Opening Remarks to APEC CEO Summit
SAT 08 SEPTEMBER 2012
I’m happy to describe what’s going on in our country though I think nations are always going to find their own pathways forward.
I would start by commenting, we’ve just seen from the video presentation that education is a gender question across the region and across the world. Too often it’s women who miss out on education. It’s a development question and so the level of education available to people in the developing world is not the same as the developed world. But the perspective we take in our own nation, it is a quintessentially economic question.
The standards of our education today are going to define how prosperous a nation we are for tomorrow. And so we have taken a very hard-headed approach to reforming education which has brought some of the tools which would be very familiar in the private sector and applied them to public policy.
Most particularly, we have insisted on transparency at every level of education. Early childhood education, we are making the quality of our childcare centres and early learning centres transparent to parents. We focussed a great deal on transparency in school education where the results of national testing are now available for all of our nine and a half thousand schools together with a great deal of information about the socioeconomic status of the children at the school, what the school conceptualises it’s mission as, attendance rates, whole-school plans – these things are all available on what we call the MySchool website and you can contrast and compare between similar schools and the national average on testing.
We’re bringing that same kind of transparency to our vocational education and training system through the MySkills website and the same transparency to our universities so that prospective students and employers can see quality and outcomes across universities.
That transparency is then partnered with the setting of goals – we have a set of 2020 goals about the performance of our education system. The numbers of Australians with vocational qualifications, the number of Australians with undergraduate or higher qualifications, and just last Monday I have joined to those 2020 goals a goal for 2025 that Australia’s schooling system would be in the top five in the world.
Currently on the international testing, the PISA rankings run by the OECD, we’ve got a good education system but we have seen our schooling system start to slip behind and as other nations have worked to strengthen and reform their system.
And we have been particularly focussed on the fact that living in this region of the world where we will see so much of the globe’s history written in the next hundred years and particularly the shifting of economic weight to this region, there are four schooling systems that are getting results in PISA testing above Australia’s. They are Hong Kong and Shanghai and South Korea are getting results above Australia’s so we are obviously concerned about that and wanting to focus on improving our schooling system.
In terms of the tools of reform, we believe a lot of innovation happens on the ground so the best thing that Government can do is support that innovation and change rather than try to micro-manage what happens in the classroom.
We have been huge investors in better quality teaching including attracting the best graduates to get into teaching through an initiative you call called Teach for Australia and we are now going to broaden that initiative by insisting on higher literacy and numeracy standards for people who go into teaching.
We’ve set quality standards for teaching in universities and we’re also focussed on quality of teaching in vocational education and training and we have set qualification requirements for the people who teach preschool-age children.
We’ve also focussed a great deal on the impact of disadvantage. We know that children from poorer homes can get a great education but that you have to focus on it and put more resources into it. We are therefore on a journey to move our school funding system so that the child’s needs are at the centre of the system and extra resources are available for the teaching of all students but particularly the teaching of students from disadvantaged homes and indigenous Australians.
We focussed on getting people from low SES backgrounds into universities and we’ve enjoyed some considerable success at that. We’ve embraced new teaching methodologies, we have national curriculum, we ran what we called the Digital Education Revolution to turbo-charge the number of computers in schools.
When we needed economic stimulus in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis we focussed a lot of that capital into education, not just schools but we’ve really revolutionised capital in vocational education and training and in universities.
So we’re bringing this combination together on a journey of change. We’re not done yet, we’ve got a lot more to do to reach our ambitious goals for 2020 and 2025, but it’s very much a driving focus of what Government at the national level is delivering for the Australian people.
In our region we partner with the countries around the region in aid and development work which is focussed on education, but we also are big exchangers both at research and at the student level. I think the statistic is 175,000 students from the APEC countries are studying in Australian universities and vocational education training today. We would be looking to increase that number and we think the focus here at this APEC meeting on the mobility of students, staff and institutions setting up in each other’s country’s is a really a very important vision of the future.
So it’s a great passion of mine, I know it’s a great passion of everybody in this room and education, we believe, is the central driver of change for our own nation and for the region in which we live.