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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6126

Mr WINDSOR (4:49 PM) —I congratulate the member for Lyne for bringing forward this matter of public importance on education. One of the most important things parliamentarians can be involved in is the education of their children. I am very pleased to see the Minister for Population here today because education directly relates to any population research that we enter for policy for the future. There is significant empirical evidence that suggests that the previous government and the current government have failed the lower socioeconomic groups, and particularly rural and remote areas, in relation to participation in education.

We have just heard the Parliamentary Secretary for Employment talk about research that has been conducted in the United States and in Australia on the training needs of our future population. The report that the member for Lyne referred to, Regional participation: the role of socioeconomic status and access, suggests to me that the previous government failed in that focus and the incumbent government, even though it has not been in power terribly long, should be seeing that report as a flashing red light—it is running the risk of not addressing the substantive issue being raised by its own bureaucracy, and that is the deterioration in participation in and access to education for rural and remote students. I am pleased that this matter has been brought on for discussion because it does deserve concentrated debate. As I made the point a moment ago, it directly relates to the focus of population into the future.

There are a number of ways in which these issues can be addressed. I am pleased that the parliamentary secretary suggested towards the end of his speech that this is not only about education at university, and I am pleased that he mentioned the TAFE sector. The TAFE sector is very important if we are to achieve the skill levels we need. It is critical. This is also about our young people at primary school. If we allow that deterioration to occur at that very early stage, when our young people are at infant school and primary school, it is almost irrelevant to them as individuals whether they can access university—irrespective of how many places are made available. It is absolutely critical that this parliament address those issues at an early age.

I have spoken before—and the Parliamentary Secretary for Employment is aware of this, as is the minister—about some of the intervention services that are available within our schools. I would particularly like to take the opportunity to refer again to the QuickSmart program. I have raised this on a number of occasions in the past, and the government has funded the QuickSmart program. Given the number of schools that are keen to take up this program on the basis of empirical evidence and success, I urge the government to have a very close look at this because there are solutions to the deterioration problem that the member for Lyne refers to. I will explain a little about the QuickSmart program. It is different to the Kickstart program, which the parliamentary secretary referred to; the QuickSmart program is about assisting young students who are having difficulties with numeracy and literacy. It is a concentrated 30-week program conducted one on one that is aimed at building the confidence of students. I think we are all well aware as individuals that, as you gain confidence in anything, your capacity to pick up and run with other skills is enhanced. The QuickSmart program has been in place for about nine years and was developed at the New England University by the National Centre of Science, Information and Communication Technology, and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Education—the very level of rural education that the member for Lyne’s motion refers to. It has primarily been developed by Professor John Pegg, ably assisted by Associate Professor Lorraine Graham and a team of people who give far beyond what they are paid for.

I will quote from examples of some of the successes that have occurred. One student said:

When I am in QuickSmart I really feel smart—like I am not dumb any more. When I wasn’t doing QuickSmart I felt dumb. I didn’t really know how to do maths but it helped me in a lot of ways, like how to do problems and teaching me all my times tables. If it wasn’t for QuickSmart I don’t know where I would be right now. I love QuickSmart.

I have looked at videos of students in this one-to-one process and you can actually see the confidence building in them, because the education is tailored to the level of the student. The centre’s view is that any student can improve, irrespective of the level they are starting at. They go to the starting point and improve that student’s capacity and, in doing so, improve their confidence levels.

There are a number of things I could read out from various parents and students, but time will not allow that. I would like to highlight a critical point in relation to this program. It has been going for so long now that empirical evidence can be established. They are revisiting the schools many years after and retracing the steps of the students to see whether this 30-week program has actually lasted longer than the 30 weeks. The evidence has suggested very, very strongly that it is putting people on a trajectory which lasts. Part of that is based on the confidence that these students gain through the attention they are given in the one-on-one process. There are a myriad of programs out there and I am sure that a lot of them are very well intentioned, but there is very little empirical evidence where the success rates of these programs have been revisited to see whether they have had a lasting effect or whether they have just been able to lobby effectively to get the ear of the minister of the day and convince them to spend money. So I would ask the Minister for Population—because, as I said, it is very important in relation to that area as well—and the Minister for Education to look very seriously at this program again and assist where possible.

In conclusion I will cite an incident at Orara High School at Coffs Harbour:

Forty-two of the 44 Orara High School students, at Coffs Harbour, who undertook the QuickSmart program in 2006 were above benchmark on the 2008 national NAPLAN test in year 9. The two students who performed below benchmark were diagnosed as IM students in year 7. Each of these students, however, managed above-average growth for the period 2006-08.

This is the very group of students we are all trying to get to in different ways. Here comes the rub:

Interestingly enough, the principal of the school was so enthusiastic about the program that he put 44 students on it to bring them forward—not the top students, but students who were behind. The next year the school lost its disadvantaged schools money because it had lifted its results. It makes me wonder what we are trying to achieve with some of the programs we have put in place.

It is absolutely critical that, when we start to get some success from these programs, we do not penalise the schools for being successful. The same thing applies to some people within the teaching profession. I agree with the coalition in relation to some of the policies that they are developing on this. We do have to encourage the better teachers and not dumb everybody down to a particular level. If nothing else comes from this matter of public importance, we have to understand that there is deterioration and that we can do something about it. (Time expired)