SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, Year 12 students, Preschool
Larry Emdur: Back home, the National Cabinet will be meeting to discuss the future of school students across Australia. This follows news that state and territory leaders will be doing what they can to ensure grade 12 students don’t have to sit an extra year of school.
Kylie Gillies: Well, it’s certainly welcome relief for parents and students across the country. But, what exactly will be done? To tell us, we’re joined by Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan. Thank you for your time, Minister. We’ve heard from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews that parents should keep their kids home from school in term two, unless there is no other option. Victorians do go back to school next week. We know already that some New South Wales schools have been told to do the same, even though they’re just beginning their holidays, or most of them are, tomorrow. Is this the expected, is this to be expected, nationwide? What is the advice, at this stage?
Dan Tehan: Look, each state and territory will put their own arrangements in place. They have the jurisdiction or responsibility for doing that. But, what we’re seeing is each state and territory having a different response. So, NT have come out today, saying, for term two, they want their children attending school. In WA, schools will be open. Parents will be able to keep their children home, but they’ll be encouraging students to attend school. So, each state and territory is putting different arrangements in place. But, what is clear, and this is the nationally consistent approach, is the medical expert panel is saying it’s safe for schools to be open, and it’s safe for children to attend. So, the Federal Government, working with every state and territory, has reached a nationally consistent approach, and that is that schools should be open for those children who can’t be supervised safely at home. For those parents who have to work, for vulnerable children, we have to have our schools open for them to attend. And, we want to keep encouraging states and territories to keep their schools open, so children can attend and learn in a safe environment.
Emdur: Alright. So, the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer continue to say that medical advice allows for children to attend school. Can you see why this is very confusing for Australian parents? We know that you and yours have tried to simplify it, tried to make it easy to digest. But, the Federal Government says one thing, the state government says another. Can you understand the confusion?
Tehan: Look, I can understand. Because we’ve got a federation, because each state and territory have jurisdictional responsibilities, and because the pandemic spread is different in states and territories, that states and territories are putting in place their own arrangements. And, that differs from the Northern Territory to Victoria. So, we are trying as best we can to get a nationally consistent message. And, all education ministers have been working very cooperatively in that regard. But, we also do have to understand that the spread of the virus in New South Wales and Victoria and Queensland, is different to what’s occurring in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. So, that’s why we’re getting a different emphasis in those states and territories.
Gillies: Minister, we know the National Cabinet is meeting later today. We heard New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian say earlier there are a few different options being considered for future learning. Now, apart from going to school or home learning, what possible other options are being discussed?
Tehan: Look, some of the things that are being discussed is, would it be possible, for instance, for Year 12s to, maybe, attend one day a week? Would it be possible for those doing vocational education to be able to come into school, one day or two afternoons a week, to do their practical side of their education? So, these are all the things that are being looked at – obviously consistent with the health advice. But, if we can find a way, for instance, for chemistry students to be able to come into school and do their practical side – because those parents probably don’t want their kids doing chemical, chemistry experiments at home – they’re the types of things that are being looked at. So, there could be a mixture of doing some at home, and then coming into school to do some of the practical things. So, these are all the things that we’re working through. States and territories are looking at what options they have. As much as normal, everyone is trying to ensure that our students get all the knowledge they can this year, because we don’t want this pandemic taking away a year’s learning from our children.
Emdur: Yeah. And, you’re right. The chemistry experiments on the kitchen bench never quite work out, do they? The New South Wales Premier also just announced free preschool for the next six months. It’s a big, bold move. Is that something you expect other states and territories to consider today?
Tehan: Yeah. So, Victoria announced a similar move last week. New South Wales have done that today, which is very welcome. And, I think, every state and territory will be looking at this, especially after the Federal Government made its announcement that we’re providing free child care for the next six months, while we’re dealing with this pandemic.
Gillies: Let’s talk Year 12 now. And, to the relief of many students and many parents, there will be no Year 13, as such. So, I guess the leaving certificates, those final Year 12 exams, will be very much the topic of discussion. What sorts of discussions will happen in Cabinet today, about that in particular?
Tehan: Yeah. So, all education ministers have given a very clear statement – there’ll be no Year 13. There’ll be no mass repeating. Every child will get a 2020 ATAR result this year, for this year of learning. And, we’re working with universities, we’re working with TAFEs and vocational education providers, to make sure that they understand that, and they know that Year 12 students will be going to university, will be going to TAFE or a vocational education provider, or will be going into the workforce next year. Now, what we’re working through – and we’re getting more work come back to us, and we’ll have that next month on exactly what that will look like – and, we’ll be able to be very clear, then, about what the parameters will be around that. That’s something that education ministers discussed this week, and we’ll meet again next month to take that advice. So, National Cabinet will be looking at that, considering that, but, absolutely, understanding – and, all Year 12s and all their parents
should know this – you will get an ATAR for 2020, and you will be able to go and live your dreams, whether it’s at university, vocational education or in employment next year.
Gillies: Can I just ask that about, though? We talk about level playing field, and, everybody in Year 12, obviously, it’s a level playing field, because we find ourselves in COVID-19. But, it’s a very different situation, say, an only child living in a household who goes to a private school, and there is three computers in the house, versus a child who is one of six siblings, where there is, maybe, one computer in the house to service six kids. So, that’s a very different playing field for those two students, who may be in Year 12, in those two scenarios, isn’t it?
Tehan: Absolutely, it is. And, it’s the same, there will be some country students – I represent a rural electorate – where their home, where they’re spending their time, has very poor Internet access. So, even if there might be two computers in the house, they won’t. So, all those things will be taken into consideration, like they normally are, when an ATAR ranking is done for a student. So, in years gone by, if a student was ill, or, it might have been a region that was impacted by fire or flood, then the ranking is adjusted to make up for that. And, when it comes to the digital divide, education ministers were very clear – we want to make sure that there is equity across this year. And, when it comes to things like that – what the learning environment was in your home, and your ability to be able to access the knowledge and learning that you need – that will be taken into account.
Gillies: That’s good.
Emdur: Minister, we’re all struggling with this isolation, and what it means, and what it means for our, you know, our friendship groups, and our families, and exercise. Social isolation could have these long-term negative effects, particularly on our children’s education and their mental health. Are you concerned about the wellbeing of Aussie kids down the track? How they come out the other end of this?
Tehan: Absolutely. That’s why we’ve been so committed to keeping those learning options open for our children. That’s why we want the schools to remain open, so that those children, who need to be going to school to learn, to get that safe environment to learn, that the schools are there for them. And, from the Prime Minister down, we’re going to keep pushing that, because it’s so important for our children. It’s going to be this generation of children that are going to rebuild our economy, rebuild our nation, after the coronavirus. So, we’ve got to be there for them at this time, making sure we are looking after their welfare, after their mental health, so they’re the generation that helps us rebuild after what we’ve been through during the last few weeks, and what, likely, is going to be a very tough next six months.
Gillies: Minister, as we say goodbye, we’ve got to ask you – you’ve got five children yourself, I believe. We ask you to take your politician hat off, and talk to us as a dad. How is your household coping?
Tehan: Yeah. Look, there’s a lot of questions being asked and, I must say, there’s a fair bit of adjusting to learning from home, because it does present challenges. One of the things I’ve been really passionate about is reducing the use of mobile phones, especially in schools. Now, we’re seeing our children having to adjust to doing that learning through a computer. So, there’s adjustments to be made, a lot of questions being asked. I’ve got a daughter in Year 11 who’s doing, she’s doing one leaving certificate this year. So, she’s been very keen to know, and get some inside knowledge, if possible, as to what her exams might look like. And, was very keen, after I had the discussion with education ministers on Monday, to know what the outcomes were. And, she kept saying to me, ‘Dad …’
Gillies: … Sorry, what’s her name? What’s her name?
Tehan: Maya. And, she kept saying to me, ‘Dad, if you could get the exams down from three hours to, say, an hour and a half, that would be really good, make me really popular with my friends.’
Gillies: That’s great.
Tehan: You’ve got to smile through all this, because she said, ‘I get such a hard time every time you say mobile phones should be banned at school. You could make me really popular again if you could get the exam times reduced significantly.’ Yeah. So, it’s, look, that’s just part of being a normal dad. I like trying to keep my children out of it, but, it’s, you know, that’s part and parcel. And, look, this job takes you away a fair bit. So, moments like that are always very special for you.
Emdur: Yeah. Just give them all an A+. I’m sure that is within your power. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.
Tehan: Yeah. That’ll fix it very well.
Emdur: We’ve got 20,000 questions for you. That’s all we have time for. But, we do appreciate your time, anyway, so, thank you.
Gillies: Thank you so much. Good to know we have Maya in there fighting the good fight for us. I love that.
Tehan: It’s been a pleasure to join you.