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Birmo’s message for EduTECH 2018

Fittingly, at the largest education event in the southern hemisphere, the foremost antipodean education official spoke. Simon Birmingham used his address to the vast EduTECH crowd to celebrate the education reforms of the past year.

Yet while the Education Minister mainly rhapsodised about Gonski 2.0 and the latest childcare reforms, he also took the opportunity to push the government’s STEM education agenda.

He began by waxing lyrical about Australia’s political and economic success, and how education has been pivotal to this. Our 25 years of unprecedented, uninterrupted economic growth, he said, is thanks to our natural resources and our knowledge thereof – and beyond.

Referring to economist John Edwards‘ 2015 essay, The Long Golden Run, Birmingham noted that compulsory primary education was introduced in Australia (in the 1870s) before it was in many other comparable nations.

“[Edwards] pointed to the fact that while Australia built prosperity on the back of agriculture and mining, it is our people, our skilled and educated workforce, that are the key difference,” he said.

The Gonski 2.0 funding and evidence base will maintain this level of excellence, he argued. By injecting a record $18.7 billion into schools this year, reforms like the learning tool – which comparatively assesses student achievement in real-time – can be instituted.

Acknowledging that early learning lays the critical foundation for later learning, the Minister highlighted his party’s provision of $2.5 billion in additional childcare funding.

Seguing from the present to the future, Birmingham contended that as children will likely enter a “radically” different world to that of previous generations, they will need different, STEM-related skills. A PwC report found that if just one per cent of Australians switched jobs to STEM-related ones, this would add $57 billion to our GDP. Therefore, he said, the government’s 2015, 10-year national STEM school strategy is sound.

“I welcome positive signals sent by our institutions, like the University of Sydney and the Australian National University by reinstating maths as a prerequisite for entering into key university courses,” he said.

“We also know we have to increase the supply of skilled STEM teachers in schools throughout Australia, and from 2019, all initial education students entering a primary teaching course will graduate with a subject specialisation.”

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