Monday, January 12, 2009

Reforms top of the class

By Julia Gillard
Effective schools are the foundation of a strong economy

It ’S that time of year when parents and students are starting to think about what they need to do to get ready to go back to school.

While uniforms, exercise books and stationery will be uppermost in their minds, they will also be thinking about teachers, curriculum and school grades.

But it shouldn ’t just be parents thinking about how Australia ’s school system is performing, it ’s something that should concern all Australians.

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development research indicates a country can achieve gains of up to 2.5 per cent in gross domestic product per capita from a 1 per cent increase in literacy performance.

The federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations recently estimated that increasing the number of working-age people with post-school qualifications by 1 per cent would contribute about $8 billion annually to GDP.

The fundamentals of schooling are literacy and numeracy, but the evidence shows we are not performing as well as we should be.

Literacy and numeracy tests conducted across Australia for students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 last year show that although most Australian children are achieving well above the minimum standard, too many are falling behind.

While in some areas only one student in 10 does not meet the minimum benchmarks, in others it sinks to a shocking one in three. An unacceptable percentage of those students are indigenous or from remote regions or low socioeconomic areas.

We need to do better, to give individual students the best chance of success in life and for our nation ’s future competitiveness.

Before the end of 2008, the country ’s education ministers set about developing a plan to implement the historic school reforms agreed to by the Prime Minister, premiers and chief ministers at the Council of Australian Governments in November.

People, organisations and educationalists have talked for some years about achieving reform in our schools. Until that COAG meeting, huwever, it had remained just that: talk.

As a result of the COAG decisions last November, Australia now has a package of landmark reforms to enable all schools across Australia to strive for excellence.

There is a renewed focus on getting the basics right in reading, writing and arithmetic through a national partnership on literacy and numeracy. The Government will invest $540 million in this area over the next four years.

There will be a new partnership on teacher quality, which recognises the importance of our teachers. This reform will see the commonwealth invest $550 million to attract, train, place and retain quality teachers and leaders in our schools.

In addition, the federal Government will invest $1.1 billion in a new partnership for disadvantaged schools.

Through this specific reform, the Government is saying that disadvantage is not destiny and a quality education is the way to overcome disadvantage.

In November last year I was pleased to welcome Joel Klein, the chancellor of schools in New York, to Australia.

Klein is someone who believes in and has implemented a number of reforms to provide parents, teachers, principals and taxpayers with transparent information about what is happening in their local schools.

While Australia needs to come up with its own set of transparency arrangements, I think it is important to look at what is being done overseas.

New York is a city with pockets of very great wealth and pockets of very great poverty and disadvantage, and Klein ’s model has made a difference to those pockets of poverty and disadvantage.

Back home, I want parents to get comprehensive information about what is happening in their child ’s school. I want them to be able to compare it with other local schools as well as with similar schools across the country. Interested community members should be able to do exactly the same thing.

In addition, through the National Education Agreement and Schools Assistance Ad, schools across Australia have committed to the introduction of a national curriculum.

While all these initiatives were developed in 2008, Australia ’s education ministers know that the real work in implementing them begins this year.

That is why on December 5 at the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs in Melbourne, we started a discussion about the best ways of implementing these reforms.

We will be keeping the community informed of our progress throughout the year. By the end of 2009, I expect the reforms will have begun to be built into our education and schooling systems.

And within four to five years, the benefits of these reforms will be there for every student, parent, teacher and community member to see, helping deliver a more transparent system based on the belief that every child should have access to a quality education and every school can strive for excellence.

Julia Gillard is the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

Australian National

No comments: