Malcolm Turnbull Backs 21st Century Education

This article speaks about 21st century education.  It is dated 2007 but still relevant.


Turnbull’s backers embrace a liberal in 21st century mould

Shaun Carney
November 29, 2007

ONE of Malcolm Turnbull’s advocates in the upper reaches of the Liberal Party this week enthused about one of the member for Wentworth’s greatest attributes.

“In politics, you need to be willing to stick the dagger in and get covered with blood. Malcolm is willing to stick it in and twist it.

He’ll get it in up to his elbow if it’s necessary.”

The imagery may be medieval but Turnbull is very much a Liberal in the 21st century mould — a man who made a good deal of his fortune through part-ownership of an internet service provider and whose political reputation was forged as a republican and then as a minister for the environment.

A number of influential Liberals yesterday privately expressed guarded optimism at the prospect of Turnbull taking over as leader at today’s party room meeting. They said he had the right combination of old-style political skills and a modern outlook to replace John Howard, whose key characteristic was relentlessness, and Peter Costello, who seemed to think power should just fall into his lap.

The party needed to update its agenda and its entire take on Australian society, they said. The framework of the culture wars and the attack on political correctness was, many Turnbull supporters said, no longer useful.

Essentially, they said, Howard had been working off a template set up in the first half of the ’90s and perfected during the Coalition government’s first two terms. “It was economic prosperity as viewed through housing prices, national security as viewed through the American alliance and being tough on anybody else, and back-to-basics on the rest,” one said.

Even during recent weeks, when Howard knew the nation was watching, such as during the leaders’ debate, he made a special effort to pledge fidelity to the three Rs as his educational goal. “This was two days after Rudd held up a laptop at a press conference. It was the old bloke saying, ‘Things were better in my day’, and the younger bloke saying, ‘Here’s the learning tool of the future’,” said one Liberal.

No matter who succeeds Howard as leader, this could not happen again simply because all of the aspirants are in their 50s.

A number of Liberals from across the party’s spectrum said the post-Howard Liberal Party would have to resist the temptation of being reactive. “Now that we’re out of office, we can see that in a lot of ways Howard kept defining the Liberals as whatever the Keating-era Labor Party wasn’t. Beazley, Crean and Latham fell for it and kept reacting, but Rudd didn’t. In politics, allowing yourself to be defined by your opponents is death,” one said.

Turnbull’s backers embrace a liberal in 21st century mould.

One said that while Howard’s style of governance, built on outsmarting Labor and creating wedge divisions within the ALP’s base, delivered four terms, it had left the Liberal organisation badly weakened. Enormous power had been handed to Howard and, as a consequence, the cabinet, the back bench, the federal presidency and the state branches all lost their dynamism.

The new federal leader is widely expected to initiate an inquiry into the campaign loss and, either separately or by broadening that inquiry, to ask for suggestions about revitalising the party structure, including preselection procedures. According to party sources, it is in serious need of repair; towards the end of the campaign, the party started to run out of money.

But a number of influential party figures dismissed the idea of a root-and-branch reorganisation.

“We are in need of an institutional rebuild, but we do not need to absolutely retool the party,” a Liberal insider said. “A lot of the revival will be able to come from the parliamentary leadership. Already, you can see that Kyoto and the apology to indigenous people are obstacles that were peculiar to Howard. He’s gone, story over.”

The issue of industrial relations, as expressed through WorkChoices, is the arena for an internal ideological battle this week. Turnbull the pragmatist appears keen to draw a line under the whole sorry mess — to concede and to let Labor have some near-complete version of its repudiation of the Coalition’s laws, as does Brendan Nelson, to a slightly lesser extent. Liberal senators, who will still enjoy some power until July 1, when the newly elected Senate sits, say they have other ideas. They may yet fight Howard’s last battle for him, but this seems unlikely; the new leader will prevail.

However, in the next three years, the Liberals will have to come up with a new industrial relations policy. If they are smart, they will take a leaf out of Labor’s book and tie it in with other policy areas, such as education, training and industry policy.


What would a 21st-century education look like under PM Turnbull?

September 24, 2015 6.19am AEST


  1. Jane Louise Hunter

Specialist in technology enhanced learning and curriculum in teacher education , Western Sydney University

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More science, maths, coding and more modern assessment measures: what a 21st-century education looks like. AAP/Lukas Coch

Malcolm Turnbull has said his government is committed to being one “of the 21st century”. So what could that mean for education? New Education Minister Simon Birmingham, previously Christopher Pyne’s assistant minister, pledged to:

build broad support for policy reforms and a continuing commitment to reform of vocational training.

Both he and his former boss are set to take on positions at the centre of the prime minister’s innovation agenda. The fine detail of how this is to be prioritised is yet to come, but in spirit it provides some broad brushstrokes for a fresh vision for education in Australian schools and universities.

What is truly modern in education?

Consulting with the sector on policy will support the stated “21st -century approach” becoming a reality. And it may just fulfil the oft-expressed political desire of education ministers for a “truly world-class higher education system in Australia”.

Ensuring the end-game assessments of schooling don’t kill the potential for innovative learning for students is an important leap into 21st-century education. Regurgitation of facts and memorised responses pumped out by individuals in silence and isolation in an exam room is at odds with authentic 21st-century skills like collaboration and teamwork. Students need detailed and constructive feedback in real time.

For schools, teachers and parents, that might mean using the full range of education assessment measures: digital portfolios, reflection and solving real-world problems – not just using NAPLAN and PISA scores to understand student learning.

Current assessment does not involve allowing students to fail. It does not teach them the critical skill of knowing how to use information. High-stakes exams promote cramming, where information is stored in the short-term memory, reducing opportunities for knowledge retention and transfer. Studying for learning, not for exams, is crucial for 21st-century education.

What do we need to teach children for the future?

Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education in schools is a key focus of both major parties, with Turnbull starting the conversation from the floor of parliament earlier this year. Computer coding is seen as the panacea to equip all students for jobs for the future. Ensuring there are enough STEM jobs when students graduate with these future–oriented skills are matters for the incoming minister to turn his attention to.

What is required in the meantime is proper funding for STEM education in schools to match the “political speak” of what the digital age requires. Coding entails serious funding for state-of-the-art computer hardware and software programs, reliable internet access for all schools and comprehensive teacher professional development.


Coding is a skill of the future that both sides of government describe as integral. from

The A$12 million announced by the former parliamentary secretary to the previous science minister was well short of what is required. TeachMeets and social media networks like #aussieEd on Twitter are excellent examples of how teachers in schools across Australia are taking the lead in personal professional development in technology-enhanced learning.

The Turnbull government must respect, acknowledge and understand these spaces. Such actions demonstrate the capacity of teachers to match the educational challenges in classrooms with what works in practice.

Moving Australian education forward

The national curriculum was reviewed last year and 30 recommendations were made for changes to the ACARA document. “Back to basics”, direct instruction, boosting phonics and strengthening references to Western influences, as recommended in the review, are at odds with current education research, 21st-century curricula and innovative, inquiry-based teaching practices.

The noted over-crowding of the primary curriculum prominent in Pyne’s 2014 review – and his gesture to do something about it on his last day in the job – will be welcomed by the profession, as was the much awaited signing off on the Digital Technologies curriculum.

The vocational education sector will be counting on the new ministry to restore vocational training to its former world-leading status. Moving childcare out of social services and back into the education portfolio is also welcomed by the sector as recognition that early learning is not just a welfare issue.

More publicly funded research would mean more innovation that can be used by business to progress the nation’s productivity. This will be on the radar of everyone in the university sector.

However, the main priority for this self-styled 21st-century government should be making equity a reality for all schools and students, as was the priority of the Gonski education reforms. Ensuring all young people from birth to university age receive the quality education they deserve would not only make them a 21st-century government, but one that could win the next election.

This article is part of a series on 21st-century government. Read other pieces in the series here.

Jane will be on hand for an Author Q&A between10 and 11am AEST on Friday, September 25, 2015. Post your questions in the comments section below.


Mohandas Gandhi

“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”