Address to the Public Forum Day of the International Science of Learning Conference

Thanks so very much, Peter, for your warm welcome. It’s always wonderful to see you, Peter. Of course, back in our wine industry days people might think that we used to see each other frequently over a bottle of wine. Of course, you were an active researcher at the Australian Wine Research Institute at that time, so it was far more likely that when I saw you it would involve a test tube or the like. But it really is wonderful to have the opportunity to continue to work with you in very different ways.

Can I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners here in this region, the Jagera and Turrbal people, but indeed all of Australia’s Indigenous people from whom we continue to learn so much of culture and knowledge, from culture and knowledge, and build upon that culture and knowledge together as a nation.

Can I acknowledge many distinguished individuals who are here today, particularly Emeritus Professor Barry McGaw, chair of the Science of Learning Research Centre advisory board; Professor Pankaj Sah, the director of the centre and of course director of the Queensland Brain Institute; Professor Ross Cunnington, conference convener; members of the research centre’s advisory board, its executive committee, researchers, teachers, leaders, others. I think I see Professor John Hattie quietly sitting there, having spoken with you earlier today, and many other thought leaders and distinguished guests all.

I really am very thrilled to be with you today at the public forum day of the International Science of Learning Conference. As Peter referenced, I have portfolio responsibilities from early learning and childhood education right through to the Australian Research Council. And whilst it’s physically impossible for me to engage with all of the ARC’s expert centres and special projects and centres of excellence, this of course was too great a synergistic opportunity to miss; for me to be able to come, join with you today, meet with some of the researchers – Pankaj in particular; to be able to help to understand from my perspective the work that is occurring from researchers across neuroscience, psychology and education; to be able to hear how they’re sharing their latest findings; and to discuss how these findings can be applied in learning and education right across my portfolio responsibilities.

I also want to particularly acknowledge representatives from the Science of Learning Research Centre’s network of schools, the pilot schools. I understand there are significant numbers of you from across Queensland and Victoria here today, and I really pay tribute to you as teaching professionals, educational professionals, for the leadership role that you are playing in engaging with this work.

This centre was funded to bring you together – education professionals, neuroscientists, psychologists and education researchers – to identify new teaching practices based on solid scientific evidence. At the moment, the new Gonski review is underway. It’s contemplating how it is we can make best use of record growing investment of needs-based funding, to make sure that we have best application of our resources such that they have the greatest impact on the learning lives of students. Hence the importance of your work in helping us to understand the notion of learning.

We get claims that there should be more, less, or different curricula; more, less, or different tests; more, less, and different learning strategies, and the call for 21st century learning is constant. The challenge is agreeing what this means. The notion of learning: learning to be children, employees, citizens of our global world; learning to be entrepreneurs, creators, critics and caregivers; learning to have respect for self and respect for others, these are all part of the immense task that we place upon our educationalists, and particularly upon our schools.

We want our students to experience learning right so that they become enthusiastic about engaging in learning, not only now, but throughout their future lives. Your discussions can help to inform us – what it looks like, how it can best be included in schools, and what a difference we can make in terms of how we get best utilisation of the resources we invest in our schools. How do we know that schools are using the best evidence? How can we inform them of what this best evidence is? How can we help them use evidence-based implementation methods to deliver optimal learning to their students? How do we tailor and target teaching to have maximum impact on individual students, ensuring that each progresses to their maximum capabilities?

We have a rich agenda on evidence and learning at a policy level, at a federal level, and indeed across the states and territories, but it needs more work. We work already through AITSL, under John Hattie’s leadership, in terms of investigating how to best prepare teachers, how to best prepare school leaders and principals, at the same time as asking these future leaders to place learning at the heart of their own development, as well as that of their students.

We’re investigating new resources that can better help teachers know that their students are growing and developing. How is it that they can be confident that they are getting that impact, and through that impact that progression of each student at the right pace? And we’re asking how to best know how professional development can enhance learning in schools, how it is that lifelong educators can continuously be supported to maintain best practice, best knowledge based on evidence.

Our collective challenge is to translate increased knowledge into policy, into schools, to share that knowledge and learning with our educators. Such as the role of confusion and the benefits of seeing errors as opportunities for learning; or understanding how the brain develops over the school year and what this means for individual teaching and learning strategies; or the meta-strategies and self-regulation that we can teach to enable students to better become their own teachers; or the role of emotions in learning, or so much more.

What is particularly striking, I’m told, about this conference gathering is the number of newer scholars who have been participating. The future is here at this conference in developing younger researchers, building bridges between the disciplines in a collaborative sense across neuroscience, cognitive psychology and education, and also then of course translating their work and findings into schools.

As a society, we expect evidence-based processes and practices in a discipline like medicine, in prevention, diagnosis and treatment that is suitable for every individual. We should expect no less a commitment to applying evidence to every step

are a key part of this research. The translation is embedded at the earliest stages.

Listening to the ideas and needs of those at the coalface of education is obviously essential to ensuring the right research agenda is undertaken and the translation is effective.

I know that you have been listening to the research, that you’ve been trialling ideas in your schools, and are part of changing the narrative to one that is much more about the process of learning in our schools, which is truly welcomed. I understand that the centre has created specially designed research classrooms at the University of Queensland, at the University of Melbourne; physically structured like a conventional classroom, but housing facilities that enable researchers to observe and analyse classroom interactions.

In Melbourne, recording lessons through high definition video cameras and portable microphones, and in Queensland, simultaneously recording measurement of brain activity, eye movements, and physiological responses of participants. These facilities are providing a truly multi-modal investigation of factors underlying successful learning.

The importance of developing an evidence base for education and ensuring that education policy and practice are underpinned by high quality research and scientifically validated approaches cannot be understated. I also acknowledge that critical importance of research translation, to ensure that findings make a difference to education in classrooms through the development and delivery of validated tools, interventions, and other resources that can be readily accessed by educators.

As the Federal Minister for Education and Training, I am truly excited about this; the potential for your research to make a transformational difference to national policies, to local policy settings, but most importantly, to the lives of people, particularly children. It has enormous potential.

Thank you so much for participating in this conference, for the critical work that you are doing. I’m not here today to profess knowledge, but I am here to seek, to learn, and understand, to hopefully take from today ideas and concepts that we can contemplate how they can be better embedded into the policy positions that all governments collectively take around Australia to make the best possible difference.

The theme for your public forum today, I gather, is research to reality. It is about ensuring that research findings are having a real impact on the learning outcomes of preschool, primary, secondary, and tertiary students. I wish you every success, because the findings you make, the knowledge breakthroughs that have occurred, the translation of that to classroom practice can have a profound difference, can ensure Australia is a world leader in this discipline, can ensure that when we speak of evidence-based practice and knowledge in the future, we actually know what it means, have confidence that it’ll work, and can hopefully build then a support base for its application right across our different learning facilities.

Thanks so very much for the chance to be with you today.