Release type: Transcript


Interview with ABC Triple J Hack


The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, Year 12 students, Universities

Avani Dias: Year 12 is a tough and very fun time. You’re stressed about exams. You’re trying to figure out what to do when you finish school. For many people, you’ve been working towards those exams in previous years, as well. And, there’s a lot of fun parties as you wind up high school. But, like everything at the moment, those exams are in doubt. So, a couple of hours ago, the education ministers from every state and territory decided Year 12 students will get an ATAR this year, and they won’t have to repeat and do a Year 13, which was an idea that was floating around the last couple of weeks. If you are Year 12, give me a ring – 1300 055 536. How are you feeling about your final year of high school during COVID-19? The Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan is with us. Thanks for coming on Hack.

Dan Tehan: A pleasure to be with you.

Dias: You’ve decided Year 12s won’t have to repeat, at a meeting with state education ministers today. How did you come to that decision?

Tehan: We came to that decision by asking all the state, territory curriculum and assessment boards to give advice to Education Council, which is like COAG for education ministers. And, that advice that came back to education ministers today was very clear, and that was that we needed to give certainty to Year 12s this year that they will get an ATAR for 2020. So, that means there will be no Year 13. There will be no mass repeating. They will be able to fulfil their dreams, whether it being going to uni, going onto vocational education, or going into the employment market.

Dias: So, you say they will get an ATAR. But, how will that be calculated? Will there be exams?

Tehan: So, every state and territory has jurisdictional responsibility for that. The commitment is there to try and make it as normal as it possibly can be. So, at this stage, it is likely that there will be exams. They might be pushed back into November or December. Obviously, we have to wait and see what happens with the pandemic. If we are successful in flattening the curve, then it very well might be that we try and make sure the process is as normal as it possibly can. But, ultimately, those decisions will be made individually by states and territories in their own jurisdiction.

Dias: What did those states suggest they wanted to do, though?

Tehan: So, they obviously want to keep assessing how the pandemic is playing out in their jurisdictions. And, what we’re seeing is various responses from different states and territories. For instance, in the Northern Territory, a school, at this stage, in term 2, will be open, and all the children will attend. We’ve heard a different announcement today by Victoria where they’re encouraging majority of students to stay at home, and do their learning online. So, each jurisdiction will look at their own unique circumstances, and, depending on that, will then set timetables for exams. But, all education ministers are committed to try to make it as normal as it possibly can be.

Dias: Is that a possibility, though? It’s not a normal situation, and, isn’t it unfair for Year 12 students to have to do exams in this way, and have ATARs reflecting last year’s ATARs, when they don’t have face-to-face classes in the majority of cases?

Tehan: Well, all that will be taken into account into how the ATAR outcome is assessed. And, obviously, there will be, you know, ministers were very keen and very clear to stress that there needs to be an equity outcome, as well. So, especially for those students who might not have access to the technology that others do, some where there might not be Internet connection, which makes it very difficult to do any online learning. Then, all that, all that will need to be taken into account. And, one of the things …

Dias: … So, that means, essentially, there is this digital divide, right? If kids across different states are having different opportunities, why are they having a national score, like an ATAR, to decide their futures?

Tehan: Well, there won’t be. Each ATAR, ultimately, will be shaped by state and territory jurisdictions, as is the normal case …

Dias: … But, it is a national score to get into university or vocational education, right?

Tehan: Well, one of the things we asked is that – and all states and territories have agreed – that we will have a nationally consistent reporting time for ATARs. So, that then means that there will be a fairness when students are looking at universities and vocational educational opportunities. And, that was another very good outcome of today. I represent a rural electorate, and one of the things that we’re always dealing with and trying to improve is, obviously, access to digital learning, and making sure that we’ve got that connectivity. So, we always try to take that into account. And, this year, what we’ll see is that will need to be taken into account, more than it ever has been.

Dias: So, will you be weighting the ATARs differently depending on what state you’re in, to make it more fair across the board?

Tehan: Well, the ATARs are, ultimately, a ranking. So, year on year students are ranked from, obviously one, through to however many students there are in a state or territory. So, that will be done exactly the same. Now, if the Northern Territory, for instance, teaches right away through in a classroom setting, how they ultimately do their ATAR will differ from how New South Wales and Victoria do, because, obviously, term 2, they’re going to a digital majority, majority of digital learning.

Dias: Someone’s texted in: ‘So, even more than usual, the privileged will get ahead, because they have access to technology and resources, while the rest get left behind.’ Daisy Jeffrey is a Year 12 student. How do you feel about the news you won’t be doing a Year 13?

Caller Daisy: Well, I’m certainly relieved about that. However, I do think that the tech thing about, you know, I have great access to the Internet – unfortunately, the NBN – and, I also have good access to technology. And, I have to acknowledge that I’m much better placed than most other students in terms of, you know, getting a good ATAR, you know. And, having said that, while we appreciate that this is a really stressful time, you know, I’ve just texted my class chat going, ‘I’m about to be on triple J Hack and the Education, the Federal Education Minister is going to be there on radio.’ And, people on my class chat are just highlighting how stressed they are, you know. For Year 12, the carpet, for everyone really, but, for Year 12, the carpet’s really been ripped out from under them. It’s supposed to be our final year of school, stressful as it was …

Dias: … So, I guess you’re hoping for some kind of certainty, here? Daisy, thanks so much for the call. Dan Tehan, what do you say to that?

Tehan: Yeah, no, can I just say to Daisy, well done, and thank you for calling in, and well done for speaking up on behalf of your classmates. And, can I say to the person who’s just texted in, as well, why education ministers met today was, we want to give you clarity around what Year 12 will mean for you as best we can give it given COVID-19, and we very much want to provide as much certainty as we possibly can. And, for the person who texted in, absolutely. We want to make sure that that digital divide is taken into account. So, we’re not …

Dias: … Well, Minister, it’s fair enough to say that, but I think what they’re asking for is that certainty …

Tehan: … No, please, no, please, just please let me finish. What I wanted to say was equity was one of the top considerations, because we all understand that at this time, that digital divide, making sure that we can overcome that, will be really, really important. So, that will be one of the key considerations that is taken into account. So, we absolutely understand that. Remember, there are education ministers from all political divides who are putting their politics aside to come together so we can speak as one voice, to make sure that we are providing that certainty. So, what I can say to all those Year 12 students out there is, ‘There will be no Year 13. There will be no mass repeating. You will get an ATAR for 2020, and you will be able to fulfil your dreams and go on to uni and to vocational education, or to employment.’

Dias: We are running out of time, Minister. But, I do want to ask you one more question before we go. The university sector is saying that they’re in financial distress, that they are losing so much money because the Prime Minister told international students to go home, and their fees account for more than 23 per cent of university income. Are you going to bail out universities so students can continue to get a higher education?

Tehan: Well, I want to be clear in the message that the Government is sending to international students. It’s a very clear one. We want to make sure that those international students here get their education this year. We understand you’re part of the community, and we want to be able to support you, and we’re doing that by enabling you, now, to access your superannuation. And, we want to continue to work with the universities to make sure we’re looking after the international students who are here. And, I’ll also …

Dias: … It is clear, though, that they’re not here at the moment, and that we’ve lost a large majority of them from the beginning of the year. So, are you going to fund universities through the Government to fill the gap that they’ve left behind?

Tehan: So, when it comes to what’s happened to our universities, for those international students who haven’t been able to come here – and obviously there’s going to be international students who would have come for the second semester who now won’t be able to come – I’m in constant dialogue with the universities. We’re looking at the best ways that we can support them, help them, especially when it comes to domestic students. Because, when we look at what the impact of COVID-19 is going to be, it’s highly likely we’re going to see more demand for people wanting to go into higher education. So, we want to work with the unis to make sure that those opportunities will be there.

Dias: Okay, Minister. Thank you. We do have to move on.

Tehan: It’s a pleasure to be with you. Thanks very much.

Dias: Yeah, thank you so much for joining us on the show.