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Dawkins says Australia cannot be clever if it is not capable

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E m pl o y m e n t E d u c a t io n & T r a in in g T H E H O N . J O H N D A W K I N S M . P .

I A ·


Australia's efforts to become a clever country will be thwarted unless educators, governments and the wider community put more effort and resources into vocational education and training and ensure that Australia is also a "capable country", John Dawkins said today.

Mr Dawkins, the Minister for Employment, Education and Training told a conference of top-level educators in Canberra that if Australia was to become clever country, it had to pay far more attention to, and place more emphasis on, practical skills and vocational education.

"Being clever is as much about our capability to be manually dexterous, technically proficient and industrially innovative as it is about being intellectually excellent," Mr Dawkins told a joint conference of the Australian Deans of Education and the Australian College of Education.

"In Australia, unlike countries with different cultures and structures, we have tended to associate cleverness with academic achievement

"In Australia, the perception is that clever people do well at school, go to university or do 'theoretical' things. Conversely, less clever Australians go to 'Tech', get 'trained' and do 'practical' things."

Mr Dawkins said this kind of educational snobbery must change.

"There is nothing clever about a nation that is not capable of implementing bright ideas and that does not have the dexterity or know-how to capably deal with problems and challenges in the workplace and in industry.

"Indeed, there is nothing clever about a nation that cannot power itself with a knowledgeable and skilled workforce."

Mr Dawkins said that being clever is as much about our capability to be manually dexterous, technically proficient and industrially innovative as it is about being intellectually excellent.



'The cleverest country is not the one with the most Ph.Ds per capita. It is the one with enough technicians as well as enough scientists, with skilful tradespeople as well as exemplary teachers and academics."

Mr Dawkins said Australia's vocational system of education was not meeting the demands of people wanting to enter it and of the aspirations of the wider community.

"At a time when our international competitors are expanding their emphasis on vocational education and training, the principal element of our training system - TAPE - appears static and vulnerable."

The Minister said that outside of schools and universities, education and training opportunities for young people were limited. He said there were currently about 400,000 teenagers who have completely lost touch with the education and training system.

He also said that his Department estimated that next year, about 145,000 students who want to get into TAPE will be prevented from doing so because of a lack of places.

Mr Dawkins said that the Finn Committee Report into education and training options for 15-19 year olds recommends a new and expanded system of education and training.

Ministers responsible for education and training will meet later this month to discuss their responses to the Finn Report and issues flowing from this are also likely to be discussed at the next Special Premier's Conference.

"The very sustainability of Australian society and our capability to develop and prosper depend very much on the deliberations of Ministers and Premiers over the next couple of months.

"While there needs to be a balance between general education and vocational education, there does not need to be, nor is there, any sense of competition between the two. Finding a balance - and we do need a balance - is more a matter of convergence and not one of competition."

October 1,1991

C heck A gain st Delivery***

"Australia - clever enough to be capable?"

Address by

The Hon John Dawkins MP

Minister for Employment, Education and Training


a joint session of

the Australian College of Education


The Australian Council of Deans of Education


October 1,1991


As educationists, you would undoubtedly agree with the proposition that a "good education" culturally enriches the lives of individuals and provides access to a wide range of life's opportunities

- everyone should be entitled to experience such an education.

But our society's interest in the provision of education goes beyond questions of "social equity"

- it is also very much about the future well being of our nation in material terms

: the economic imperative.

In academic and education circles there are many who take offence at placing any particular emphasis on the economic imperative and the centrality of education and training to meeting this imperative

- the heresy of "instrumentalism".

Yet, in the circumstances in which we as a nation find ourselves, we cannot afford the self-indulgence of pretending that there isn't an economic imperative and that education and training isn't instrumental to

meeting that imperative

- beyond our shores lies cold and hard reality in the form of dynamic economies of the Asian

region, the European Community and the nascent free trade zone of North America.

If our children are to enjoy the material well-being of our generation, then the imperative of our times is to modernise the Australian economy and transform it into a significant, internationally competitive force

- to fail to respond to that imperative will be to risk, as Lee Kuan Yew so succinctly put it, becoming the white trash of Asia.

Acknowledging that there is an economic purpose to education increases its social value

- it doesn’t detract from it.

It was with this in mind that, some three years ago, I advanced the notion of the 'clever country'

- it captures the straight forward idea that we Australians will need to draw upon all our gifts and acquirements of intellectual creativity, technological know-how and manual dexterity if we are to compete successfully with those

around us

: this country cannot afford to enter the next century still riding on the sheep's back or rollicking along in the back of the coal truck.

Certainly, the "clever country" catch-phrase has gained popular currency

- it has found its way into the headlines of the popular tabloids as well as the grander vocabulary of academic commentators

: it has found its way into the conversations of ordinary Australians.

. And, the notion, insofar as it goes to increased educational participation, has been enthusiastically embraced by young people and by their parents.


I often refer to the Participation Revolution in education and training which has seen record numbers of Australians studying and being skilled in our schools, TAPE colleges, universities and training


This radical change in the number of people, and especially young people, involved in education and training has been fuelled by a big shift in the attitude

of Australians to the importance of learning, skilling and training

Since 1984, Australian National Opinion Polls (ANOP) has noted a marked shift upwards in the importance that parents, young people and the wider community place on education and training

For example, in 1990, more than 91% of parents endorsed the view that all young people should complete 12 years of education and training,

compared to about 70% in 1984. The pattern for 15­ 24 year olds is similar


These attitudes have been reflected in behaviour:

- retention rates to year 12 at school were about 33% for most of the 1970’s;

- in 1983 they reached 40%;

- and this year there has been a jump to more than 70%

These behavioural changes are not linked in any simple way to the state of the economy or the labour market

- the increase in educational participation by young people cannot be explained solely on the basis of declining job prospects

- the most recent jump in school retention was almost certainly influenced by the current poor employment conditions

: but for most of the 1980s while educational participation was rising, employment was buoyant

: there was certainly no fall-off in educational participation when

employment recovered after the 1982/83 recession.

. There have, of course, been more fundamental changes occurring in the labour market over the last decade

- employment opportunities in low-skill occupations have been shrinking while those at higher skill levels have been expanding

- in a related trend, full-time job options for young people, especially straight out of school, have diminished.

. The community is well aware of these fundamental trends and has seen increased education and training as a necessary and entirely suitable response

- the country had accepted the need to be 'clever' before there was a catch phrase to describe the idea.

Clever....and capable

. One of my key concerns today is to question the way in which we have embraced the "clever country" concept

. Unfortunately, in Australia, the word "clever" has been taken to be associated almost entirely with pursuits academic - with scientific research, university degrees and good Year 12 results

. But being clever is about much more than science, university degrees and Year 12 results, although these are very important

. The fact is that if we are talking about Australia becoming the clever country, we also have to be talking about Australia becoming a "capable country"

. In Australia, unlike countries with different cultures and structures we have tended to associate "cleverness" with academic achievement

- in Australia ’clever' people do well at school, go on to university and do "theoretical" things

- conversely less clever Australians go to 'tech', get "trained" and do "practical" things

. Being clever is as much about our capability to be manually dexterous, technically proficient and industrially innovative as it is about being intellectually excellent

. Cleverness is not purely about grappling with theoretical matters. Indeed, there is nothing clever about a nation that is not capable of implementing bright ideas and that does not have the dexterity or know-how to capably deal with problems in the workplace and in industry. There is nothing clever about a nation that cannot power itself with a knowledgeable and skilled workforce

Context of Finn Report

But these sorts of distinctions, and the value judgements attached to them, are at last changing, and change they must

- the recent national Review of Young People’s Participation in Post-Compulsory Education and Training, chaired by Brian Finn, took up this point:

"these concepts and structures, based on a notional separation of general from vocational education, do not exist in the same way in countries with different educational traditions"

For example, the Committee quoted the advice of the Dusseldorp Skills forum that

"in virtually all countries that have not been influenced by the Anglo-Saxon tradition and by its apprenticeship model, students who enrol in programs that are termed vocational combine in

their total curriculum elements of what we would refer to as vocational training and elements of what we would refer to as general education: languages,

the humanities, mathematics and science. This is as true of schools-based models of vocational preparation, such as those found in France and Sweden, as it is of employment-based models such

as the dual system in the German speaking countries and Sweden's industrial high schools".

Whatever the reasons, opportunities for vocational education are relatively limited in this country and are not held in high esteem.

- 8 -

One of the disturbing aspects of the ANOP polling since 1984 has been the low and declining level of interest among young people in undertaking a TAPE course

ANOP found that between 1984 and 1990, the interest of 15-24 year olds in TAPE had fallen from 22% to 12% while interest in university rose from 19% to 31%

While participation in schools and universities grew throughout the 1980s, TAPE enrolments remained the same and actually declined over the past two years

Schools and universities have accounted for virtually all the growth in increased participation among 15­ 19 year olds in education and training since 1983

Given the increasing numbers of teenagers in the population over this period, this meant that the proportion of 15 to 19 year olds in higher education rose from 6.5% to 10.6% but the proportion in TAPE remained unchanged.

The difference between the sectors is not just a matter of schools and higher education absorbing all the teenagers, leaving no room for increased participation in vocational education and training

- in mid-1990, there were still about one third of 15 to 19 year olds - over 400,000 young people - who were not participating in any form of

education and training, either full-time or part­ time

- there is a very rapid drop in educational participation after school

: while 96% of 15 year olds are at school, by age 19 only 40% remain in education and training.

As the Finn Committee observed, the gap in provision which is highlighted by these figures and by international comparisons, is the shortage of opportunities for the two thirds of school leavers

who do not enter higher education.

Full-time TAPE only provides for less than 3% of all 15-19 year olds

- the largest single group of teenagers in TAPE are apprentices

: but even they make up less than 10% of the 15-19 year old population

: they are also almost all male, and are concentrated in a limited range of occupations and industries.

It is clear that the existing arrangements outside of higher education do not provide anywhere near sufficient opportunities for young Australians

- the TAPE system, therefore, may not provide the skilled work force that Australia needs for the future.

Social Fairness

In a very real sense, this is socially unfair

- as Dean Ashenden and Richard Sweet recently wrote:

"the campaign for equality in education has focussed on the proportion of working-class (or female or ethnic or immigrant or aboriginal) students who get into university. It has cared much less about what is happening to the mass of young who do not and cannot get into university, not least because vocational education has been seen as second-rate. In short, under an egalitarian gloss is a romantic

and snobbish conception of education".

I have to say that I am sympathetic to their prescription that the major distribution task is to get more education and training to the middle third of the educational pecking order and of the workforce

- and much more to the bottom third

the unskilled workers

the school drop-outs

: the people who cannot speak or understand English properly or who cannot read or write.

In its submission to the Finn Committee, the Australian Chamber of Manufactures noted that the implications of the present situation are that:

- school leavers who do not wish to enter university are forced to enter the labour market immediately following school, without having acquired job-related skills

- school leavers are the most vulnerable sector of the labour market in times of economic recession

- school leavers who aspire but fail to gain entry to university have very limited choice of further education and training immediately after leaving school

- there is frequently a sense of failure associated with those who do not secure a place in university.

Other implications of this situation include:

- periods of specific skill shortages

- major enterprises and industry sectors are not involved in structured training

- opportunities for post-school education outside of higher education are particularly limited for females

: less than 10% of apprentices are female and most of these are hairdressers

Recent State budgets offer no immediate prospect of an expansion of publicly funded opportunities outside of higher education

- State budgets in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania have restricted TAPE to no growth in financial resources

- South Australia increased its TAPE fees by up to 40%

- Tasmania introduced such severe fee arrangements in 1991 that enrolment in some vocational courses fell by over 30%

- Queensland is the only State which is increasing its funding for TAPE

: but its participation rate in TAPE is 23% behind the national average.

In 1990, the Deveson Committee on the Training Costs of Award Restructuring estimated unmet demand in TAPE at 100,000 nationwide.

- despite the declining level of interest recorded among young people, preliminary estimates by

my Department place the projected unmet demand for TAPE next year at 145,000.

Clever Country Revisited

. I must say that this is not the sort of 'clever country' I envisaged

- or that we as a nation can afford.

. A truly clever country must have a comprehensive and balanced set of skills

- and an education and training system which provides real opportunities for all its citizens to acquire and update their skills and knowledge.

. The cleverest country is not the one with the most Ph.Ds per capita

- it is the one with enough technicians as well as enough scientists, with skilful tradespersons as well as exemplary teachers and academics.

. Yet, at a time when our international competitors are expanding their emphasis on vocational education and training, the principal elements of our training system appear static and vulnerable.

. At a time of high unemployment and with increasing skill levels required for the jobs that are available, we have more than 400,000 teenagers attempting to enter the labour market without post-school qualifications.

These concerns are prominent in the report of the Finn Committee.

In recognition of the increasing skill requirements of the workplace, and for good equity reasons, the Finn Committee argued for almost universal participation

by young people in post-compulsory education or training.

The Committee proposed a set of new national targets to focus policy efforts towards this goal

- simply expressed, the targets are for 95% of young people to undertake Year 12 or some other initial post-compulsory qualification, and for at least half to go on to higher levels.

The 'target scenario' developed by the Finn Committee assumed that, in 2001:

- 80% of young people will stay to year 12

- 30% of each cohort will go on to higher education from school

- 50% of young people go on to training in TAFE or with other training providers.

This scenario implies continuing growth in schools and higher education, but at a rate broadly consistent with current trends.

The area which will need the greatest effort is vocational education

- to provide the comprehensive and balanced set of skills needed in a clever country

- and to take post-compulsory education beyond the preserve of the minority.

To do this we will need a new 'Training Alliance' between governments, employers, unions, educators and trainers.

We will need - as the Finn Committee recommends - a new, expanded system of entry-level training which retains the attraction of the apprenticeship system for young people, but removes the outdated rigidities of that system

- and extends it into new occupations and industries.

We will need to develop new, more flexible pathways through education and training

- and between education, training and the world of work.

We will need to develop systems which fully recognise each person's level of skills and knowledge when they seek employment or advancement and when they pursue further education and training.

These achievements will mark our progress towards the status of a clever country, not just the growing proportion of our population with letters after their names.

Key Competencies

If we are to expand and diversify our post- compulsory education and training systems in these ways it will be important to ensure that each educational 'pathway' for young people leads somewhere worthwhile

- not just to a dead-end with narrow skills suited only to a specific application.

The Finn Committee argued persuasively that there are certain essential things which all young people need to learn in their preparation for employment,

regardless of the education or training pathway that they follow.

These so-called ’key competencies' are in the areas of

- language and communication

- mathematics

- scientific and technological understanding

- cultural understanding

- problem solving

- personal and interpersonal characteristics.

In the Committee's vision, these 'key competencies' could be developed into descriptive 'profiles' which

can guide the development of relevant aspects of curriculum and assessment in different education and training sectors

- in this way the 'key competencies' would ensure an appropriate breadth within courses and could provide new linkages between education and training pathways and the world of work.

. The aspect of the Committee's report dealing with key competencies is likely to be the most controversial and hotly debated among educators

- there are good educational reasons to greet the concept warmly, but equally good educational reasons to approach it cautiously.

. Commonwealth and State Education Ministers have established a Committee, chaired by Eric Mayer from the Business/Higher Education Roundtable, to provide advice on the feasibility and further development of the concepts

- there is an important opportunity for professional input to that process.


During the past few days those of you here for the National Conference of the Australian College of Education have been exploring the theme of

Education for Sustainable Development

- quite obviously the directions pursued by the Finn Report have the most serious implications for Australia's "sustainable development" as a well educated, highly skilled and economically productive society entering the 21st century.

But for all young people between 15 and 19 years of age to experience the high class quality of education called for by the Finn Report, within and between all

educational sectors, we are going to have to have high quality teachers.

As the Finn Committee itself acknowledged:

"the successful implementation of these changes is dependent upon the capacity and willingness of teachers in both (schools and TAFE) sectors to deliver them"

I invite those of you who are here for the first national Conference of the Australian Council of Deans of Education to consider the implications of the Finn Report for the nature and quality of pre­ service and in-service teacher education required to produce the kind of teachers, who will deliver such education and training.

In your deliberations you might also consider such issues as

- are the proposed key competencies sufficiently comprehensive in scope?

- to what extent should the formulation of profiles of attainment within each competency

be according to ’minimal' standards on the one hand, or a more sophisticated gradation of standards on the other?

- in what ways can there be a productive conjunction of the Finn Committee's concepts of key competency areas with the work on curriculum currently being developed by the ABC's Curriculum and Assessment Committee?

- what criteria will need to be established to ensure that the outcomes of these developments win credibility with educational, business, industrial, academic and professional bodies?

: and with the community?

- what structural and institutional reorganisation will be required to bring about the improvements to articulation and co-operation between schools, TAFEs, universities, and the business sector which are called for in the Finn Report?

In many respects these issues bring us full circle back to our starting point:

- the 'balance' between the so-called 'instrumental' role of education and its broader social function.

It will be evident from much that I have said that I do not believe that there are two opposing forces here which need to be 'balanced'

- like the Finn Committee I believe that the historical distinctions between general and vocational education and between 'education' and 'training', are diminishing

: and should continue to diminish for educational, economic and equity reasons

- this is a process of convergence, not competition.

Nonetheless, as the Finn Committee acknowledged, the concept of job - related key competencies, for example, should not be driving the overall purpose of school education

- the task of identifying key competencies is a lesser one than that of defining and delivering all the desired outcomes of schooling and education for young people.

National educational bodies such as yours have a role to play in developing and maintaining a perspective that encompasses the entirety of our education and training effort.

As a member of the Australian Education Council, I look forward to receiving advice from the Australian College of Education and the Australian Council of Deans of Education as the Council takes up the daunting but exciting challenges thrown down to it by the Finn Report

the very sustainability of our Australian society in the 21st century will depend on the decisions we will soon have to make.