2011 Australasian Association of Distance Education Schools National Conference Wrest Point, Hobart
- Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth
I wish to acknowledge the Tasmanian Aboriginal community as traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet today, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
I also extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are here today.
I’d also like to acknowledge:
- Professor Teemu Leinonen– Aalto University, Finland
- Lyn Dunn, John Lee-Archer and Janine Bowes– Conference Convenors
It’s a pleasure to join you at this conference and to share the podium this morning with Professor Teemu Leinonen from Finland.
Not only is he a remarkable scholar, but he is also very much at home in implementing practical and innovative systems for distance teaching, as I am sure we will hear.
I’m pleased we have been able to support Professor Leinonen’s plenary address through funding from my department and, indeed, to be a sponsor of the conference in general.
And I congratulate the organisers on your preparations for this conference.
It’s such a great opportunity for people who are separated by distance or isolation to come together.
Here in Tasmania, we have an excellent example of why distance education is so important.
No point on the island is much farther than 400 kilometres from any other point, yet the Tasmanian Government provides distance education courses covering all the years of schooling, as well as vocational education and training courses.
This reminds us that distance education is not just about overcoming distance, but about giving people who are isolated—for whatever reason—access to a great education.
That is my focus too.
I am working as hard as I can to provide the best possible learning experience for every Australian student.
We’re entering a new era of education in many ways, with the technological changes that are revolutionising what’s happening in – and outside – the classroom.
And of course, the rollout of the National Broadband Network here in Tasmania and across the country creates all sorts of opportunities.
For that reason, I want to talk to you today about the Gillard Government’s digital education agenda.
The National Broadband Network
It’s just over 92 years since Alf Traeger invented the pedal radio, and sent the first historic Morse code transmissions across the Outback.
The extreme isolation of the Outback was swept away in that moment.
For Australia, it was the ‘killer technology app’ that enabled the launch of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the School of the Air.
In the decades since then many thousands of children have received an education because of this breakthrough technology and its increasingly sophisticated successors.
Fast forward to today, and the issues of distance and isolation are the same as they were in Alf Traeger’s day, but we are on the brink of another fundamental revolution—one that will reduce the isolation of schools and students across the nation.
For example, last month I visited the Northern Territory Open Education Centre in Darwin.
The Prime Minister and I spoke to students of the Katherine School of the Air via real-time videoconferencing.
The school broadcasts to students in an 800,000 square kilometre 'classroom' across the Territory, and digital technology has revolutionised the way they work.
It was great to see the enthusiasm of the students to share their learning experiences with their classmates in such an interactive way.
And that’s just the beginning.
Through the National Broadband Network—now being rolled out—fibre optic cabling will connect 93 per cent of Australian homes, schools and businesses, providing broadband speeds of up to 100 megabits per second.
Remaining sites in less populated areas will be connected to the NBN via a combination of fixed wireless and satellite technologies providing peak speeds of at least 12 megabits per second.
As of October 2010, less than 12 per cent of Tasmanian schools were connected to fibre – so the NBN is going to be transformative for education here.
I can’t emphasise enough how high-speed broadband connectivity will overcome geographical and other barriers to world-class education, and ultimately contribute to the building of better communities.
As distance educators, you are already in the habit of thinking about how to conduct education through information and communications technology.
I expect that many of the innovative solutions developed to support distance education will find their way into the mainstream, rather than the other way around.
Our digital education agenda
The Australian Government recognises this as a once in-a-generation opportunity to embed new ways of working for educators.
That’s why we’re investing $2.4 billion in what we call the Digital Education Revolution.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the National Secondary School Computer Fund.
We are delivering one-to-one computer access to students in Years 9 to 12 in schools across the country.
We continue to get fantastic feedback on this program – teachers and students are telling us that it’s opened up their horizons.
We are also delivering a range of tools to make the best use of this infrastructure:
- Our Online Diagnostic Tools Initiative will provide Australian teachers and parents with diagnostic feedback on students’ progress, through individualised assessments aligned to the Australian Curriculum.
- We are investing over $27 million in the NBN-Enabled Education and Skills Services Program, which supports the development and trialling of online education services and tools that take advantage of high-speed connectivity.We’re expecting to invite proposals later this year, so please keep an eye out for this and put in an application if there’s a way you can use this program.
- Being able to use ICT in teaching and learning is a key part of the recently agreed National Professional Standards for Teachers.And we’ve created the $16 million ICT Innovation Fund to support projects that integrate ICT into teaching and learning.
We’re also taking advantage of the power of ICT to boost our broader school reform agenda.
The new Australian Curriculum will be available online and will be linked to digital learning resources through the Australian Curriculum Connect project.
And we’re using the internet to provide more information to parents than ever before, through the My School website.
Digital Education Advisory Group
To continue to ensure that our school reform agenda takes advantage of all the opportunities that digital technology has to offer, I’m pleased to announce today that I am establishing a Digital Education Advisory Group.
The group will provide me with advice on leading edge approaches to maximising the potential of information and communications technology (ICT) to transform teaching and learning in Australia.
They will produce a strategy for governments to deliver the best digital learning environment that we can for our students, teachers and parents.
I am really pleased that Professor Shirley Alexander, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Teaching, Learning and Equity) of the University of Technology Sydney, has agreed to Chair the Group.
Professor Alexander has an international reputation for her research into ICT in education.
She will be supported by members from the educationcommunity, government, and the ICT industry.
I look forward to meeting with the Group in the coming weeks to begin this exciting work.
Of course, the digital education agenda is just one part of our broader school reform agenda.
We’re making significant investments in improving teacher quality, supporting low socio-economic school communities, and improving literacy and numeracy.We’re committed to empowering local schools, and recognising and rewarding our best teachers.
We’re supporting students who are interested in vocational pathways through our Trades Training Centres and our National Trade Cadetships.
And we’re in the midst of a once-in-a-generation review of funding for schooling, which as I’m sure you’re aware is generating considerable debate.
The panel of eminent Australians, led by David Gonski, are hard at work on this, including the interesting and important question of the merits of developing a National Schooling Resource Standard.
They will be releasing their next issues paper around August, and I look forward to continuing the funding conversation as the work progresses.
I believe the ICT technology revolution currently underway will transform our education system.
The fundamentals of good teaching will not change.
What will change is that we will eliminate or greatly reduce the barrier of isolation in getting a great education.
Your prior experience in innovating in this field and your determination to go the extra mile will stand you in good stead.
So this is an exciting time to be involved in distance education, and I wish you all well as you discuss these and other issues over the remainder of the conference.