SUBJECTS: LANTITE, Job-ready Graduates
Brian Carlton: Let me start here with the Minister, Dan Tehan, who joins me now - Federal Education Minister. Minister, good morning. How are you?
Dan Tehan: I’m very well, Brian. How are you?
Carlton: Very well, thank-you. I appreciate your time today. The PISA reports that came out not too long ago have indicated that - this is the Program for International Student Assessment, which is generally considered to be the benchmark of how we're doing measured against other countries. Now, our reading literacy of 15-year-olds has fallen from 4th in the world back in 2003, to 16th. Now in the same period of time numeracy figures have fallen from the 11th best in the world to the 29th best in the world - so we're going backwards. We find out from a, from a report, or a series of tests called the literacy and numeracy test for initial teacher education students that way too many of them, and I'm going to round the figures here to about nine per cent, fail the basics at the end of their degree. Can I start off, Minister, by asking you why is the test not conducted at the end of high school? Or indeed the first year of university? And not the final year which is when many unis do this test - just before the teachers roll out in front of classrooms?
Tehan: Well it's a very good question, Brian, and it's one that we're looking at along with all the states and territories. We're conducting a review to see whether we should bring it forward so it’s part of the first six months, or nine months,- of your teaching degree. Because we want teachers to be in the top 30 per cent of all students across the nation when it comes to literacy and numeracy - they’re the absolute fundamentals to your education. The chief scientist has said if you don't have those basic skills, you're not going to be able to build on and expand the rest of your education. So this is something that we're looking at and seeking agreement with states and territories to make it part of the first year of a teachers’ study, when they seek their teaching degree, rather than have them do it at the end.
Carlton: The pub question, and it’s really the first one that occurred to me, how are these students managing to get through the university process and qualifying when- well, let’s round the numbers-10 per cent of them can't do the basics? Now, how are you able to get a degree with that level of literacy and numeracy?
Tehan: This- obviously, this test comes- you need it for your teaching degree to actually get it. Now, there are a number of ways that you can enter into a university degree - obviously your ATAR score which is a cumulative score, and it might be that you didn’t do so well in English but did so well in other areas. But this is why we introduced this test as a federal government because we wanted to make sure that, especially when it came to our teachers, that their literacy and numeracy are in the top 30 per cent of the nation. And now, having introduced it we want to continue to refine it and especially for those graduates who are looking to do teaching, we want to make sure that you don’t do three years of your degree and find out you don't have the proper skills. So we're looking at making sure that this is done at the start of their degree rather than towards the end.
Carlton: What does it say about the general standard of- of later year high school education in Australia?
Tehan: Well I think what it shows is that we have to go back to basics. We have to make sure that we are instilling those literacy and numeracy skills in our students right through their primary and secondary schooling - and that's something that is a real focus of the Federal Government. We want to introduce a voluntary phonics check in Year 1, Grade 1, to make sure that students are getting the basics when it comes to learning how to read-
Carlton: [Interrupts] Minister, is there still [audio skip] we grew up learning how to speak, and read, and do all those sorts of things precisely using phonics. I find it extraordinary that you can actually teach anyone without using it.
Tehan: Well sadly there is, Brian, and this is something that we’ve been battling federally for the last couple of years. We’re making real progress - South Australia introducing, or have introduced, a phonics check in Grade 1. New South Wales are going to follow suit. And we’re about to launch a national phonics check, a voluntary one for all states and territories. So our hope is we’ll see more and more that, that phonics is now again a key fundamental of teaching students how to read.
Carlton: Okay. Obviously we don't have hours and hours to have this chat, and there's plenty of things I could talk to you about. But the reforms that you've introduced as a result of the coronavirus situation, where there'll be a reduction in cost associated with doing degrees that might be more, how can I put this, employment-focused as opposed to the, say, humanities which may or may not generate a job at the end of the degree. That is in the process of rolling out. When will it start? I guess is the- is the question.
Tehan: Well we're hopeful that it will start next year - obviously, we have to get it through the Senate. But you’re right, this is all focused on making sure we’re giving young Australians the skills they need to get a job. The COVID-19 pandemic is going to see the biggest economic contraction on our nation since the Depression. We’ve got to make sure that young people coming through our university system are getting the skills they’ll need to get a job. And that’s why we’ve reduced the cost of teaching; that’s why we’ve reduced the cost of science; of engineering - all those areas that we know there will be skill shortages into the future, we want to make sure that we’ve got young Australians that can fill those jobs.
Carlton: This is in the in the broader context of a changing economy too as we gradually emerge from the coronavirus where, as I said in the intro, we're likely to be trying to generate more industry here than we have in the past and not simply be a hole in the ground or, you know, an export country of raw materials - that we might actually be able to generate some manufacturing again. So, they’re the sorts of things you’re looking at as the economy reforms itself after coronavirus.
Tehan: Absolutely. We've got to make sure, especially when it comes to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, that we've got the skills we need to be able to turn the wonderful produce that we get from our farmers and also what we get from the ground; value add to that, create jobs here and make sure we can value add to our exports. And they’re all going to become absolutely vital as we come out of this pandemic and that’s why we want our young people focused in these areas.
Carlton: It’s a many, well I was going to say multi-year process. But in reality it’s probably a multi-decade process, isn’t it? Can I - that was sort of a rhetorical question, apologies. Just finally, Minister - and I again appreciate your time this morning - the kids who are going through doing their final year this year; the Year 12'ers right across the country who've been variously disrupted with school closures as a result of coronavirus. Is there any way that the year they have had, study wise, can be compared to any other year? In other words, how disadvantaged are these children who've been relying on, arguably, well-meaning parents and potentially very dedicated parents? But they're not teachers and the anecdotal reports I'm getting back from some teachers are that the kids they’re now seeing again that schools have opened up a bit, haven't really learned anything in the past few months. How concerned are you about that?
Tehan: Well, the federal government had a very clear position right through the pandemic - that we wanted to see as much face-to-face teaching in the classroom occurring as possible for this reason.
Tehan: And so I say to those Year 12 students, we do understand the difficulty that you've had. It will have been a serious test for you this year, but the resilience you'll have to show to get through, I think, will stand you in good stead, and we are there to work with you. It’s why we want to make sure when it comes to literacy and numeracy for instance, if you go on to university we’ve dropped the price there for you to go on and study. So, if you have seen some hit to your literacy and numeracy skills, we want to make sure that you can get that back when you go to university. We’re also when it comes to skills training, we’re reforming there and working with all the states and territories to make sure for vocational education they’ll get opportunities. So, we want to work with all students in Year 12, to help them as they go on to future careers.
Carlton: So, will there be special consideration given to children who are - to young, they're not children, they’re young adults - who will graduate high school this year with possibly an ATAR. Will there be wriggle room in terms of the ATAR scores? Or will students be able to appeal that in their specific circumstances they were hugely disadvantaged for x y z reasons related to coronavirus? And their application needs to be viewed more favourably beyond their ATAR score? Is that something that the government would consider?
Tehan: So, the ATAR score will be done the normal way and everyone will be, will be ranked as they normally are. But, for those students who have had some
Carlton: [Interrupts] But, it’s been patchy across the country, Minister. I guess is the point I'm making here. There's a certain amount of uniformity in Year 12; despite the fact that the states run different curriculums, but there's a uniformity in it. They do the same period of- the same, roughly, the same amount of study over the same time periods - that's been cut to shreds now. It's been so patchy across the nation, we're really comparing not apples and apples here with the graduates.
Tehan: That’s right, Brian. So, for those students who have seen a real impact for one reason or another, they will be able to apply for special consideration. So anyone who might have, for instance, not been able to access online study while they were at home; if they were ill as a result of COVID-19 or other reasons they can apply for exemption. So, the ranking system will continue as normal but for those who have seen their lives turned upside down there will be special consideration given to them.
Carlton: Okay. I just fear that they will be ultimately disadvantaged anyway once they get out into the university sector, compared year on year. And also those who enter into the workforce, I'm just worried about potential employers going, oh well hang on, so you graduated Year 12, oh, 2020 - coronavirus year. Would they be right to assume that that students perhaps not as good as one that may have graduated in 2019? Or indeed 2021?
Tehan: I would hope not because what these students will have had to have shown here, and demonstrate, is their ability to have had their lives thrown upside down but still be able to pursue their studies; still be able to get through the year; show a level of determination probably that others wouldn't; and, a commitment to the course - which I think a lot of employers would look and say: everything you’ve been through and what you’ve been able to achieve, you’re the type of person I want because I know whatever is thrown at my business you’re going to be there through thick and thin, delivering. So, I think employees- employers will be pretty generous when they look at these Year 12 students and understand what they’ve been through.
Carlton: I hope you're right, Minister. I very much appreciate your time today. Thank you.
Tehan: Pleasure, Brian.
Carlton: Dan Tehan, the Federal Education Minister.