Release type: Transcript

Date:

3AW Drive interview with Tom Elliott

Ministers:

The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Education and Youth

Subjects: national curriculum changes, anti-democracy sentiment in youth.

 

TOM ELLIOTT:

Our next guest is the Federal Minister for Education and Youth. Alan Tudge, good afternoon.

ALAN TUDGE:

G’day Tom. How’s it going?

TOM ELLIOTT:

Good, thank you. Now, I did read the text to this speech you gave the other day. The newspaper reporting around what you said suggested that Australia’s future security might be at risk because young people aren’t taught to be proud of their own country. Is that something that you actually think?

ALAN TUDGE:

It wasn’t what I said. I mean, I did say that if you’re not taught to be proud of your country, and understand the deep liberal democratic origins of it and what makes this country great, then you may be less willing to defend it compared to previous generations. What I was getting at there, Tom, is defending our democracy by participating in it, arguing for your democracy, taking responsibility for it. In some cases people did in previous generations and still do today, put on the uniform and die for those principles.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Well, out of interest, do you think if there was a mass war that required, I don’t know, large scale volunteering into the military, do you think young people would do that these days?

ALAN TUDGE:

We still have enormous numbers of people who apply for the Defence Forces, fantastic people. I mean, if ever you go to Duntroon, for example, here in Canberra, which I occasionally do, just such impressive young people. So I do think that people would volunteer. In the same numbers as previously? I don't know. I mean, you think about World War One and World War Two, I mean, World War One, I think it was almost every second young man volunteered.

TOM ELLIOTT:

It was a terrible number. I worked out we had a population of..

ALAN TUDGE:

It was an extraordinary number, wasn’t it?

TOM ELLIOTT:

Yeah. We had a population of 5 million, and 670,000 odd volunteered. And if you narrow it down to men aged between 18 and 35, it does end up being close to one in two.

ALAN TUDGE:

I think that's the number. I think it was one in two of young men in World War One, an extraordinary figure, who volunteered.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Yeah. And of course, we had the conscription debates back then as well. Let's go back to the education system. Now, the weird thing is in this country is, we've got every state and territory have their own education systems, and yet we have a federal education minister. Do you think that the way kids are being taught in some states, or maybe in all states needs to be, I don’t know, rethought or revamped at the moment?

ALAN TUDGE:

I do, and via the Australian Curriculum and that's being revised presently. Now that becomes the umbrella curriculum for all the state and territory curriculums, and so they align theirs with that. Now, all the State and Territory Ministers, with me, are the ones who are responsible for its development and its approval. It's developed actually at arm's length by the independent authority called ACARA. But I do think that needs to be improved. I think standards needs to be lifted because we've actually dropped our learning standards over the last 20 years remarkably. Like, the average 15-year-old today is a year behind in their learning outcomes compared to a 15-year-old, 20 years ago.

TOM ELLIOTT:

And that’s what I've noticed too. As I said, just before you came on before, one of my producers he’s not here today so I can speak about him. He thinks it's like magic when I add things up in my head, just mental arithmetic. And he just goes; how do you do that? And it just clearly wasn't taught to him. And he's a very intelligent young man. But the point is, he was never taught to do mental arithmetic. I mean, that thing alone to me says; well, why don't we teach that sort of stuff anymore?

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, I think that's right. I think that the mathematicians will say to me that you must master those basic concepts and internalise those basic concepts before you can do big problem solving. But there was this trend for a couple of decades in the teacher education faculties where you could just learn by problem solving rather than mastering, for example, the times tables first, and mastering some of that mental arithmetic. Now, fortunately, the trend has come back. I think it’s a common sense thing, to be honest, that you do need to learn those times tables. One of my concerns, though, is that the revised draft curriculum was pushing out learning the times tables to year four, from what is presently year three. In some other countries, you start in year two. So my argument is, if we need to lift standards overall, we need to be learning these things a bit earlier, perhaps in line with some of the other leading countries like Singapore.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Alright, well, let's agree that maths, we need to pull up our socks. Now, what about the study of history in the study of Australia's place in the world and democracy and all that sort of thing? I read a fairly disturbing survey the other day. It was a global one, but it said that a large proportion of young people, like over 40 per cent, don't think democracy is all that important. Do we need to sort of ram that home a bit more here?

ALAN TUDGE:

Absolutely. That is from the Lowy survey, which was done of 18 to 29 year olds, and it's a really disturbing figure that 40 per cent of those people don't think that democracy is the best form of government or just are indifferent to it. But it's matched by the year 10 results as well, where they do their civics and citizenship tests, and only 38 per cent of people met the basic minimum benchmark for that. So we do need to redouble our efforts on that. I mean, kids need, in my view, to have a deep understanding of the origins of our fantastic liberal democracy, so that they will defend it in the manner to which previous generations have done. And I mean that defence in the broad terms of it. And I'm concerned that that's not being taught adequately at the moment. And so then, they toy with other forms of government, there's other forms of government in the world today, and they're not necessarily the ones you want to go to. And there's a reason why we are a magnet for millions of people to want to come here, and those other forms of government are not.

TOM ELLIOTT:

When I was nineteen, my father took me into the then Soviet Union to impress upon me just how terrible a different sort of government could be. And it's stuck with me. So should we do that? Should we make school kids go on trips to North Korea or something like that?

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, that’ll be a challenge to get them into North Korea, I think, Tom. But I think kids should learn about what liberal democracy is, where it came from, and just how incredible and powerful it has been over the centuries. And in some respects, how fragile it can be as well. Like, it's not a god given thing, but because of liberal democracy isn't just; okay, you just go and vote. But it's all the institutions. It's equality under the law, it's the separation of powers between the courts and the parliament. It's all of those basic building blocks which have turned us, Australia, into what I think is the wealthiest, freest, most egalitarian, most tolerant society that has ever existed anywhere in the history of the world. Now that is a remarkable achievement, which we should be justifiably proud of. And I want kids to understand that deeply so that they can equally be proud of that and equally defend what we do have.

TOM ELLIOT:

Thank you for your time. Alan Tudge there, Federal Minister for Education and Youth.