Sir – This week almost 40,000 kids from across the Northern Territory are returning to school after the summer holidays, dusting off their books and settling into their new desks.
Their families, mums, dads, aunts and uncles, will be a little nervous if their kids are beginning at a new school or starting school for the first time.
Purchases will be made – new uniforms and stationary, pencil cases and school bags. All the gear that signals the end of the holidays and the excitement of the new school year.
The excitement is justified. The schools that these kids are returning to are vastly different to what they were four years ago, when Labor took over the reins of Australia’s education system and backed it with over $65 billion in funding.
As an example, every Northern Territory student in Years 9-12 will this year have access to a computer, transforming the way our teachers teach and our students learn.
The benefits will be felt right across the Territory, but it will transform the educational experience of students in rural and regional areas. For the first time kids from the bush will be able to interact with their peers from the inner city, access the archives of the world’s great museums and learn second languages by communicating online and in real-time with native language speakers in other countries. Astonishing stuff.
And this is thanks to the Gillard Government’s $2.4 billion Digital Education Revolution.
Not only is the way kids are taught changing for the 21st century, we now have a new national curriculum for the new century. In 2012, the Northern Territory will roll out the English and maths curriculum in all classrooms, with the History and Science pilots continuing.
We also know that some kids need a bit more guidance and support to help them through school. We’ve made changes to our School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program, to give schools a choice as to whether a chaplain or secular welfare worker is a better fit for their school, and we are expanding the program to an extra 1,000 schools.
Of the 18 schools in the Northern Territory taking part in the program, 15 have opted to keep a chaplain, 2 have chosen a student welfare worker and 1 is yet to be decided. This is a vote of confidence in the support that chaplains are providing in these schools.
When I visit schools across the country, speaking to principals, teachers, parents and students, one of the first things they talk about is the Government’s Building the Education Revolution program, and what an incredible difference this program has made.
Under the BER program, the Government has invested $270.9 million in the Northern Territory, translating to over 27 classrooms, 53 libraries, 30 multi-purpose halls and 14 science and language centres.
We also care about what happens to students when they finish school, and that’s why we are offering greater career opportunities by giving every senior high school student access to a Trade Training Centre. These young people will be a great Australian workforce in the future.
In the Northern Territory, the Government has already spent $27.4 million on 12 Trade Training Centre projects, benefiting 23 schools; just part of the $2.5 billion Gillard Government investment across Australia over 10 years.
We are in a period of unprecedented policy and program delivery in education, with more happening than ever before. But the modern world will not sit and wait for us. We need to be preparing every student and young person for the work and life challenges they will face.
And we need everyone to be with us on this journey. We are giving parents more information than ever before through My School, and through initiatives such as Positive Partnerships, we are providing training for teachers, parents and carers of children with autism.
In 2012, we will also be a part of an important debate about the way our schools are funded, with the release of the school funding review and our initial response.
This is the first major review of funding arrangements for Australian schools in more than 30 years, and we’ll be talking to school communities throughout the year as a new funding model is developed.
This is set to be a historic year for education and I look forward to building on Labor’s vision to provide every student in every school a world-class education.
Peter Garrett (pictured)
Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth