Saturday, April 19, 2008

Companies should 'adopt' schools, by Sid Marris - The Austrralian - 19th April 2008

The nation's top 100 companies should "adopt" a high school and provide students with mentors and examples of success.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard today told the Australia 2020 Summit that the idea would be a practical way to help link education and business.

The idea was one of dozen different suggestions from some of the 100 participants of the Productivity stream at today's summit, just prior an afternoon of brainstorming sessions that were expected to generate many more.

With 2650 secondary schools across the country, the challenge would be for firms to adopt up to 27 schools - from the least to the most advantaged - and provide mentors or practical support on areas such as information technology and human resources.

``I meet all the time with representatives of the top 100 businesses who want to give back,'' she said.

``I also visit a lot of schools and in many of those schools students rarely would have access to adults who can talk to them about what it is like to succeed in our society.

``...Those top 100 could provide mentors for people about what succeeding in life is like.

``They could provide work experience for students at the appropriate point and they could provide the knowledge and expertise they have got in-house to school councils, on things like IT knowledge or human resource knowledge that they might have on tap but which schools might not have access to.''

On a similar theme, Ernesto Peralta, has suggested a "peace corp" of retired Australians who could be engaged across the community providing training and mentoring.

The theme of collaboration and sharing information between schools, training providers, higher education and industry permeated many of the discussions in the Productivity session - one of 10 different topics being covered by the summit of 1000 delegates.

A teacher from Victoria, Gail Davidson, said the acknowledging and encouraging the ``interconnectedness'' of modern education, careers and the needs industry was essential.

``I would hope that there would be some sort of link that says you can't just do this research, it has to be research that is connected with business, schools or whatever,'' she said.

NSW education and training public servant Marie Persson adopted a similar approach in a different session stressing the need for greater collaboration across government, industry and educational institutions in what they were doing and where they were spending their money.

At the end of the first sessions of the two day summit, the groups had devised a range of draft goals that would steer their discussions: the ambition that all children would be ready for school when they started, that education not be tied to institutional demands of when you start and when you finish, that participation should mean helping people access they work the wanted at the level they chose and that by 2020 there should be a doubling of both public and private spending on research and development.

While some participants favoured setting targets for increasing workplace participation, other resisted the idea and said a greater emphasis was needed on the quality of the contribution.

Indigenous representatives, such Professor Marcia Langton, said all available human resources in Australia, such as young indigenous people but increasingly rural white people as well, should be job ready before bringing in skilled migrants and guest workers.

Business executive Ken Loughnan, however, warned that by 2020 Australia would need an additional one million workers, which meant that the needs could not be met within Australia alone.

Others warned that skills shortages were hitting businesses now and they did not have time to wait for an increase in the numbers of job ready workers.

Western Australian academic Marilynne Paspaley said that the restrictions on the movement of labour should be reduced, making its flow similar to the flow of capital.

An NSW academic Marion Baird said the demands being placed on women in the modern society meant a paid maternity scheme was need as a matter of urgency.

``We are expecting women to both participate in the workforce and producing more children; we need to do both and we need to pay for it,'' she said to loud applause.

``We need that on the agenda for 2020 and before that by 2010 at least.''

Siddhartha Chakrabarti, who attended the youth summit last week, believed it should be expanded to fathers as well. That summit proposed that the Government introduce a scheme of 14 weeks at the minimum wage supplemented by the employer at a rate of 25 per cent of normal salary.

Bruce Chapman, an academic who helped developed the higher education contribution scheme where university students pay for their degree when they take paid employment, said the scheme could be expanded to all other forms of education and skills training.

A policy director at progressive Think Tank Per Capita, Michael Cooney, said there needed to be more thought on getting private investment into the development of early childhood education, identified as a crucial way of making sure children were ready to learn when they hit schools.

``We haven't talked at all about how you get more private income into these areas through better design of markets,'' he said.

Federal minister for small business Craig Emerson offered his own version of an ambition for the summit's productivity session to consider.

``By 2020 every Australia fundamentally believes that every child who is born in Australia has the same talent, the same capacity to have a fulfilling life and we then invest and ensure that those talents are unleashed,'' he said.

Participant Lucia Macali said that more thought needed to be given when designing policies, or building to those who suffered impairment.

There should be a general principle that policies and buildings should ``meet most of the needs of most of the people most of the time''.

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