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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8785

Mr ADAMS (Lyons) (16:06): In December 2010, the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs endorsed the foundation to year 10 Australian curriculum in the initial four learning areas of English, mathematics, science and history. Ministers agreed that from 2011 states and territories will commence staged implementation of the agreed Australian curriculum, with substantial implementation to be completed by the end of 2013.

It is time for change and to re-evaluate how education is provided and how it can best be delivered. Over time the need for a national curriculum has become clear. In the past people did not move as much and often one completed one's education in the same town or region. Now people are much more footloose and have to move more from state to state to find work. Having a national curriculum allows children to be able to be assessed against their peers, because they will not have the disadvantage of trying to get used to different systems.

I would like to use this opportunity to talk about education generally and how we should look further at change. We need more flexibility in where one undertakes schooling. Recently we had a situation in Tasmania where many of our country schools had come under threat of closure because of budget cuts. Suddenly there was a list of 20 schools that were earmarked for closure without any consultation with their communities or their families. (Quorum formed) It may have passed without comment in the past, but the way it was thrust onto these communities had them up in arms. Twenty school communities went out and manned barricades. They used modern tools such as Facebook for communications, and they had families from the schools together raising funds and awareness. In 18 days they achieved a ministerial backdown. The decision makers were surprised and shocked at the reaction. But the state government, although chastened, put out a message that it was not over yet. A teacher friend of mine, Ivan Webb, offered this analysis of the situation:

… 20 Tasmanian school communities are already better prepared for what is to come. These communities still have Facebook and a whole new set of knowledge, skills, experiences, networks and relationships and a clearer sense of their own identities. They have transformed their initial sense of being at the edge of chaos into something that could be very useful to all concerned—

and which needs to be sustained and developed. He went on:

Managed well, there is a close potential link between innovation and being at the edge of chaos, but it does require a change of mindset.

I cannot think of anything that the policy decision makers—government and government departments—have to enable them to match what the school communities have done in 18 days.

Admittedly the nature of the schemes has changed, particularly since the arrival of the internet and systems that are now networks, often to larger anonymous agents. Systems, including school systems, can no longer be treated as production lines with an overlay of organisational trees that describe the relative status, power and authority of those involved. Closing a school is not something that can be done on the basis of numbers; it is a complex and uncertain task with broad ramifications. Parents and communities place a very high value on the current wellbeing and long-term success of their children. When it comes to success and wellbeing, parents and communities are confident about their local schools. Their confidence in the minister, government and the department has been severely undermined.

School closures failed this time for two reasons: they were based on a very narrow discourse and they were set up as win-lose and would have resulted in a net loss. The losses to the students, their families and community would have been far greater than the modest financial gains to the government. The next step is for the lessons to be learned. This means taking advantage of the current situation to learn as much as possible and develop a new sustainable dialogue around all schools—what they are for and how to manage their futures. The important conversation we need to have is not just between some schools and the government. The fundamental fight is about how we as a state understand, talk about, utilise and value our schools and their futures: what they are, what they do and how they make things possible. And this involves all schools, communities, governments and departments. The conversation really counts, and it needs to be ongoing, not just happening when there is an urgent need for the government to reduce spending. The conversation should include the full range of direct and indirect costs, benefits, values, relationships and possibilities associated with schools. These are best captured as stories of real people in real contexts, as schools have demonstrated. This is what schools have all been gathering to share in recent weeks, and it has worked well for them.

Schools should look after their stories well. There will come a time when they will be needed again—not only for the sake of the school but also to help the decision makers make better decisions next time. Hopefully the proposed reference group will be wise enough to tap into this goldmine before it dissipates. Governments worldwide are reducing spending, and this will continue.

To be successful, the conversation needs to be open, rich and interactive—not constrained by a narrow set of terms of reference with a particular outcome in mind. It needs to lead to innovation and overall win-win outcomes, which may or may not result in some actual closures. The schools have demonstrated that this can be done. Facebook has played a key role. There are tools for enabling even more focused and productive outcomes. It is now time for ministers, governments and departments to catch up. I think we should be aware of this in the federal sphere too. There was some criticism of this government providing funds under the Building the Education Revolution—yet schools in my electorate were able to renew their education spaces for the first time in some 50 or more years.

The renewals included new technology as well as buildings. This means students are able to use interactive whiteboards as a learning tool, which not only puts a bit of fun into their learning but also means they can be in touch with other children around the state, the country and even the world to undertake learning programs as well as maths games and games with numbers.

By unwittingly providing the tools to galvanise their communities against school closures, they have also prepared their schools to go out into the community and help be part of the local economy, the driving force behind future directions. Isn't that what education is all about—preparing our children to help Tasmania thrive and develop new jobs and new directions and to build a viable future for themselves?

With the latest in digital technology, computers, laptops and videophones, children can communicate with the rest of world very easily. They do not have to move further than their classroom to catch up with the latest trends at the next big school or an equivalent school in, say, Ireland or any other country in the world. It is all there at their fingertips. Smaller schools allow greater participation in this style of reality learning. And students do not have to miss out on sporting or other extracurricular activities either— (Time expired)

(Quorum formed)