Shaping Tomorrow: Insights from Minister Tony Buti on Education Priorities and ATAR Bonus Changes in Western Australia

Erik Kao, Thanos Limnios,Honorable Dr. Tony Buti, Minister of Education, Multicultural Interests, Aboriginal Affairs, and Citizenship.

In a pivotal moment for Western Australia's education landscape, the proposed changes to the ATAR bonus structure have sparked profound discussions about the future of our students and workforce. Seeking insights into this critical matter and broader educational priorities, Erik Kao and Thanos Limnios had the privilege to engage in a candid conversation with the Honorable Dr. Tony Buti, Minister of Education, Multicultural Interests, Aboriginal Affairs, and Citizenship.

Join us as we navigate through Minister Buti's reflections, gaining invaluable insights into the dynamics shaping our educational landscape and the imperative of fostering a vibrant, inclusive, and forward-thinking educational framework for the benefit of generations to come.

Interview with Minister of Education Dr Tony Buti on the recent ATAR bonus changes and the priorities of the education system in WA

In light of the proposed changes to the ATAR bonus structure, Erik Kao and I had the opportunity to interview the Hon Tony Buti, Minister of Education, Multicultural Interests, Aboriginal Affairs and Citizenship. My fellow-student Erik Kao and I wrote to the Minister’s office requesting a hearing and opportunity to understand the Minister’s position on this important issue that influences the skills of the workforce of tomorrow. We were surprised by the Minister’s honest and direct answers, articulating a clear dissatisfaction with the recent suggested alterations to the ATAR bonus system (possibly considered or 2027 entry), and his disagreement with the rational behind TISC’s view, as well as the decision-making process that was executed in a surprising and lacking manner.

Furthermore, the Minister highlights a broader vision for the state’s educational system, advocating for substantial investments and innovative reforms to enhance student learning outcomes and teacher support. He expresses the need for greater investment in the university sector and we value his advice on choosing a broader education given the uncertainty of professions of tomorrow.

ATAR Boost subjects and the impact of the changes to the workforce of tomorrow

Q: The impact will not just be for schools like Perth Modern, where currently 45% of our Y12 take a second language, when in WA the average is only 9% participation. For other schools with small language and specialist maths cohorts, a lower number of students would mean that they would probably not have a large enough class to be able to offer these subjects at all. This would disadvantage students who attend these schools, by not being offered the opportunity to take these ATAR subjects. What is your perspective on this matter?

Text Box: “I was surprised and I was disappointed in TISC making that decision”
“I don’t agree with their rational”
M. Buti: “I was disappointed with the decision by TISC to remove the bonus. I think the point you made counters the point that's made by TISC. They made the argument that this is done on equity grounds because many students and many schools don't have the same resources or don't have the opportunity to take second languages, or the hard maths. But what you just said, will just exacerbate the situation. In Perth Mod, for instance. while there will be some students that won't now take the second language or the hard math, there will still be a large portion of students taking these units, so they will still be offered there. But at other schools where there would only be a few students, or there would be some unsure that would give it a go because of the bonus, they may not take it, so they'll be even less opportunity for kids in other schools to undertake those languages and the maths methods.”

Q: What was the driver and purpose of this change by TISC as this has not been communicated to us? What are the intended benefits?

M. Buti: “TISC didn't really communicate it to us until they made the decision. I was surprised and I was disappointed in them making that decision. The motivation behind their decision was one that said that we're the only state that has the bonuses which is not true, at least SA has as similar arrangement. Their aim was to level the field on equity grounds, with the logic that kids in Perth Mod and in the more affluent areas, get that opportunity to do those subjects, whilst in lower socioeconomic areas kids may not have that opportunity. I don't agree with their rationale.

I can understand TISC, they deal with good intention of saying we want to even up the field, but I think what they are suggesting to do, will only make it worse. “

Q: Should such important decisions that impact the skillset of the future workforce be in the hands of organisations such as TISC or be determined by the department of education?

Text Box: “The issue here is the way they did it, I think it was completely wrong and without any proper consultation”
“maybe government should have a greater say… we should have a seat at the table.”
M. Buti: “TISC is an independent organisation owned by the universities. So government doesn’t have control over what they do. TISC assists the universities in developing a method of ranking students for selection of tertiary education. The universities are independent entities, so it wouldn’t be possible for us to determine these outcomes. We're focused in educating the students and providing them the best possible opportunities. I don't think it should necessarily change the way it is, but maybe government should have a greater say, maybe we should be involved in it somehow. We should have a seat at the table. The issue here is the way they did it, I think was completely wrong without any proper consultation. I have communicated my displeasure. I have asked them to put it on hold and not come to any prejudgment, to a full consultation, including students, and then consider and make their decision.”

Q: Consultation on forthcoming changes is said to involve “TISC stakeholders”, yet clarity is lacking regarding who these stakeholders are and how the consultation process will unfold. As the sole academic selective school in WA, with a considerable proportion of students enrolled in the affected subjects, could Perth Modern and its students be granted a platform to partake in these discussions? How can students be more actively engaged in decision-making processes?

M. Buti: “You can write to TISC or the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, a petition has already taken place. There is an opportunity for you to make representation to TISC, I made it quite clear to them that they need to consult with the students. I'm waiting for their response to that, but you could write to them and even invite them to come to your school at an open forum.”

The education system in WA

Q: According to ACER (Australian Council for Education Research), just over half of Australian students achieved the National Proficient Standard in key subjects last year, highlighting a gap in educational attainment. As Minister of Education, what is your vision for enhancing students' educational performance, and what actions are you taking to effectuate this vision?

M. Buti: “My philosophy is for every student to reach their full potential capacity, whatever that may be. To do that we are going back to primary school, we have introduced a new puslory phonics check in Year one. This is a new process and we are the first State in Australia to introduce that. We reached an agreement with the Federal government to support this program, it is a 10 year agreement that starts next year. There will be $1.6 billion extra over and above what normally is funded into public education in WA, half from the State government, half from the Federal government. With that there be certain reforms which will include catch up tutoring, ways we can improve student well-being, which will help with their education, and support to attract and retain the teacher workforce.”

Q: Our concerns about the quality of higher education in Australia include large class sizes and increased number of international students, limited interaction with full professors in some disciplines with students graduated primarily being taught by lecturers and tutors. A Guardian article last year cited that 83% of respondents were concerned university focused on profit is undermining education standards. In addition, university education comes as a significant cost, although we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world and have severe shortage in skilled and high educated workforce, Do you believe university education should be more affordable or even free? And how can the government ensure the quality of education in WA and across the country?

Text Box: “we need to look at Universities not being just in the business of education. They need to be there as institution are going to produce a next generation, they are going to carry us for the next 40-50 years economically in civil society. But there needs to be an increase in funding, there's no doubt about it.”

M. Buti:I think our universities are in a very difficult situation, especially since post COVID. One of their revenue sources, the international students, dried up, but now it is coming back. But I don't think necessarily the universities are providing the necessary support and you're right, there are some classes at universities that are so. The federal government just released what they called the Accord, after an intensive inquiry and review of the University sector, which commits significantly increased funding. to universities.  The federal budget is coming out in a few weeks time, so I'll be interested in what is in there. I think we need to look at Universities not being just in the business of education. They need to be there as institution are going to produce a next generation, they are going to carry us for the next 40-50 years economically in civil society. But there needs to be an increase in funding, there's no doubt about it.

But not everyone needs to go to University. There needs to be alternative and maybe I think there needs to be a better coordination between TAFE and the University.”

Advice for the workforce of tomorrow

Q: Do you see like a shift in the workforce in WA with a lot of FIFO workers, a lot of tradies and a lot more people going to TAFE than universities. Do you see that maybe as a culture we're moving that way or is the education system pushing us?

M. Buti: “It's hard to say actually , it’s a really interesting question that you ask. When I was your age, which was too many years ago, I can remember most people didn't go to University, well actually just before then not everyone went to year 11 or 12, most students didn't go above year 10. Now you have to go to Year 12 and under Jason Claire's vision [Federal Minister of Education], he's aiming at around 80% of people in higher education, meaning TAFE and University. Universities particularly have to educate your learning process so you get a set of learning skills that then will allow you to adapt to different industries. We need to develop the educational learning process and have a better marriage between the workforce and university. So you do a combination of university and being in the workforce at the same time, you learn specific skills of that occupation in the workforce, you learn the learning capacities and ways of thinking and inquiring critical analysis at university.”

Text Box: “try and get as broad an education as possible. So even if you're a math genius, don't do just mathematics and do some humanities as well… and always follow your passion.”Q: It's very challenging for people our age to determine what we want to study when the professions of tomorrow are uncertain. A lot of jobs in five or ten years will be new. What would be your recommendations to us as year 10 students trying to determine our future pathways and field of study for the next 5 to 10 years, are there specific skills or areas that you recommend that we consider?

M. Buti: “I wouldn't recommend you go into any particular area you defended that yourself. What I would say is two things, try and get as broad an education as possible. So even if you're a math genius, don't do just mathematics and do some humanities as well. And my second piece of advice is to always follow your passion. Find the subject that you like the most.”

Closing Paragraph:


It became clear to me that Ministers work has competing priorities within a limited budget and specific responsibilities. I was left with the thought that Universities and TISC should work closer with our State Government and seek the Minister’s direction when it comes to matters that will impact the incentives for students when choosing what to study. It is myopic to think that this only impacts universities. The priorities should be set by government depending on what they strategically believe are the skills needed for Australians of today and tomorrow to enable us to compete in a global economy. The matter of how then these priority subjects become available to all schools is a secondary problem that today with online teaching can be resolved easily.

We cannot set strategic priorities based on the limitations of our system, we need to lift the system to deliver the strategy, informed by our government and the stakeholders that are being impacted.

We thank Minister Buti for affording us his time and wisdom.

By Thanos Limnios

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