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Gillard makes tech key part of re-election bid

Will the education policy add up for Australia's Prime Minister?

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Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard has indicated technology-related issues will be at the core of her bid for re-election this year.

In a letter penned for The Sunday Telegraph, a newspaper whose 600,000 Sunday buyers makes it Australia's biggest-selling organ, Gillard outlined her vision for re-election. The letter included a mention of “meeting the growing risks of cyber crime” as one of the key security challenges she aims to deliver on.

Australia's social payments agency, Centrelink, scored a mention as likely to receive an injection of tech.

“Understandably you don't want a Centrelink queue, you want a smart phone app to get you the help you need and that help has to work with your lives today,” the PM wrote.

Gillard also described how Australia increasingly competes against emerging Asian economies, and wrote “We can't win this economic race without new technology and better skills, so we are rolling out the [National Broadband Network] NBN and expanding our training system.”

Famous for her belief in education as a changer of lives and builder of economies, Gillard also wrote that “My passion is education and I can show you schools around the country where we have lifted standards and more children are succeeding at reading, writing and maths,” adding “But we now have to make that difference in every school,” not least because Asian nations are excelling at maths and sending many more high-schoolers into technical degrees than Australia.

A mention of education's transformative powers are never far away when Gillard speaks in public. Nor is a mention of the economy-modernising power of the NBN, often accompanied by a “NBN=jobs of the future and more jobs” equation that betrays no interest in the works of Joseph Schumpeter. It is therefore to be expected that those themes appear in a letter like this, timed as it was to catch the largest possible quantity of readers and set agendas at a time political debate is muted by national mental summer slumber.

The inclusion of the remark about Centrelink is noteworthy, as a great many Australians interact with the agency as a result of the nation's generous family assistance payments. The mention of apps as a service delivery channel is therefore a welcome sign the government understands technology's potential to improve services and reduce their cost.

But one key item remains unaddressed: education. For all of Gillard's enthusiasm for education, her government has done precious little to consider how the education system can serve the technology industry. The Reg has mentioned to federal ministerial advisers (in portfolios related to technology and education) that plans for a new national curriculum currently don't include a commitment to teach programming in schools, a topic that seems like just the sort of thing a nation aspiring to create new NBN-fuelled technology jobs would consider important. Once informed of that fact, they expressed great surprise, we suspect because different arms of government aren't aware of one another's activities. Some States also dislike the proposed curriculum and plan to go it alone with more comprehensive plans of their own.

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has said a new draft of the Technologies curriculum will arrive in early February. If it waters down the computing component of secondary education, which already looks pretty wimpy, Gillard's newfound fondness for IT may look worryingly like window dressing. What it will say about her passion for education is anyone's guess. ®

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