Ensuring The 21st Century Doesn't Stop At The School Gate
Education Revolution in Action Conference, John Paul College, Daisy Hill, 8 September 2008
I would like to start with something all our schools support enthusiastically – acknowledging the traditional owners on the land on which we’re meeting, the Jukambi people.
I also want to mention a few people:
Pam Parker – the Mayor of Logan City.
The local member Craig Emerson, who is also the Federal Minister for Small Business.
Barbara Stone – the State Member for Springwood and Phil Reeves – the State Member for Mansfield.
The Principal of John Paul College, Steve Paul and Board Representatives.
JOHN PAUL COLLEGE – A LEADER
Thank you for that warm welcome and for the chance to be part of this very important conference.
Let me also say what a terrific pleasure it is to be able to come and see John Paul College first hand.
I’ve heard a lot about it… and only partly because one of my staff went to school here.
This impressive school has been at the forefront of the Digital Education Revolution for a decade and a half.
And it’s been attracting the eye of policy makers for almost as long.
In fact seven years ago, when the then Labor Leader Kim Beazley was putting together his vision for a Knowledge Nation with the help of a taskforce that included a young backbencher called Kevin Rudd, he came here to John Paul College.
And after studying first hand the world-leading digital learning program here, he resolved to make it the exemplar for other schools in Australia.
Having had the chance to see what the school has to offer and what its philosophy is, I can see why.
It’s a world leader. So much so that another member of the Knowledge Nation Taskforce – Aidan McCarthy, who will be speaking shortly – was poached by Microsoft to become World Wide Managing Director of its K-to-12 digital education efforts.
When it comes to ICT best practice, Bill Gates usually knows what he’s talking about.
THE IMPORTANCE OF DIGITAL EDUCATION: PART OF AN EDUCATION REVOLUTION
Kim Beazley and Aidan obviously never got to implement their big plans to make every Australian school a digital school.
But their belief in the power of education and the crucial role of digital education lives on in the Rudd Government’s Digital Education Revolution.
They first proposed that agenda in 2001.
Seven years ago. It was the future then. And thanks to policy inaction, for many schools it still is.
What that tells you is that too many of our schools have been waiting for far too long for decent digital education programs.
And as a result they have a lot of catching up to do.
Yet, almost unbelievably, the idea of digital education still has its critics.
They say that information and communications technology is of dubious educational worth and that the money invested in it would be better spent in other areas.
I’ve got a simple answer to those critics: come to John Paul College. And have a look also at some of the great things going on in many of our public, Catholic and Independent schools.
Digital education is not an add-on. It’s not a marketing tool. It’s not a distraction from the traditional objectives of education. And it’s not an alternative to traditional disciplines like mathematics, science, literature, history or trades training. It’s a powerful tool that enables well-trained teachers to teach those things more effectively.
Far from replacing books or lathes, by keeping our young people engaged in learning, ICT will get them reading and learning even more.
The Collected Works of William Shakespeare are safe. As well as online.
In fact, the Digital Education Revolution is an integral part of the overall Education Revolution that we are building in this country. Our intention is that that every child in Australia, every school in Australia and every community in Australia gets access to education of the highest quality.
That means investing in world class technology infrastructure; world class teaching; transparency and accountability for parents in every community; and new investment to provide targeted support for the schools serving disadvantaged communities around our nation. Digital technology plays a fundamental part in all of these goals.
MAKING SURE OUR SCHOOLS KEEP UP WITH THE REAL WORLD
Importantly, digital education is going to ensure all our schools can develop at the same pace as other areas of our lives where ICT has become part of everyday life.
Think of a typical Australian teenager.
When they wake up in the morning there’s a fair chance the first thing they’ll do after grabbing a piece of toast is check their e-mail.
On the way to school they’ll almost certainly start texting their friends while listening to their MP3.
And after school when they’re not kicking a football, eating dinner or doing homework they might log on to Facebook, play computer games and watch a TV show they’ve recorded on the family’s digital hard drive. They might even use Skype to videoconference their grandmother or cousin living on the other side of the world.
And once they’ve completed year-12 they’ll enter university, TAFE or a job that requires them to be totally computer literate.
Our young people live in a 21st-century wired world.
So it’s important that when they walk through the school gate at 9.00am they’re not walking back into a learning environment designed essentially in the Nineteenth Century, using pedagogical techniques that were probably already becoming outdated when Bill Gates was still wearing short trousers.
What all this means is that our task isn’t just about putting PCs onto desks or laptops into school backpacks.
It’s about recognising we can’t keep doing everything in the old way. It’s about changing the way children are taught so they stay motivated and develop the skills they need to thrive in the modern world.
That’s what our $1.2 Digital Education Revolution is all about.
Schools like John Paul College with 1-to-1 student-to-computer ratios obviously don’t need hardware.
But many other schools do.
That’s why the starting point for the Digital Education Revolution for many schools has to be providing the hardware.
Our five-year $1.2 billion National Secondary School Computer Fund is designed to ensure all year 9 to 12 secondary school students in Australia have access to a computer.
Some of you will have already received PCs through the first funding round. Round Two closes on 9 October.
All Australian secondary schools will be able to benefit from the Fund over its lifetime.
But hardware is only the starting point.
PROVIDING INFRASTRUCTURE AND TOTAL BACK-UP SUPPORT
Critics of the Government’s digital education policies want to claim that we’re only providing computers and not the wherewithal needed to make them useful to schools.
They obviously haven’t read our policy. I suggest they do so on my Department’s website – if they know how to search for it, of course.
Our Digital Education Revolution isn’t just about access to computers. It’s also about ensuring the underpinning technological infrastructure to make them work is in place; and ensuring teachers have the tools, e-learning resources, professional development and back-up they need to get the most out of the technology.
The arteries of the system will be high-speed broadband. And to ensure that’s in place we’re investing up to $100 million to contribute to the provision of high-speed fibre-to-the-premises broadband connections to all schools.
Fast, reliable broadband will give Australian students access to new education applications such as virtual classrooms, e-books, visual and audio streaming and high definition video conferencing.
Schools in remote areas will receive a standard of service that will be as close as possible to that provided by the National Broadband Network.
We also recognise the importance of quality curriculum support and resources.
And to provide it, $32.6 million has been allocated over the next two years to supply students and teachers across Australia with online curriculum tools that will be aligned with the national curriculum currently under development. This will include a body of national online curriculum and digital content for use across all Australian schools.
Managing access to hardware, content and service is going to be a huge and complicated task. And so the Government will be working with all school systems to develop a plan of action to make sure it’s done effectively.
For instance, we will be developing a consistent national approach to storing and managing online curriculum content at the local and system level. And we will be developing a Learning Activity Management project to provide teachers with an integrated online learning environment and tools they need to use technology to plan and deliver lessons and courses.
PD, PD AND MORE PD
But perhaps more than anything else, this is about professional development.
Teachers have to be confident users of ICT and know how to use it in the classroom to maximum effect.
So we’re supporting a range of professional development measures to improve teacher quality, including the Australian Government Quality Teacher Program.
In 2009, $11.25 million from the program will be allocated directly to schools-based ICT professional development for teachers and school leaders.
We’ve also established a new Teaching for the Digital Age Advisory Group, with members drawn from the non-government and government sectors to provide expert advice to Commonwealth and State and Territory education departments. This expert group will develop teacher professional development programs to support the Digital Education Revolution throughout its lifetime. This is real planning for the future.
We are also mindful of the need for professional IT support, particularly for smaller independent schools.
To address this need, $10 million of the National Secondary School Computer Fund will go towards establishing support mechanisms to help schools effectively deploy the ICT equipment purchased from the fund.
And as a starter, you may also like to check out the information on our digital education website, like theBetter Practice Guide: ICT in Schoolswhich provides advice on ICT planning, technical and security and infrastructure issues.
It’s time for Australia to catch up with the world in digital education.
Our policies are going to start that process.
But as with all things where ICT is involved, it’s people through their modern networking and initiative who are going to really drive the big changes.
I notice that John Paul College is also pioneering digital networks that link together the important players in education in new ways; JPC Connect links students, teachers and parents into a single network.
And now you have a network, launched by Craig Emerson a few weeks ago, to link parents, local businesses and other community organizations to the school.
Building that shared responsibility for student achievement, and working together to lift the quality of learning in every community, is exactly what our agenda is about.
As well as the digital networks, that means conferences like this.
I could only touch on the issues today. Many more are being covered by you.
I hope the knowledge you learn here today gives you plenty of new ideas to take back and use in your schools.
This is a great initiative. And John Paul College has to be commended for sharing so freely the many lessons it’s learned, sometimes the hard way. It’s been sharing its experiences for a long time. The big reward for their generosity is the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of Australian children right across the country will get better and more interesting schooling as a result.