Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Ku-ring-gai Schools

Alister with students from Pymble Public School

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS ( Ku-ring-gai ) ( 20:36 :14 ): In a previous private member's speech on this topic, I detailed how fortunate the electorate of Ku-ring-gai is to be a centre of outstanding public, Roman Catholic and independent school education in our State. Today I will speak about my ideas regarding our future priorities for education. It is critical that we provide equitable educational opportunities that will equip our children for the future world in which they will live. This involves both the intellectual and social preparation of our children while ensuring that they have coping and other skills to deal with the emotional challenges that lie ahead.

There is no doubt that this Government is doing great things to equip our public schools to provide excellent education, not only in Ku-ring-gai but also throughout the whole of this State. In 2017 Ku-ring-gai public schools will have funding under the Resource Allocation Model of $4,842,180, which is an increase over the last four years of $2,616, 448. But all too often the education debate recently has turned into a divisive public versus private school discussion. A strong public education system is essential for students to enjoy the kind of opportunity that I have enjoyed in my life. But it is equally important that in a free society people are given a reasonable choice with regard to their children's education. This is a choice that is frequently taken up in Ku‑ring‑gai.

Of the approximately 20,000 school students in Ku-ring-gai, about 12,000 or them, or three-fifths, are in non-government schools. It should not be forgotten that non-government school students often have parents that pay tax at the highest marginal tax rate. According to the Report on Government Services by the Productivity Commission in 2016, total State and Federal funding for Catholic and independent school students is, on average, only half of the average State and Federal funding that goes to public school students. If the students in the independent and Catholic schools suddenly all returned to the public school system, there would be a massive increase in the cost to government of our education system.

Instead of this public versus private school funding debate, we should be talking about what should be taught in our schools, which I strongly believe needs to be continually evaluated against our changing future. Technological disruption is not limited to the rideshare industry with Uber and GoCatch or travel accommodation with Airbnb. Technological disruption is rapidly coming to many other occupations and will necessarily impact on the skills our children need in the future. Advanced skills of memory and the application of facts to problem-solving currently result in strong Higher School Certificate [HSC] results and in turn help students to follow careers in disciplines like medicine or law. But those skills will soon be much less important. For the first time in hundreds of years, traditional occupations like law and medicine are under a serious challenge from technology. Artificial intelligence already is a reality and in the near future it will become widely accessible. For example, the IBM Watson supercomputer combines artificial intelligence and sophisticated analytical software as a question answering resource.

Watson's artificial intelligence means that it is capable of improving from experience like a human brain does. Medical trials are already underway where historical medical data is being input into computers with artificial intelligence. The objective is that computers will be able to give a clinical diagnosis that is equal to or better than the most experienced and competent medical specialists. This has exciting possibilities for the delivery of quality medical services in regional areas and to bridge the city-country divide. A capacity for disciplined creative thinkers to work effectively with the powerful resource provided by artificial intelligence computers will become more important for humans to work and succeed in the future.

This is the substance behind the political slogan of "innovation." With the pace of technological change, a world of computer-based artificial intelligence is what our current primary school students are likely to face when they finish school. Our education system needs to prepare them for that reality. They will need to excel in logic-based disciplines like maths and science, together with subjects that inspire their creativity like music, drama, dance, poetry and literature. These are the same subjects that the Greek philosopher Plato thought more than two and a half thousand years ago that young people should be taught.

The Liberal Party was founded by Sir Robert Menzies, who attended a small country school. He went on to top the State in the HSC, excel at university and become one of the greatest lawyers and Prime Ministers this country has known. Only the Liberal Party can put aside the class envy that Labor brings to the education debate to try to focus on the bright future that a good education and technology promises. Only the Liberal Party knows how important it is to have a free market of opportunity in education. It is time to seize back control of the education debate and refocus it. The future success of our nation depends upon it.