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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4252


Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (19:31): I welcome the opportunity to address the issues in the motion put before the House by the shadow minister on the broad issue of professional development support for teachers generally and, more specifically, for science teachers. I will address the broad issue first and then go to the specific issue of the continuation of the PrimaryConnections and Science by Doing programs. In doing so, I will address some of the issues raised by the member for Indi in her contribution to the debate, of which about half was related directly to the motion—the other half was the usual general diatribe against the government. We will ignore that bit and just deal with the part that was actually relevant to the motion before us.

We should firstly acknowledge that the primary responsibility for the professional development of teachers sits with their employing authorities, either state or private. However, the federal government works in partnership by providing substantial funding for teacher professional development through the National Education Agreement for government school teachers and through the Australian Government Quality Teacher Program for teachers in non-government schools.

As the challenges of improving our efficiency and competitiveness in the modern world continue to highlight the need for high standards of scientific literacy in the community, we should acknowledge that Australia's PISA 2009 results remained steady with those of the previous testing done in 2006. Australia's average score was 527, which was significantly above the OECD average of 501. These results are not bad results, but we should always be working to improve them, particularly as our regional neighbours, such as Shanghai and Hong Kong China, Singapore, Japan and Korea outperformed us in 2009.

I would also like to take the opportunity at this point to indicate how important, despite the comments of the member for Indi, the Digital Education Revolution and the rollout of the National Broadband Network are to the successful delivery of science in schools. They will be increasingly important in engaging young people in real world studies, particularly in areas of science.

In particular, I refer members to the case study that can be found on the NBN Co. website about St Peter Chanel Catholic School in Smithton in Tasmania, perhaps known to Mr Deputy Speaker Adams. The headmaster, Clynton Scharvi, says it feels like a whole new world has opened up to the students, teachers and parents since the school was connected to the NBN. He states:

Children are engaged and enthused and the NBN is outstanding in supporting discovery or inquiry-based learning … The fact that the kids are so engaged motivates our teachers which drives the whole learning process. Going back three or four years, having a teacher set up a data projector and screen was a big deal. Now we have teachers using iPads, Google applications online and seeking out new ways to enhance online learning through the NBN. For example, we used the NBN to host an astronomy night at the school. We synchronised an iPad application with our location to produce a view of the night sky. Using telescopes we could then chart the stars we were seeing and identify them through the iPad. Parents joined in too. Students have also had the opportunity to have live link-ups with a diver on the Great Barrier Reef and students in a remote community on the Tiwi Islands … We often take for granted that you can fly to Melbourne for a weekend. But some of our kids at Circular Head don't get the chance to leave Rocky Cape, just 40 kms away. The NBN increases the opportunities for every single child to experience and learn about people, environments and cultures from around the world.

This is a simply great story from a local school, and it is clear that these new tools and connections have enormous capacity to reconnect young people to the inspiration of scientific discovery and exploration. The principal went on further to talk about the professional development that is provided to teachers to enable them to make best use of these tools.

I was reminded when repeating that story from the principal of my first term in this parliament on the education committee when we were looking at the issue of teacher training and the fact that a lot of our young new teachers did not last more than five years. Rod Sawford, a member of the House at the time, was on the committee with me and he was a very passionate advocate of science and maths, in particular, in our schools. An issue that became clear to us was the importance of providing up-to-date capacities for science to be delivered in schools. Kids were going home and they were watching the Discovery Channel on TV and they were engaging with science in really meaningful ways, yet somehow the curriculum and the school experience had become very dry and unengaging and they were losing their love of science in the school. It appears to me, from a story like this, that young people doing real-life experience with a class of kids from the Tiwi Islands, looking at a wetland area and working together on a science project, provides an outstanding opportunity for them to re-engage.

Further to those government initiatives, we have provided $550 million through the Smarter Schools—Improving Teacher Quality national partnership to implement a range of reforms to raise teacher quality and to help underpin the implementation of the national Australian curriculum, including through professional development for teachers. Additionally, in partnership with the states and territories, the government has established the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, as well as Education Services Australia. These organisations will also play a key role in supporting the augmentation of the Australian curriculum.

Part of the shadow minister's motion emphasises the importance of supporting teachers, allowing them, in his words, to 'access the support and training they need to teach the new national curriculum in science'. The government has been delivering and will continue to deliver this support. The opposition should stop deriding the Digital Education Revolution and the National Broadband Network as these initiatives will be increasingly important tools in engaging young people in the sciences and supporting teachers to provide meaningful and innovative teaching activities in the classroom.

The two specific programs identified by the shadow minister in the motion and described as axed by the member for Indi—the PrimaryConnections and the Science By Doing projects—were funded five-year projects. Both of these programs have in fact received a substantial investment by this government and, as a result, have generated valuable returns for the teaching and learning of science in Australian schools. Importantly, these returns will continue beyond the life of the projects themselves. The initiatives, as they were set up to do, have developed important and valuable resources for teachers in delivering curriculum units, and these resources will be available into the future both online and in other relevant formats when the projects are completed. In addition, hundreds of trainers in the PrimaryConnections approach have been trained. Over 8,000 professional learning workshops have been run, and these have been delivered in order to help the state and territory authorities take up the program.

The government extends its congratulations to the Australian Academy of Science for its commitment to the advancement of science education and its innovative work in developing these projects to foster quality in science teaching in Australian schools. Importantly, I acknowledge their ongoing work in that area, including that of other organisations in the science field. In particular I refer to some of the great partnerships that Questacon are developing to provide science lessons utilising the capacity of the NBN that will deliver to schools in engaging young people in experiences of the various projects and presentations at Questacon, making them available to classrooms with kids who may never get the opportunity themselves to visit Questacon.

There are lots of great initiatives out there. This government certainly values these projects and the work that they have done and remains committed to making sure, as was the intention when the projects were first established, that the resources and the skills that are being developed continue to be applied into classrooms into the future. I remain optimistic about the future of science learning in our schools, particularly supported by modern technology in its capacity to re-engage young people with a love for the sciences.