Doorstop interview, Artarmon Public School NSW
Digital Technologies Challenges; Future workforce skills; Islamic School of Canberra; Senator Canavan

Trent Zimmerman: I’d like to welcome Simon Birmingham to Artarmon Public School today. Artarmon Public School is one of the great schools on the North Shore of Sydney, and in fact, the fourth largest primary government school in New South Wales, and they have a fantastic teaching staff matched by fantastic students who are inspiring in all that they’re doing, and we’re particularly excited to be here today to see what they’re doing in relation to digital technology. 

It makes us feel very old when we see all of you doing so much and doing it so well; things that we would only have dreamed of when we were at school, so congratulations, and it’s now my pleasure to hand over to Michael Spence, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney. 

Michael Spence: Thank you. It’s great to be here on Cammeraygal land and it’s great to be at Artarmon Public School. My mum was the school secretary at Artarmon Public School when I was a boy, so I know it’s been a very good school for a very long time indeed. 

At the University of Sydney we’re deeply committed to preparing Australia for the digital economy. Yesterday, I was able to celebrate with some executives from Microsoft who came from America to celebrate the work that the university is doing – that they say is unique in the world – that will make your computer be a billion times faster in quantum computing, and they’re investing very significantly. But we’ve got to make sure that everybody is ready to program those computers; that they have the skills in digital and data literacy, and so since 1996 the university has been working with schools in the oldest program in computer education outreach, and to be a part – with Grok Learning and with the Government in this Australian Digital Literacy Challenge- Australian Digital Technologies Challenge is- it’s a mouthful, but it’s a great privilege for us and we’re very excited about all your learning, and really congratulate the Government on its foresight investing in this remarkable program. So, I’d like to hand over to the Minister for Education, Minister Birmingham.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much Michael, the Vice-Chancellor of Sydney University, to my friend and colleague, Trent Zimmerman, your local MP here in North Sydney, to the team at Artarmon Public School, thanks so much for welcoming us, and boys and girls in particular, thank you for showing us your incredible skills and knowledge and enthusiasm for digital technologies. 

The Turnbull Government really wants to see young Australians coming through our school systems equipped for the many challenges that they face in the world ahead. Around 75 per cent of the fastest growing jobs in the world require different parts of science and technology skills and knowledge. Not all of those jobs are going to be directly in fields of science or technology, but so many jobs will require knowledge of things like coding and technologies into the future, and that’s why the Digital Technology Challenges that are being developed so comprehensively by the University of Sydney as part of a partnership with the Federal Government, as well as the Digital Literacy Grants that are going to schools like this one, all form part of a coordinated strategy under our National Innovation and Science Agenda, combined with our new model for school funding that ensures schools like this receive the support they need into the future – true, needs-based, fair funding – all of it comes together to guarantee that we’re giving schools, children the opportunities to be able to develop the skills they need to succeed in the future. 

And that’s what is so critical. That when you leave school, whether it’s to go to an outstanding university like the University of Sydney, or to any other part of the world in pursuit of employment, education or training, you’re getting the right grounding from school; not just in terms of traditional skills in literacy and numeracy, but modern skills of digital literacy, digital skills, technological skills and knowledge, and what we can see here being taught today is at the cutting edge globally in terms of inspiring interest and making it relevant.

I think one of the most telling things in the classroom we were just in looking at the way in which the Digital Technology Challenge is being set up is not just that it’s about application of technology, but that it seeks to make it relevant through applications that relate to foreign languages, to practical problems, to sports, to other interests that children may have to demonstrate that those digital skills will be relevant across a whole range of different careers, different jobs that today’s children will be pursuing into the future.

So my congratulations and thanks to the University of Sydney for their work in working with us and rolling out the Challenge that will be available to hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren around Australia. My thanks to schools like this for their enthusiastic embrace of that and other aspects of our Innovation Agenda, and we look forward to seeing, in the years and decades to come, the outcome of these types of investments and support for the modernisation and readiness of today’s children for tomorrow’s workforce. 

Journalist: Minister, the interest in maths and science has been on the wane in our high schools, in particular; do you think courses like this might help to reignite an interest in those subjects? 

Simon Birmingham: I really hope so, and I think the fact that we’re seeing increasing uptake in younger year levels here and at primary school of children embracing digital technologies, seeing the importance of maths and science as part of that can only need to increased enthusiasm of kids to continue those studies right through their school education, and hopefully right into their tertiary education and beyond. So, really providing increased support in the formative years for sciences, technologies is critical to making sure that more students continue with those studies right through their education. 

Journalist: Minister, do you see that the changes to the 457 visa laws make it even more important now to have kids this age learning about digital technology so that we have our own homegrown talent for the future? 

Simon Birmingham: We want to make sure that Australians are skilled for Australian jobs now and into the future, and so whether it’s through these types of programs in our education system or new programs like the Skilling Australians Fund, they’re all about trying to invest in Australian capabilities to fill jobs here in Australia, and indeed many of these students will fill jobs, potentially, elsewhere around the world in the future, but it is absolutely critical that we ensure children are skilled and prepared for what is a diverse, challenging, modern workforce of the future. We can’t all predict what it is the jobs in 20 or 30 years may be, but we can make sure that children develop the skills; in terms of critical analysis, adaptability, problem-solving, collaboration, resilience; all of which are so important to be able to deal with those challenges in the future and to seize the opportunities, whatever they may be. 

Journalist: Minister, can you confirm the Islamic School of Canberra has received an extension of funding until December?

Simon Birmingham: I can confirm that the Islamic College of Canberra has received an extension in terms of their funding payments, but this does not mean they are in compliance, necessarily, with Australian Education Act requirements, but that whilst continued assessment of their compliance issues is undertaken the Department of Education is determined to give them certainty in terms of ongoing funding while those assessment processes are concluded. 

Journalist: Malek Fahd School in Sydney had to go to courts to get its funding extended even temporarily; why did they have to fight so hard and the school in Canberra not? 

Simon Birmingham: Each of these cases are determined on the merits of the individual circumstances, the individual legal advice, and of course, the Department makes its determinations, clearly, on a case-by-case basis, as we seek to ensure – quite rightly – that every single dollar of taxpayer funding for education is used for the benefit and wellbeing of school students, not siphoned off or used in any other means by any of those schools. 

Journalist: Your Cabinet colleague Matt Canavan’s been forced to step aside because of citizenship doubts. The Prime Minister was quite critical of Greens caught in the same bind; has Senator Canavan been negligent in his duty?

Simon Birmingham: These are markedly different circumstances. The two Greens senators were both born overseas and with the knowledge they had been born overseas they should rightly have dotted every ‘I’, crossed every ‘t’, and make sure they did every possible to be compliant with the Constitution. Matt Canavan’s circumstances are quite extraordinary, and of course, he had no reason to believe – with an Australian-born mother, being Australian-born himself – that he had any citizenship issues whatsoever, and it’s quite right that in these circumstances we proceed through the legal processes and let them run their course. 

Thanks everybody.