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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12583

Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (09:46): Climate change is not the moral challenge of our time; access and participation rates in education is. We have a shameful entrenched policy failure in Australia where poorer students, Indigenous students and regional and rural students are now 30 per cent less likely to engage in higher learning compared to their richer, metropolitan, non-Indigenous peers. For all the egalitarianism in education for teachers, this same egalitarian standard does not apply when it comes to student outcomes. Better engagement of the poor, remote and Indigenous communities of Australia is not just our greatest moral challenge either; it is our greatest economic challenge as well. Skills and knowledge will drive our productivity for the next 30 years, and leaving behind in education makes no dollars or cents.

The answers are complex and multilayered, involving welcome changes that begin in 2012 through a demand driven and uncapped placement system in Australian universities as well as through the David Gonski recommendations into five-year funding for secondary education that are soon to be released. But it also involves program delivery and a commitment to using all options available, including much greater trust and engagement with the private sector. One such example is One Laptop per Child, an international charity whose target audience is exactly where Australia's greatest policy failing lies. It deserves more attention from the government.

Thankfully, it has the attention of the Australian Education Union and an unusual bedfellow in News Limited, as well as Telstra, the Commonwealth Bank, advertising agency Droga5 and many other corporate leaders in Australia. It also fits with United Nations Millennium Development Goal 8, which all countries agreed to and which calls for private sector partnerships in new information and communication technologies. Most importantly of all, quite simply, One Laptop per Child Australia delivers results in learning from the 5,000 students already engaged, showing impressive improvements in closing the gap generally and lifting access and participation rates in particular.

Most impressive of all is the first year in Doomadgee State School in remote, largely Indigenous North-West Queensland. Doomadgee has just produced stunning NAPLAN results, boosting their percentage of year 3 pupils at or above national minimum standards in numeracy from 31 per cent last year to a staggering 95 per cent in 2011. Principal Richard Barrie and his teachers are using plenty of clever and different engagement strategies, but one important tool in the toolbox is the early and strong use of technology via the One Laptop per Child Australia program. I am willing to back this program and I ask the Prime Minister and the government to do likewise They will be putting a request to government that involves partnership with Aboriginal benefit accounts, demonstrating the desire within community to support real and practical self-empowerment and education programs as well as leveraging more dollars from the private sector. I strongly urge the government to consider this program when that application turns up.