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Australias presentation to the 4th APEC Education Ministers Meeting: speech, Lima.



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The Hon Maxine McKew MP

Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education and Child Care 13 June, 2008

Speech

Australias Presentation To The 4th APEC Education Ministers Meeting

4th APEC Education Ministers Meeting, 11 June 2008, Lima, Peru

INTRODUCTION

Senor Minister Chang, other Distinguished Ministers of Education and their Representatives, delegates and

observers, ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to be here today representing the Australian Government.

The APEC region is immensely important for Australia, and we value the opportunity to exchange ideas with

you on the very important areas of education and training.

The new Australian Government which came to office just over six months ago has from its very first days put

education front and centre of our agenda. We know that education is the key to productivity, to opportunity, to

equity.

As a new Government of tremendous energy and enthusiasm we are very interested in new ideas and

innovative approaches.

CHALLENGES AND POLICY CONTEXT

In these early years of the 21st century we are all mindful of the challenges and complexities we face. This is a

world in which you have to run even to maintain current standards.

But of course, in a competitive world hungry for skills, intellectual capital and human knowledge, just keeping

up is not good enough. We all feel the pressure to advance, to ‘do better’, to ensure we have the skills, the

brainpower and the human capital to assure our ongoing sustainability and prosperity.

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Against this background, the incredible pace of change and focus on ‘keeping up’ in a globalised world makes

it all too easy for some of our citizens to get left behind, to become marginalised.

Recognising this, the Australian Government has implemented a broad program of systemic reform. Given

what we believe are the inextricable links between education, opportunity and equity, we are pursuing two

priority policy imperatives.

Firstly, we are implementing an Education Revolution in our country to transform our system to provide a

world class education for every Australian at every stage of the education life cycle. Our revolution is

beginning with the education of our youngest Australians in preschool and early learning centre to ensure the

first steps children take on the road to learning optimise their capacity to make the most of every opportunity.

Secondly, we are implementing a new policy framework, Social Inclusion, to address disadvantage and to

build a more cohesive Australia which optimises the potential and productivity of every Australian.

I know that these dual policy objectives have synergies with the themes of this conference.

APEC THEMES

Officials meeting in X’ian earlier this year agreed to expand the coverage of Systemic Reform to include an

emphasis on attracting and retaining high quality teachers and on extending the benefits of education to

disadvantaged groups. The latter, in Australia, translates to our "social inclusion" agenda, to which I have just

referred.

Before discussing issues surrounding teacher quality and disadvantage, allow me to first set some context

around Australia’s education performance.

We are a fortunate country. Our schools perform well, so well that a large number of international students

now attend many of our fine schools - I represent a multiethnic electorate in metropolitan Sydney and many

Chinse and Korean families have settled in the area so that they can enrol their children in our competitive

schools system.

However there are gaps. In the OECD’s 2006 Program of International Student Assessment our absolute and

relative performance in reading and mathematical literacy began to slip.

Perhaps of even more concern, there was a widening gulf between those at the top and the bottom of

opportunity distribution and there was a growing long tail of under performance at the lower end of the scale

linked to social disadvantage.

I know that many APEC countries are experiencing these same challenges.

In Australia, we believe the way forward is to build a new consensus around the idea that when it comes to

education we can simultaneously strive for both equity and individual achievement; a new consensus that in

education, excellence and equity are not competing goals.

TEACHER QUALITY

Let’s look first at strategies to achieve excellence.

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Of course, investment is fundamental. The Australian Government is making an unprecedented multibillion

dollar commitment through early childhood education to schools, from vocational education and training to

higher education.

Beyond funding we know we must be more flexible in the way we direct resources and energy. Accordingly, we

are pursuing a new era of collaborative reform through the three levels of Government which make up our

Federation and we are implementing new arrangements to strengthen partnerships with parents and the

community.

But the crucial determinant of the success or failure of what we do and our achievement of excellence across

the education spectrum is the teaching workforce.

There is compelling research to back this assertion.

Professor John Hattie of the University of Auckland has analysed more than half a million academic studies

examining the effects of different educational interventions on student learning. Hattie found that it is the

quality of interaction between what teachers and students bring to the classroom that predicts achievement

more than any other variables.

He found that "what teachers know, do and care about is very powerful". This accounts for about 30% of the

variance in student achievement and is consistent with a range of Australian research indicating the quality of

the teacher as the most important in-school determinant of student learning outcomes - and that teachers are

the key to mobilising schools for innovation and in working with families, business and the wider community.

Other factors such as school and class size, relative levels of funding, and organisational structure were found

to have far less impact on their own. Resourcing, governance and structure are all important, but only when

they enable students to develop the right expectations of themselves and of education, and enable teachers to

offer rigorous, stimulating, high quality learning to every student in every lesson.

Recent research by McKinsey has identified the characteristics common to the world’s best performing

education systems. These include having a high calibre of teaching applicants, rigorous graduate selection

processes, starting salaries in line with other graduate salaries and living standards, and focusing on

developing teachers as effective instructors.The McKinsey report found that students placed with high

performing teachers will progress three times as fast as those with low-performing teachers.

It found that three of the highest performing school systems - those of South Korea, Finland and Singapore -

select teachers from only the top 5 per cent, 10 per cent and 30 per cent of university entrants respectively.

And once in the profession, those school systems devote significant resources to developing them into

excellent classroom instructors.

Raising teacher status in the U.K. has elevated teaching to the most popular profession among graduates in

just five years.

That is an extremely heartening result and it demonstrates just what can be achieved in a relatively short

space of time. We should all aspire to do likewise.

And as U.S. Secretary of State for Education Margaret Spelling was telling me last night the University of

Texas at Austen has just celebrated its tenth anniversary with a programme, called UTEACH…..which is

designed to attract the top undergraduate majors in maths and science into secondary teaching. The

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programme provides a pathway to complete an undergraduate degree and a teaching certificate in four years.

This innovation…which is characterized by early and intensive intervention from the freshman years with field

experience…is now being replicated across other U.S. states.

All APEC economies need teachers who can contribute to the development of 21st century skills such as

flexibility, problem solving, creativity, critical thinking, self-directed learning, motivation, self-reliance and

communication skills.

The question we must ask ourselves is how to nurture these skills in our teachers, - whatever the stage of their

careers.

First, I believe we must encourage the best and brightest into the profession; recruit more teachers with

specialised skills like maths and science; improve teacher training right from the beginning and throughout

teaching careers; ensure the best teachers go where they can make the most difference; and build in rewards

for excellence.

We must also focus on school leadership. This is vital to improving teaching quality because the best school

leaders are those constantly focused on helping their classroom teachers improve their performance.

OECD research highlights the need for the teaching profession to be competitive with other occupations in

attracting talented and motivated people. This is confirmed by Australian research which found that

remuneration and employment conditions are the most significant factors influencing people not to choose

teaching as a career, and to leave the profession.

A report last month from Australia’s business sector on teacher pay and career structures is shining a light not

just on how to reward teaching properly, but how to ensure that all teachers everywhere achieve a quality of

work that meets our 21st century expectations.

It outlines a five-step plan for raising the quality of teaching in all schools focusing on recruitment; new career

paths for teachers underpinned by a National Certification System; remuneration reform; supporting

professional learning; and a national assessment and accreditation system for teacher education courses.

I mentioned earlier that Professor Hattie’s analysis had found that it is the quality of interaction between what

teachers and students bring to the classroom that predicts achievement more than any other variables. In fact,

Hattie found that it is also what students bring to the schoolroom that predicts achievement.

ADDRESSING DISADVANTAGE - THE SOCIAL INCLUSION AGENDA

We know that not all students start on an even playing field in their education careers.

While striving for excellence through resourcing, high quality teaching and curriculum, we must also

compensate for the disadvantages a child brings to school from their home. This is one of our greatest

challenges.

Consider the following findings of studies from the United States:

1. By age three, the average child of a professional couple has a vocabulary of 1,100 words and an I.Q. of

117, whilst the average child of parents receiving welfare has a vocabulary of 525 words and an I.Q. of

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79.

2. By the age of seven, children who score in the top 20 per cent of tests of literacy and numeracy are

already twice as likely to complete a university degree as children who come in the bottom 20 per cent.

These types of research findings are driving the Australian Government’s new long term focus on early

childhood development, since it is disadvantaged children who benefit most from quality early childhood

education. Investment in the early years is significantly more cost effective than remediation in later years.

In Australia, we are looking at strategies to overcome disadvantage. We know that disadvantage is not destiny.

RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSION

In concluding my remarks I recommend to Ministers that we agree that officials from our respective

economies work together to pursue a work program through the APEC Education Network that advances the

Systemic Reform of education in the region, with a special focus on:

1. Exploring opportunities for exchanges of teachers and best practice relating to quality teachers among

economies;

2. Sharing innovative approaches to teacher recruitment and development;

3. Sharing best practices on teacher incentives such as scholarships and career flexibility; and

4. Sharing successful approaches to overcoming educational disadvantage, including the use of early

childhood education.

Ladies and gentlemen we come to this meeting from countries far and wide geographically, from very different

cultures and life experiences.

I would like to conclude on this point.

If the APEC ministerial is to be genuinely meaningful…if its to break down barriers…it has to mean, in

practical terms, that a child growing up in a shantytown in Cerro Candela here in Lima, or an Indigenous child

growing up in Papunya in the Australian Centre, or indeed a child on the urban fringes of Manila - it has to

mean that all these children have the same opportunity to live a rich diverse cross border professional life…as

do the privileged children now being educated in Sydney or Beijing or Austen.

This can’t remain a dream…it has to be a promise and one which all member economies work hard to fulfill.

Thank you.

Media Contact:

media@deewr.gov.au

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