Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Ku-ring-gai Electorate Higher School Certificate Students

Student studying

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) (12:24:31): I direct my comments to year 12 students in Ku‑ring‑gai who start the Higher School Certificate on Thursday. The Higher School Certificate is not justa set of exams but also the last scene in the school life of these young women and men. Ku-ring-gai is rightly regarded as one of the great school clusters in all of Australia. It proudly boasts high schools which include two outstanding public comprehensive coeducational schools, Turramurra High School and Ku-ring-gai High School, which are very similar to the high school I was lucky to attend. It has two selective high schools, Hornsby Girls' High School and Normanhurst Boys' High School. It has two Roman Catholic high schools, St Leo's Catholic College and Loreto Normanhurst, and five Protestant private schools in Abbotsleigh, Barker, Knox Grammar, Pymble Ladies' College and Ravenswood.

As a local member of Parliament and parent, I have had privileged access to these schools, their principals, parents and students, including their student leaders. One of the highlights of this and every year is hosting a dinner for two of the student leaders of each of these schools in Parliament House. This year our education Minister Rob Stokes also spent some time with us at that dinner and, as usual, provoked some insightful and inspiring answers to questions about both the future of education and the future educational challenges of my impressive guests.

The world that these young people are going into is very different to the world that I entered at the end of my high school years. When I sat the Higher School Certificate it was largely a memory test. The skills of memorising large quantities of information was appropriate at that time for professions like medicine and law which attracted some of the highest entries into university. But in a world where everyday use of artificial intelligence, which can retain and produce relevant information more effectively than a human being, is just around the corner, I think we legitimately need to ask whether the Higher School Certificate, which still appears to be largely a memory test, is an appropriate university or other gateway for the world in which these young people will be living.

It seems to me that this question is far more pertinent to tomorrow than debates about school funding, the existence or not of selective schools and how much ideology is being taught in our schools. I believe that the most important education debate should be about developing a clear view on what education a future world requires and how to direct our curriculum and funding accordingly. I have been very heartened that the Minister for Education, whom I greatly admire, has been encouraging a debate about what is the appropriate education for the world in which these young men and women will be living.

This year's Higher School Certificate is especially personal for me because I have come to know many of the students in the year 12 of 2018 from our local schools, which includes my beloved youngest child, Angus. When I recently attended the year 12 valedictory assembly at a local high school not attended by my son, I was reminded of how many young men I had coached in sporting teams when these kids were in primary school. It was a little scary to remember them as young boys and girls and now see them as grown adults. I am now physically looking up to the kids I had to get on one knee to speak to face-to-face when I was their basketball or soccer coach in primary school.

The context in which we all wish our year 12 students well for their future—the end of their school lives—is, for many parents, a little sad. It seems like we took these year 12 students on their first day to kindergarten only yesterday, but they are now about to finish their school life after 13 years of study. Since kindergarten these students and their parents have attended many school open days, concerts, dramatic performances, sporting fixtures, assemblies and other school activities. With school friends and their families there have been holidays, birthdays, sleepovers, dinners, lunches, cultural events, parties, gatherings and other activities. There have been arguments, disappointments, break‑ups, family tragedies, illness and other adversities that these young adults have had to deal with.

Through all these events that have happened to them since they started school, we have been reminded that it takes a community to educate a child—and that an education is more than an Higher School Certificate number; it is the process of developing into an adult and forging your own identity. From my many interactions with the Ku-ring-gai year 12 of 2018, I have no doubt that the future of our country is in great hands. My simple advice is to stay calm and do your best. Your family and friends love the person that you are and have become, not the mark that you will get. The opportunities that are available to you after leaving school are limitless and there are many paths you can follow to achieve your goals. We wish you all good luck for a rich, rewarding and happy future.