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The Global Search for Education: Meet the Ministers – From Australia – Julia Gillard

“It is not simply enough to pour money into our schools: that money must be demonstrably and successfully put to improving education, including literacy and numeracy standards.” — Julia Gillard

Julia Gillard was sworn in as the first female Prime Minister of Australia on June 24, 2010, and served in that office until June 27, 2013. As Prime Minister and in her previous role as Deputy Prime Minister, Gillard was central to the successful management of Australia’s economy, the 12th biggest economy in the world, during the Global Financial Crisis. She delivered nation-changing policies including reforming Australian education at every level from early childhood to university education. Gillard is a Distinguished Fellow with the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution in Washington. In 2014, she was appointed chair of the Global Partnership for Education. Gillard also serves as Patron of Camfed, the Campaign for Female Education, which tackles poverty and inequality by supporting girls to go to school and succeed, and empowering young women to step up as leaders of change.

Today we welcome Julia Gillard to The Global Search for Education.

You served as the 27th Prime Minister of Australia from 2010 to 2013 and held the cabinet position of Minister for Education for Australia. What would be your vision for education in Australia for the next decade or beyond?

My vision for education now is the same as it has always been: to provide all children, no matter where they live, their nationality or their gender, with a great quality education.

When we were in government, we were concerned some students had fallen behind in some critical educational benchmarks in Australia. As Education Minister and then as Prime Minister, my focus was on putting in place reforms to turn these trends around. The Better Schools Plan built upon previous government reforms including nationwide literacy and numeracy testing and the online resource My School, which helped to build a better picture of which schools and which students were most in need of our help.

As a government, it was a big challenge to create a needs’ based funding system, which would sustain continuous reform and improvement in schools. The Better Schools Plan focused on both quality and equity: I wanted to ensure that every child had the opportunity to maximize their potential and compete in the Asian Century. To this end, the reforms ensured that new funding would be tied to an improvement agenda. It is not simply enough to pour money into our schools: that money must be demonstrably and successfully put to improving education, including literacy and numeracy standards.

Does the Education Minister of Australia determine what is taught in Australian schools? What kind of input do educators on the ground (teachers/principals) have in policymaking and what kind of input do you think they should have?

I felt incredibly privileged to serve as Education Minister and did so determined to change the education landscape in Australia so that no child was left behind.

The development of a new, national curriculum was an essential part of my reform agenda. I had often mused that Australia must have more curriculum writers per head than any other country in the world: we had 37 separate organizations and agencies around the country contributing to curriculum development! Whilst I was determined to see grammar form a key part of the national curriculum, I had no direct role in curriculum development. It was important to me that the curriculum wasn’t politicized in any way, or used as a tool in the ‘culture wars’ as we had seen in previous governments. This represented just one way in which the experts had a really significant role in policy development in my Government.

In an area as complex as education, the perspective and insights of stakeholders are incredibly important. Our education reforms weren’t without controversy and they didn’t get through without a fight. But at every step of the way, I welcomed the input of educators, principals, parents and students–their views ensured we ultimately delivered the best policy possible.

Gender equality still eludes us, and is a fight I have been working on my whole life. The statistics are well known and oft repeated–the number of women who experience domestic violence, the gender pay gap, the disproportionately low representations of women in Parliament…and the list goes on. In recent years, I have been devoted to addressing one particular statistic: despite encouraging progress made since the introduction of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, 61 million girls remain out of primary and lower secondary school in our world. Every child deserves to be learning, regardless of their gender or location. Through my work as the Chair of the Global Partnership for Education, this is something I am determined to help fix.

What kind of curriculum changes do you believe are essential for students to succeed in a future labor market? What kind of curriculum changes do you believe are essential for students to thrive in our 21st century society?

Technology is changing at a rapid pace and our students need to be adaptable to this change: in the next twenty-four months, the sum of the additional computing power which will be added to our world will be more than that generated in all of human history. We are running up a very steep curve that is changing everything about how we live and work. Schools are already trying to get ahead of the curve by offering classes like computer coding to their students. Focusing on these new skills, as well as the generalist skills that make us better thinkers, learners and innovators, will be essential.

Knowledge is no longer restricted to an established body of knowledge. Skills sets such as collaboration, innovation and creativity are increasingly important. What initiatives are helping ensure that high school graduates have the skills to enter local universities and succeed in the modern workplace?

Absolutely–these skills are increasingly important, and principals and teachers know it. Learning by rote was the norm in my education, but now I believe most educators understand that critical thinking is much more important.

Around the country we are seeing a lot of innovative approaches to help students succeed at university and beyond. For example, at Adelaide University, where I am a visiting honorary professor, the University Senior College focuses on preparing Year 11 and 12 students for a smooth and successful transition to University. At Ducere, a social enterprise at which I serve as Chancellor, we are offering school leavers a program called global game changers. Students earn a Bachelor of Entrepreneurship from the University of Canberra through combining online study with real-world experiences in Asia and Silicon Valley.

How can we make sure today’s youth grow up more globally competent than previous generations?

Global competence is about equipping students with the skills they need to succeed and compete in our increasingly interconnected world. Globalization has exposed students to a far greater range of ideas, cultures, languages, places and ideologies than ever before. Knowing how to understand these things, communicate and utilize them will be essential to their future success. Whilst we have seen strong anti-globalization sentiment worldwide, teaching our kids how to leverage the many opportunities that globalization will bring is hugely important.

(Photos are courtesy of Global Partnership for Education)

C. M. Rubin and Julia Gillard

Join me and globally renowned thought leaders including Sir Michael Barber (UK), Dr. Michael Block (U.S.), Dr. Leon Botstein (U.S.), Professor Clay Christensen (U.S.), Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond (U.S.), Dr. MadhavChavan (India), Professor Michael Fullan (Canada), Professor Howard Gardner (U.S.), Professor Andy Hargreaves (U.S.), Professor Yvonne Hellman (The Netherlands), Professor Kristin Helstad (Norway), Jean Hendrickson (U.S.), Professor Rose Hipkins (New Zealand), Professor Cornelia Hoogland (Canada), Honourable Jeff Johnson (Canada), Mme. Chantal Kaufmann (Belgium), Dr. EijaKauppinen (Finland), State Secretary TapioKosunen (Finland), Professor Dominique Lafontaine (Belgium), Professor Hugh Lauder (UK), Lord Ken Macdonald (UK), Professor Geoff Masters (Australia), Professor Barry McGaw (Australia), Shiv Nadar (India), Professor R. Natarajan (India), Dr. Pak Tee Ng (Singapore), Dr. Denise Pope (US), Sridhar Rajagopalan (India), Dr. Diane Ravitch (U.S.), Richard Wilson Riley (U.S.), Sir Ken Robinson (UK), Professor Pasi Sahlberg (Finland), Professor Manabu Sato (Japan), Andreas Schleicher (PISA, OECD), Dr. Anthony Seldon (UK), Dr. David Shaffer (U.S.), Dr. Kirsten Sivesind (Norway), Chancellor Stephen Spahn (U.S.), Yves Theze (LyceeFrancais U.S.), Professor Charles Ungerleider (Canada), Professor Tony Wagner (U.S.), Sir David Watson (UK), Professor Dylan Wiliam (UK), Dr. Mark Wormald (UK), Professor Theo Wubbels (The Netherlands), Professor Michael Young (UK), and Professor Minxuan Zhang (China) as they explore the big picture education questions that all nations face today.

The Global Search for Education Community Page

C. M. Rubin is the author of two widely read online series for which she received a 2011 Upton Sinclair award, “The Global Search for Education” and “How Will We Read?” She is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland, is the publisher of CMRubinWorld and is a Disruptor Foundation Fellow.

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