By Tanya Plibersek

14 May 2020



SUBJECTS: Education gap in schools; Support for teachers; Universities excluded from JobKeeper; Trade relationships.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well after weeks of remote learning teachers won't have to grade their students on each subject in this year's mid-term reports. Schools will still need to assess students relative to their peer group. Teachers have welcomed the exemption, given most students have spent a large amount of the school year doing lessons at home. Well joining me now is Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek. Tanya good morning to you, thanks so much for joining us. So what do you think of this and in particular NAPLAN questions and answers to be put online to help schools track the progress of students. Is this something you support?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Look, I think we have to have a common sense approach to returning to school. The first thing parents will want to know is are their kids doing OK emotionally. It's been a very disruptive, weird time for kids and so we need to make sure that their well-being is being looked after first of all. Then the next thing we need to look at is whether some kids have really fallen behind during this period of distance education. So we do need teachers to have time one on one with kids, we need to have some form of assessment to make sure that kids have learned all of the things that they need to learn by a particular age, and if some children have missed out on some of those building blocks, we need to really focus in so that they've got the basics under their belt. This is so true particularly for the youngest kids. We know that if children fall behind by the age of eight they never really catch up in their schooling or it's much more difficult to catch up. So we do need some form of testing that teachers can do individually with students or with their classroom. We don't want to pressure kids anymore because it's been such a highly disruptive time, but we need that information to make sure that no one is left behind, that no one has missed out on building blocks that will make it harder for them to learn in the future.

STEFANOVIC: When would you do that? You know, if you were to do these catch-up sessions would it would it be after school hours –


STEFANOVIC: - because I imagine during school hours it would be it would be quite difficult to have one on one time with every student.

PLIBERSEK: And this is the reason we've said that if the Federal Education Minister is really interested in helping disadvantaged kids catch up in this time - so he's talked a lot about how some children will be educationally disadvantaged by distance education - we should give schools the extra resources so that teachers do have one on one time. So if that means putting on more casuals, if it means more teachers aides or education assistants for this time, while we're helping kids make sure that they caught up and having missed out on anything, then I think it would be great if the Federal Government actually helped with that.

STEFANOVIC: Are there enough teachers to do that though?

PLIBERSEK: Oh yes, I think there definitely are enough teachers if we're prepared to put the money into hiring casuals or having extra teachers in classrooms so that the classroom teacher, who knows the child really well, can actually have a little bit of time to do that one on one catch up, make sure that the child hasn't lost ground in the weeks that they've been doing distance education.

STEVANOVIC: I just want to get your thoughts on this report out of central Queensland, that one in five jobs at Central Queensland University are at risk. This is basically following the collapse of its, of the number of international students that it takes. I guess more of a problem for them is that it's in a regional centre and jobs will be hard to come by in regional centres going ahead. But is this the start of things to come when it comes to universities in your opinion?

PLIBERSEK: It really is and I think I think the number of jobs lost from Rockhampton, for example, is 600. We've seen the same in Geelong, hundreds of jobs lost in Geelong in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, with some of the suburban campuses of universities. It's happening now. And the reason is that universities have been specifically excluded from getting JobKeeper support for their staff. So I can't understand it. If you're a uni student and you've been working a shift a week in a bakery or something, you'll get the full $1,500 a fortnight JobKeeper payment. So you might have only been earning a hundred bucks a week, you'll get 1,500 bucks a fortnight JobKeeper. But someone who works at a university so, you know, a tutor with three kids at home and a mortgage to pay doesn't get the same support, or a security guard or a librarian or an admin person at the university. And it's so serious Pete, that the university union has actually recommended to its staff that they take up to a 15 per cent pay cut to keep other staff employed. It shows you how seriously the staff are taking this. The universities have estimated that they'll lose 21,000 jobs over the next six months or so because the Government refuses to allow the universities to get access to JobKeeper payments. It makes no sense at all. We're going to need those people to rebuild after this crisis. We're going to need our universities to be doing research, not just on a vaccine and treatment for COVID-19, but a whole range of other things to help our economy pick up. You think about the things that we have invented and discovered in our universities, all that funding is gone, all that funding is gone now.

STEFANOVIC: How concerned are you about these trade tensions that are taking place at the moment between Australia and China, particularly when it comes to education one of the biggest sectors that are helping our economy here. Do you fear a huge blow back when it comes to international students into our universities?

PLIBERSEK: Look, of course I'm worried about the international student situation. It is a huge export earner for us. You're quite right. It's almost $40 billion a year added to our economy before COVID-19 by international students coming here, and it's not just the money they pay to universities. I mean when they're here, they're renting a house from someone, they're going to local cafes and restaurants, they're putting money into the local economy, and that's a good thing for Australia. It's also good for us, you know, it's good for our diplomacy. I have met leaders right across our region who studied in Australia, who have got fond memories of their time in Australia. It's actually a really good thing and we're looking forward to welcoming those students back when they can safely travel to Australia, when we've got those arrangements back in place. But it is important to make sure that we've got a number of countries that we are targeting to invite students from a broader range of countries because in any sort of economic hit - it could have been a virus like, it could have been any number of reasons - if one country isn't able to send students for some time, we don't want the whole sector to fall over because of that.

STEFANOVIC: With these trade tensions that are in place though, do you have any concerns that China might stop its students from coming here?

PLIBERSEK: Oh well I would hope not because it's a very good quality education, it's good for Australia, and it's good for China to have the links there. But what I would say is it's probably helpful if we heard a bit more from the Foreign Minister and a bit less from the Liberal Party backbenchers who seem to be just firing off any old comments any time they like.

STEFANOVIC: Tanya Plibersek, good to get your thoughts. Thanks for joining us today.

PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure. Thank you for having me.