Dan Tehan, good morning.
Dan Tehan: Morning Neil. How are you?
Mitchell: I’m okay. Okay, now, I suggest in this time of crisis, it’s not time for politics or political speeches or waffle or anything. So, let’s just be upfront with parents and kids. What are the prospects? What are the possibilities? What are the options here?
Tehan: Well, we want to do everything we can, especially for Year 12s, to ensure that they can get the education they deserve this year, and then be able to go onto education, onto TAFE, or onto employment next year. And, that’s the aim of all education ministers when we’ll sit down tomorrow to look at the work that’s been done already by the curriculum and assessment authorities in each state and territory.
Mitchell: So, what do you do? How do you achieve that? Do they have to, they sit their exams in January? Or, you know, how do you – I agree it’s the desired aim so the kids can get through and not have to do Year 13 – but how do you do it? What are the options?
Tehan: Well, there’s a lot of options. So, we’ve been talking to the universities, for instance, and they’d be happy to look at a mix of what’s happened during the student’s assessments in Year 11, and then look at what’s happened in Year 12, and look at a mixture then of both. And, then they might look at some assessments themselves. So, there’s that possibility. There’s also the ability, of course, to be able to – and they do this for areas, for instance, which have been impacted by bushfires, or if the students have been ill – to be able to lift ATAR’s to ensure that we get the right median right across the nation. And, look, there are other things as well. There is the possibility that you could push back when exams are. So, instead of them normally being in November, back into December. These will be all the things that we’ll be looking at and working through tomorrow.
Mitchell: When is, when would you like to see kids back at school? When is it a realistic prospect for having them back at school?
Tehan: Well, the Prime Minister’s been very clear that he thinks that it’s going to be six months, that we’re going to be living this new life that we’re all getting used to. So, it’s very hard to tell, but the expectation would be for the next six months that we’re probably going to be looking at a different way of us conducting schooling right across the nation.
Mitchell: So, do the Year 12s get the priority – you say we’ve got to look after them first – because it’s so crucial?
Tehan: Well, I think that they do need to be top of our agenda. For them, this is the fundamental year. And, we have to remember, when you look back at times when Year 12 has been impacted, we want to make sure that this generation doesn’t suffer like previous ones did. They’re going to be the future. They’re going to be the ones who are going to work, and earn, and get us back to where we were once this pandemic goes. So, we do have to be making sure that we understand what they’re going through this year, that they’re not left behind, and that they can be the future, and the future to help us get through this at the other end.
Mitchell: There’re some areas that worry me. I understand where you’re, sort of, in a sense, you’re going to reduce the, lower the bar a little, for the kids, and that’s understandable. In some areas, that wouldn’t be a good thing. I mean, in medicine, for example. If you’re going to go on to study first year medicine, you need a pretty good grasp of chemistry and high level maths and physics, which is going to be a bit hard to get in such a disruptive year. You could be walking into year one medicine saying, ‘What does this mean?’
Tehan: Yeah. So, all universities have the ability to put short courses in place, which will enable students to catch up in areas where they mightn’t have been able to get that knowledge that they will require for a course like medicine. So, we’ve got the ability to look at all these things, be flexible, be innovative, and just say to students, ‘Look, you might be required to do this eight-week short course at the start of your medicine degree, so that you get that knowledge.’
Mitchell: Do teachers want to go back?
Tehan: Look, I think teachers, my sister’s a teacher and she’s very keen to continue to teaching the students that she teaches. So, I think there’s, probably, like with society as a whole, there are some who probably would feel better at home and doing online education and helping their students at home. But, there are, I think, a wide variety of teachers especially who want to make sure they’re there for essential service workers, vulnerable children who want to be at school.
Mitchell: There will be people who are concerned about the health implications, too. Is it possible that you could say, ‘Okay, school will not be compulsory for the next six months. We will reopen in X, Y and Z, but it will not be compulsory’?
Tehan: Well, every state and territory, ultimately, has jurisdiction on those types of decisions, so I can’t speak for each state and territory on that. But, what state and territory education ministers have committed to is to make sure, where children cannot safely be looked after at home, that schools will be open, so those children can go and do their learning at school. And, we’ve got an across the board unanimous sort of a desire to make sure that all schools can, sorry, all students can safely do their studies this year. Now, whether that’s in a school setting, because children can’t be looked after safely at home, or whether it’s, they’re doing their learning at home, that’s what everyone is committed to do.
Mitchell: Okay. So, decisions made tomorrow. Will it be across all states? You need unity on this one, don’t you?
Tehan: Well, that’s what the Commonwealth will be looking for. We want a set of principles which will govern how this looks. Ultimately, jurisdictional responsibility will lie with state and territories. But, we want a set of principles which will govern right across the nation so that everyone has got some clarity on this.
Mitchell: Thank you very much for your time.
Tehan: Pleasure, Neil.
Mitchell: Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan.