Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6830

Ms BIRD (9:00 PM) —I am pleased, I must say, as a great advocate of education in our society to see it dominating so significantly in the grievance debate tonight. I have enjoyed the contributions of both my colleague the member for Throsby and the member for Mallee on the importance of education, and I also want to address that to some extent myself in the grievance debate tonight.

What has particularly roused me to speak in this debate is the fact that there has been an increasing incidence amongst the senior journalists in this country to comment on the Building the Education Revolution program in a very disparaging way about the importance of capital injection into schools. So I put aside the partisan debate that we are having about the rollout of that program and the issues that people may want to debate about particular projects and will deal more broadly with the importance of the environment in terms of educational delivery.

I spent quite a number of years as a secondary school teacher and, as a parent—as most of us here would be—have also experienced through my children their direct experience of school. It is absolutely true that the most critical factor in a young person’s success or, sadly, lack of success in school is the teacher in the classroom. There is no doubt that that is the most critical factor. It is also important that the curriculum is appropriate, modern, relevant and engaging. But that does not mean that the environment that we provide for young people to learn is an inconsequential or unimportant aspect of their engagement in their education. On Sunday I was watching the Insiders program—

Mr Slipper —Oh, get a life.

Ms BIRD —Yes, it is a bit sad—I appreciate that. The three gallery journalists all without question said that the spending of money on capital in schools was not a major issue for improving educational outcomes. I do not think they could be more profoundly wrong. There is no doubt that the quality of the environment that you send your young people to learn in sends them a message about how their community and their society value the education they are receiving. If you send young people into classrooms that have carpet that is torn, that have paint peeling off the walls and that have problems with leaking into light fittings—all of these things I have seen in my own electorate and I am sure all members have seen in their electorates—there is absolutely no doubt that a young person going into a physical environment like that will take away a message about how we as governments and as a society value the place we are sending them to and therefore value what they are achieving in that place.

It is absolutely true that the quality and commitment of the teaching staff is paramount. It is absolutely true that the curriculum that is delivered in those classrooms is significantly important. But it is no less true that the physical environment we provide for our young people is just as important a component in terms of their educational outcome. And I was particularly disappointed to see that the nature of the debate that is going on, particularly in the media, on this issue undervalues the significance of the message that we are sending in upgrading the facilities.

My colleague the member for Throsby and I attended a school in the member for Throsby’s electorate to make announcements around the Primary Schools for the 21st Century first round of funding. The school we visited is 150 years old. They have fantastic staff, and they have really good outcomes in one of the most difficult suburbs in our region. There is no doubt at all that the teaching staff can take so much credit for what they achieve. That school had not had a significant physical upgrade in as long as anybody could remember.

When we went back after the announcement of the National School Pride program money and the money from the Primary Schools for the 21st Century program there was a buzz in that school and much excitement. They have a band, they have dance classes and they have some martial arts classes where kids learn all those skills. Having an actual place where they can give presentations and performances for their community and their families, instead of being outside waiting for a non-rainy day to do that, was really important to them. I think it is pretty sad if those who provide commentary at the top levels of our media cannot understand or come to grips with how important that is and how important the rollout of that capital expenditure is to all of those schools.

Mr Slipper —Madam Deputy Speaker, I seek to make an intervention under standing order 66.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. JE Moylan)—Is the member for Cunningham willing to give way?

Ms BIRD —Yes, I am more than happy to.

Mr Slipper —I thank the honourable member. I believe this is a very important standing order which creates a sense of interaction within the chamber. Would the honourable member accept that the Investing in Our Schools Program abolished by the current government also provided incredible facilities for many schools which had been starved of facilities by state government funding policies?

Ms BIRD —I thank the member for his intervention. I certainly agree that the Investing in Our Schools Program, which ran out before the 2007 election, was an important component and that is why I have addressed my comments tonight in a very nonpartisan manner: because I am actually recognising that both sides of the chamber understand the importance of capital and the environment we provide for young people in our schools. My complaint tonight is that I do not know that the national media, in commenting on these issues, absolutely understand why that is so important, as the honourable member says.

I also want to take the opportunity, because sometimes the vocational education sector slips through the gaps and does not get the attention it deserves, to acknowledge that my own local TAFE last week were successful under the infrastructure program set up under the higher education fund for TAFEs in getting a project up that is going to upgrade the Illawarra Institute’s mechanical engineering, manufacturing and environmental technology training services from a model based on large-scale driven training for discrete training areas—that is, the old industrial model where all the workers were lined up on a factory floor on their particular machines; which does not happen in many workplaces now—to one which anticipates customer needs by working with customers to develop workforce capability through customised, flexibly delivered training attuned to the needs of specific enterprises. To put that in layman’s terms, the TAFE engineering section is going to be restructured to module based problem-solving units where the young people will work in teams to design a particular solution to an engineering problem. They will be able to build the prototypes on computer based systems. They will be able to take that, transfer it to a production unit and actually find a solution—and then take it to another section and test it and see how it goes. That is something which reflects much more the modern workplace rather than the mass production of hundreds of people lined up on a factory floor all doing one section of a job and passing it along.

I visited the TAFE the other day. I am a bit biased, having taught there for seven years: I think TAFE is an absolutely fabulous world-class institution that this country sometimes, at its own peril, undervalues. They were extremely excited by this $9.8 million available to them to upgrade their facilities. This is another example where the physical environment in an education situation supports the curriculum—supports a modern, meaningful education being experienced by young people—and also enables teachers to stretch their wings and be excited themselves by what they are delivering in terms of education. I know the TAFE engineering facility is a microcosm of how our manufacturing base is changing from mass production to really specialised problem-solving solutions.

Our young people will now walk into a TAFE that reflects the modern workplace and reflects the challenges they will face in the modern workplace. When I walked through the doors to make the announcement it was a bit like the old metalwork and woodwork room—you walk in there and you feel like you are stepping back 50 years in time. They just look like you know they have looked for all the years since they were first built. It was very exciting for them and very exciting for me—in a region like mine which relies on manufacturing modernising to meet modern needs—to see that investment and to see the enthusiasm of those young people as they undertake their training. I just want to say: Barack Obama sought $16 billion for his capital investment in education. He got $12 billion. We have got more than that with far fewer students and institutions. I think that is a great outcome.