THE POWER OF EDUCATION
ADDRESS TO THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB
20 AUGUST 2013
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Thanks for that kind introduction.
It’s great to be back at the National Press Club.
This place is a national institution.
It’s where big ideas are brought to life.
And the big debates take place.
Well, most of the time …
‘The absent are always in the wrong’.
Its author was the French playwright Philippe Destouches.
This is one of my favourite quotes of the Enlightenment.
It’s not hard to imagine what Philippe would have concluded from today’s debate. Or lack thereof.
Opposition Education Spokesperson Christopher Pyne refused an invitation to debate.
Here we are in the midst of a federal election.
The dividing lines between the two sides of politics are clear.
Labor has legislated for Better Schools, the most far reaching educational reforms in decades.
The Better Schools Plan will, for the first time in this nation’s history, ensure funding based on need for every student in every school.
And it’s a plan that’s so good, and the benefits so clear, that even Liberal Premiers in NSW and Victoria put partisanship to one side and said, ‘I want that for the kids in my schools’.
And they have been joined by Labor Governments in South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT.
And the Independent Schools Council of Australia and Catholic Education Commissions across Australia.
Indeed, on the eve of the election campaign, the Federal Coalition attempted, unconvincingly, to imitate our Better Schools Plan.
So shallow is the Coalition’s belief in Better Schools, that the prospective Education Minister in a Tony Abbott-led government could not join us today.
What a disappointment to the 3.6 million Australian children enrolled in schools across the nation.
What a neglect of duty to the millions of parents of Australian school children.
What disrespect to the hundreds of thousands of teachers tasked with schooling our children.
But enough about the Coalition.
I want to do three things today.
I want to talk about Labor’s belief in the transformative power of education and why we need to build for and prosper in an education century.
I want to talk about the crucial role of education in Labor’s vision of building the Good Society.
And I want to talk about why Better Schools underpins an education century.
And make no mistake: we can’t build a Good Society without investing in an education century.
The Power of Education
I just quoted you one of my favourite Age of Enlightenment maxims.
We know that the Enlightenment Age was preceded by the Renaissance.
Without the Renaissance there would not have been an Age of Enlightenment.
But did you know that there was an explosion in education in the generation before the Renaissance?
So many schools were popping up, teaching so many students that some people complained there was too much education.
Imagine if the naysayers had been listened to.
World history would look radically different.
It sounds simple and it is.
Education has always been the door through which people have walked to the greatest advances in personal and national progress.
It was ever thus.
The city-states of Ancient Greece.
The Great Roman Empire.
Western Civilisation itself.
These societies were all built on the Power of Education.
Today we live in a new epoch in world history: the Asian Century.
The economic and cultural revolution is happening on Australia’s doorstop, in our neighbourhood.
If we are to take advantage of this once in a generation opportunity – what I have called our greatest opportunity since the Gold Rush – we will need to take a leaf out of the pages of the great societies of the past.
We must build an education century right here at home, to go with the Asian Century abroad.
To do that we need to revere the power of education – and the special role of teachers.
And you don’t need to have studied the great societies of the past to know how important great teachers are.
Take my own experience.
When I was a boy, I knew my mum was a teacher. But just how good a teacher, I did not appreciate.
She’s a smart woman.
She won a teaching scholarship in the early 1950s.
She taught in city and country government schools.
She taught in London as a young woman. Came home to Australia. Raised a family. Attained a PhD. Studied law, her interest was in education and the law.
At heart, though, Mum has never stopped being a teacher.
She taught my twin brother and I everything – in large part, made us the men we are.
For a long time, though, I just thought of her as my mum.
It wasn’t until I grew up that I realised how much she taught me.
It wasn’t until I became a parent that I felt – not just understood intellectually, but felt in my core – the transformational power of education.
And there is no more important profession than teaching.
Like most Australians, I’ve never worked in a school. But, like every Australian, I’m in part who I am today because of teachers.
Every Australian is the product of teaching.
Without teachers, there could be no doctors or nurses or scientists or engineers or entrepreneurs and more teachers.
Or, shock horror, journalists and even Members of Parliament.
But our society does not respect the honourable profession of teaching enough.
The responsibility to educate every child – as every child is a unique and special individual – is great.
And now my family are teaching me, just like Mum did.
What my wife and children are teaching me about – every day – is potential.
Potential: every child has it – but how do we, as parents, as adults, help our wonderful, special, unique children fulfil their potential?
How does their education give them their chance? Their best chance to grow to be resilient, responsible and respective adults.
It’s impossible to quantify. It is one of life’s great intangibles. And – now that I’m a parent – it is one of my passions.
What might that pre-schooler or grade sixer or year seven or VCE student or undergraduate or apprentice or mature age student achieve – given the right setting and circumstances?
It’s a question that can only be answered – one person at a time – if we ensure every Australian has access to the best education. That should be the birth right of all Australians.
If we resolve to not waste, or miss out on, or neglect the talent of one person. That “one” person could be the next Howard Florey, Elizabeth Jolley, Michael Clarke or Sally Pearson – just waiting to be taught and developed.
If we consider human potential a renewable – and precious – resource. Greater and more significant than all our iron ore, gas, coal and every precious metal.
That’s why we need great teachers. Because great teachers build great societies and great moments – student by student.
I believe that great teachers have at least as much power to change society for the better as a Member of Parliament or a mining CEO or a newspaper editor. And probably more.
In Australia we have great teachers and we need more great teachers in order to prosper in an education century.
And only with the coming of the education century can we hope to build a Good Society.
Education and the Good Society
What is the Good Society?
It’s the reason I got into politics in the first place.
First and foremost the Good Society is a prosperous, productive and diverse economy.
An economy where men and women are working in good jobs, treated decently, and are reasonably remunerated.
So that they can look after their kids and lead long lives full of meaning.
Where well-being and resilience are central.
A Good Society means that people don’t merely work hard and retire poor.
Good Society sees a cooperative relationship between business and unions as crucial to the creation of a competitive, dynamic economy.
Housing should be affordable, whether people are buying their own homes or renting.
Our Good Society should have the best health system in the world, accessible to all, regardless of an individual’s wealth.
A Good Society must look out for those most in need – the unemployed, disabled and pensioners.
A Good Society means equal treatment for women.
A Good Society encourages lifelong learning.
Starting from early childhood.
Building through primary and secondary schooling and leading to tertiary education and training.
Not just before our people begin their first job but throughout their working lives.
It’s an ethos I have applied in my own working life.
As a full-time union official I went back to university. Attained an MBA at night school. It’s one of the best choices I ever made.
We also want our communities to be multicultural, tolerant and safe places sustained by respectful relationships, free form fear. We want our communities to be well served by transport and infrastructure.
We want a clean environment so that our kids can one day dream of creating their own good society and not have to remedy problems their parents neglected to address.
Government cannot possibly ensure that nothing bad ever happens to people. But we can build resilient families to help us through when life’s shafts of fate strike.
The Good Society is there to ensure that all are empowered to, and capable of, leading good lives.
I put it to you that Labor has played a leading role in building the Australian Good Society over the past 122 years.
But we can do better. The Good Society cannot be taken for granted in the 21st Century. Nothing is preordained.
If we want to build the Good Society today and for tomorrow it will need to be powered by education.
The idea of devoting years of our lives to learning is what helps makes us distinctive. It makes us human.
Education fosters skills, knowledge and resilience. It fosters self-respect and respect for others.
Making it possible to see beyond the here and now.
Some call that Enlightenment thinking.
As the British publication Education for the Good Society reminds us, this vision of education, for the many and not just a few did not occur overnight.
It had to be fought for over decades and in many respects we on the progressive side of politics persist in fighting for it now.
Better Schools and the Education Century
So is this Labor Government doing to build and prosper in an education century?
Our Better Schools Plan is about lifting up every one of our schools.
Schools, for the first time, to be truly resourced according to their students’ needs.
All children from rich and poor backgrounds deserve a good education and opportunity to achieve and even exceed what they believe is their potential.
High quality teaching that is specially tailored and more personalised. This transforms a child and makes school a joy. Schools need to be inviting places for all to learn.
We know that each school is unique. Each child is unique.
The characteristics of each school determine the challenges teachers and principals face in ensuring every student reaches their full potential.
Small schools, regional and remote schools.
Schools with significant numbers of students whose first language, or indeed second language, is not English.
Recognition of the needs of Indigenous school children.
Students with learning difficulties or disability, funded for the first time, on the level of support they need rather than on their diagnosis, so their level of support will no longer be based on the school they go to, the State they live in or how many other kids are competing for the same bucket of money.
And because of Labor’s reforms, we now know more about the challenges and successes in each and every school.
My School reveals important information about our schools which allows us to see which schools are performing well and which schools are struggling.
The combination of the school characteristics data and national testing in reading, writing and mathematics allows us to identify schools which are excelling.
It’s those schools which tell us so much about what makes a difference to student performance. For example:
- More specialist literacy and numeracy programs for children falling behind in these basic skills;
- A dedicated maths coach; or
- Specialist classroom technology for students with disability.
Our Better Schools Plan would have been impossible without earlier foundation reforms. Reforms championed by Julia Gillard and Peter Garrett. Reforms now championed by Prime Minister Rudd.
Foundation reforms which the Coalition have opposed, every step of the way.
But without these foundation reforms, there is no Better Schools.
Once, there was no way to compare like with like schools.
Once, there was no way to know the unique characteristics of each school and therefore the funding they need.
Once, before this Labor Government, there was no simple or reliable source information about schools in our communities.
Once, no ability to compare them with statistically similar schools across the country.
But now, parents can see how their child’s school is performing on their smart phone and have an informed conversation with their child’s teacher and school principal.
These are the things that underpin our ambitious goal to be in the top five countries in reading, maths and science by 2025.
We want every school to be a great school and every student to receive a world class education.
That’s why we transformed schools right across the country in the face of the Global Financial Crisis through the BER. More than:
- 500 Science and Language Centres.
- 3,100 libraries.
- 4,500 classrooms.
- 2,900 multi-purpose halls.
- 2,900 covered outdoor learning areas.
Because our children deserve the best facilities.
And Federal Labor believes in investing in education because we know that it reaps dividends well beyond the school gate.
It is fundamental to the economic and social challenges our nation faces.
Investing in higher levels of education for your son or daughter means that he or she will more likely than not:
Have a better job.
And, crucially, earn more.
We know that the hourly wage gain from an additional year of schooling for Year 12 alone is around 11 per cent.
When participation effects are taken into account, annual earnings are 30 per cent higher.
9 out of 10 of the fastest growing occupations in Australia require a post school qualification.
But it’s not just the individual benefits that are profound.
A highly educated workforce is more productive, which benefits all of us.
According to one study across 14 OECD countries, a 1 per cent increase in literacy scores means, on average, a 2.5 per cent higher labour productivity rate.
And it’s not all dollars and cents. Investing in higher levels of education for your son or daughter will also means that he or she is more likely to:
Be healthy .
And be more fully engaged in society.
In short our well educated children will be building the Good Society.
Attracting our best and brightest
For Labor this education century is only just beginning.
I spoke before of the value of teachers and the nobility of their profession.
I believe that society must ensure that teachers are paid appropriately for the value of the work they do.
Our doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers are paid reasonably.
And our teachers commit every day – physically, intellectually and emotionally.
Yet I do not believe their pay reflects the value of that commitment.
Labor knows that teacher quality is the single most important factor behind improving student performance.
It’s why we are promoting the teaching profession by having invested $550 million in the Quality Teachers National Partnership.
This is a plan to attract, train, place, develop and retain quality teachers and leaders in partnership with our universities.
Through the Partnership, we have:
- Developed the Australian Professional Standards for Principals and for Teachers.
- Developed national consistency in the registration of teachers, so that their skills are transferable across the country.
- Improved performance management and professional learning for teachers and school leaders.
- Increased retention through better in-school support and rewards for quality teachers.
In short, whatever school a child attends, our reforms mean they will receive a world class education delivered by quality teachers and school leaders.
And our Better Schools Plan will build upon these reforms by ensuring new graduate teachers are in the top 30 per cent of the population when it comes to literacy and numeracy
But we know that more must be done.
And so I am pleased to announce today that Australia’s most disadvantaged kids will be taught by even more of the very best and brightest minds in the country thanks to a $30.9 million investment from the Rudd Labor Government.
The investment comprises of $22.8 million to extend the successful and award winning Teach for Australia program to more graduates and to new States.
Building on the success of the program Federal Labor will extend the program to up to 275 new graduates from fields such as science, engineering, commerce, and law.
Graduates like Stanley, who now teaches at Charles LaTrobe school in Melbourne's north, setting up the school's Chinese language program from scratch, starting with year 7. Now the school is making languages compulsory up to year 10.
Stanley has established links between Charles LaTrobe and a sister school in Nanjing, as well as a close linkage with LaTrobe University's Confucius Institute.
Federal Labor will also invest $8.1 million into a new program called Initiatives Supporting Innovation in Teacher Education (InSITE) that will provide seed funding for new ways to develop new and innovative pathways into teaching.
Applications will be sought from partnerships of local educational institutions, employers and school leaders.
Projects funded under this program will attract people who may never have considered a teaching career before. Until now.
Until a Federal Government dreamed of building an education century. And dreamed of building the Good Society.
And who knows?
Perhaps our very own Voltaire will emerge as a direct result of getting our best and brightest back into teaching.
The choice on September 7 is between a plan for Better Schools, or no plan at all.
Between a $10 billion investment in our schools, or billions worth of education cuts.
The choice is between building a Good Society, or accepting the status quo.
The choice is recognising the kinds of knowledge, skills and attributes that will be important for life in the twenty first century.
And the questions for voters on September 7 is this:
Who do you trust to fund the education needs of your children?
Who do you trust not to make savage cuts into the education budget for your kids?
Who do you trust to respect teachers and not attack their pay and conditions?
Who do you trust to build an education century?
Who do you trust to build the Good Society?
A reforming, progressive Labor Government prepared to address boldly the challenges of the Asian Century.
Or a small target Coalition who’d prefer to bury their heads in the sand. And ignore the Asian Century.
Quite simply, the Coalition can’t be trusted with the education of our sons and daughters. Or with government for that matter.
Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott don’t believe in education because they don’t believe in building a Good Society.
And just as with the Renaissance, the critics of a new dawn for education will eventually be proven wrong.
Because in the end ‘the absent are always wrong’.
Communications Unit: T 03 8625 5111 www.alp.org.au
Authorised by G. Wright, Australian Labor, 5/9 Sydney Avenue, Barton, ACT, 2600
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