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Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Page: 9063


Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (18:00): I rise to speak in support of the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011, advancing this government's proud record in the area of education. There are a number of important practical changes that this bill will enable, and I support the amendments because they achieve three very important outcomes. They provide a more certain legal framework for the non-government sector in which to implement the national curriculum and remove the 31 January 2012 date as the deadline for implementation. They also allow the curriculum implementation time frames for non-government and government schools to be aligned, and they look to the future and provide the necessary flexibility for the implementation of each new phase of the national curriculum to be authorised by the Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood, which was formerly known as MCEECDYA.

I would like to commence with a few general comments on education and notions of what a curriculum offers. Education is and will always be my passion. It is truly the transformer of societies, and the plan for the way in which that society sees itself and envisions the future for its citizens is laid out in our syllabus or curriculum documents. In the current educational discourse practices in Australia, the new term for the core government documents to which teachers refer is 'curriculum' rather than 'syllabus'. Curriculum or syllabus documents are important for teachers, as we use them in our professional capacities to inform and guide how we plan for the learning of all students in our care. Some parts of the documents prescribe core knowledge, but it is teachers as professionals who are the critical agents who make that knowledge accessible and provide the organisation of the learning environment to enable students to engage and learn.

It is the teachers who are critical in this—the teachers as professionals. It is the skilled pedagogues and exemplary citizens who model how to learn and how to be a good Australian citizen who bring the curriculum to life. It is the teachers who construct the learning environments to support students to become great Australian citizens who can work, live freely and participate fully in life in a healthy democracy that is enabled by the teachers. It is teachers who construct classrooms and other learning spaces that enable students to do the talking, thinking, reading, writing, drawing, typing, speaking, moving, listening, sharing, producing and ways of being that really make learning happen.

There is much debate in educational circles about what exactly constitutes the curriculum. Is it just the document itself or is it something far more? Some argue that the curriculum is everything that students learn at and around schools. Such definitions go beyond the prevailing use of the word 'curriculum' in this bill. A curriculum certainly includes knowledge, skills, values, attitudes, understandings and capacities that students gain from being a student. Essentially, the curriculum links us to the world around us. That dynamism of the world around us and the need to be able to respond to it are acknowledged in this amendment.

Considered and careful amendment of the national curriculum documents is a necessary response to the critical evaluation of the implementation of any curriculum. Teachers' and students' responses will always need to inform ongoing improvement of learning. Their views are vital to enable the standing council to make informed changes to the curriculum over time. No changes will be made without the authorisation of the standing council. The amendment before the House allows for this good practice to be enabled.

At this point of our nation's history, in a world with a global economy and increasing mobility, the federal government has determined that it is time to move to a national curriculum. It has always interested me that in the curriculum wars that have gone on in each jurisdiction over many years the shaping and reshaping of the content of courses has been a highly political event. The determination to keep as much of what was already there and to push to include new materials, new skills, new competencies and new knowledge has resulted, in many jurisdictions, in overloaded documents that commonly bring about something called 'the crowded curriculum'.

The national curriculum development has faced the same challenges and now we are on the cusp of phase 3, where health, PE, information and communications technology, design and technology, economics, business and civics and citizenship curricula are all about to be developed. There will once again be fulsome debate about what stays in and what is removed. New knowledge, understanding and perspectives will be offered up, learning flows will be resequenced and debate about what is prioritised and what will be less prominent will continue. All this considered and time-consuming work will, and must, be undertaken.

It is in this context then that the need for the amendment before the House is, in fact, a response to the natural, robust debate and consultation process about content, shape and timing of any national curriculum. This bill concerns the specific issue of the implementation of the national curriculum and the manner in which this implementation is to occur. The necessary amendment contained in this bill concerns independent schools, including non-systemic or schools within an approved school system.

The act as it currently stands mandates a particular date for the implementation of the national curriculum. The amendments contained in this bill reflect recent negotiations where it has been agreed that the national curriculum will be implemented in stages. Each jurisdiction will now be afforded the necessary flexibility to address particular issues relevant to its particular state or territory. It is important that this legislation reflects this and enables the appropriate and agreed implementation of the national curriculum.

Provision of a quality curriculum for all Australian students delivered at the same time in all sectors is central to the future progress of our nation. It was a long time ago that former Prime Minister Bob Hawke declared Australia to be not only a lucky country but also a clever country. This well-remembered statement was an acknowledgement that a strong national education system is vital for the welfare of Australia and for the lives of our citizens.

Additionally, throughout the 1990s in particular, economists around the world realised the immense importance of human capital in enabling economic growth and development. I see education as investing in human beings; it is not only good for the individual who receives that investment but it is also an advantage for the common good, and the common good is also an economic advantage. In my view, Australia is a country which has been at the forefront of recognising that investment in a quality education is vital for the nation's long-term social and economic wellbeing.

I believe I am not on my own in this regard and, in fact, it was an Australian president of the World Bank who recognised the immense importance of knowledge sharing in reducing global poverty. James Wolfensohn recognised that in the global economy knowledge, as a commodity, was outstripping material resources and capital as a source of wealth. As a result, the World Bank recognised the need to prioritise the spread of knowledge and education throughout the developing world.

As a member of the Australian parliament I support the actions that maintain and enhance the esteem afforded to the Australian education system. As a Labor member I am proud to say that we have a long and proud record of investing in education as the great enabler. That is why we are investing in renewal, in teachers and in bricks and mortar. I am aware that we are discussing curriculum matters, but bricks and mortar decisions impact on the way curriculum can be offered and the learning spaces and resources in those classrooms. Those opposite have never completely understood the future dividends of investing in education infrastructure, and this is most clearly demonstrated in their approach to the Building the Education Revolution.

Since I was elected as the member for Robertson I have yet to see a school that has not been transformed by the Building the Education Revolution program. Apart from the physical transformation though, new rooms, smart boards and new learning spaces are part of the form and nature of the curriculum being taught and learned. The school principal at Ettalong Public School, Mr Colin Wallis, was proud to state that in the future, looking back on the BER would be an event where we should have immense pride. It was a time when the federal government, determined to keep Australians working by stimulating the economy, invested in public education.

At Brisbania, also located in my electorate, the principal, Mr Michael Burgess, stated that since he had become principal he had noted the immense dissatisfaction of his students and teachers in the demountables that the school relied on. The demountables were intended only to be temporary, but after decades they were still there: smelly, old and leaking. As a result of the BER Brisbania Public School has four brand-new classrooms, a new technology room and a storage room, with which they are absolutely delighted. It is vital to recognise that these buildings will be used far into the future, enhancing the educational opportunities and learning outcomes of future generations. The BER recognises the fundamental notion that investment in education is one of our most important government activities. I understand that the development of the national curriculum has been a central policy of this government and is tied to the government's commitment to developing a truly national economy. I am confident that the profession will voice its appreciation and critique of the curriculum to ensure it develops and adapts over time to keep pace with our rapidly changing world while holding to the wisdom that we have from the older curriculum. All students in our education system have differing capacities. They all deserve a curriculum that allows them to find their strengths.

The amendments before the House today attend to the important practical matters of management of this significant change to the content, the pedagogical practices and the national learning outcomes that will come with the national curriculum. For these reasons in particular and for many more educationally significant ones, I commend the bill to the House.