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NEW YORK: Tony Abbott is considering an unprecedented Americanisation of the school education system with radical changes that could see HECS-style fees introduced into new continuous school-and post school diplomas, and private industry playing a heavy role in course design and production.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Brooklyn. He is considering bringing the model to Australia. Photo: Andrew Meares
Visiting the P-TECH school in Brooklyn on his final day in New York, the Prime Minister praised the IBM-connected Pathways in Technology Early College high school, which offers a new model of education spanning grades 9 to 14 – that is with an extra two years bolted on in which the students gain a "associate in applied science" degree.
Under the arrangement operating at the Brooklyn school, IBM guarantees graduates at least an entry-level interview, putting them at the head of the line in a competitive labour market. The company and other industry partners can also provide mentors for each student.
"I belive this is is an innovative and valuable education model for us to consider in Australia," Mr Abbott said.
"So many young people get to the end of their time at school wondering what they are going to do for the rest of their lives, what job they are going to do the day after they leave.
"On the other hand, so many people who run businesses complain they can't find people to work in their business.
"These are the sorts of issues we are wrestling with in Australia.''
The P-TECH model is being rolled out across New York's five boroughs.
Under the framework in the US, the government still pays for the education but industry partners provide advice, mentoring, and support.
Mr Abbott conceded details were yet to be finalised but one option would be to charge students delayed fees for their extra education through HECS loans.
The government plans to clarify matters within months.
Mr Abbott said it was not inconsistent to be cutting money to the CSIRO while proposing to spend more money on this form of education and training.
"We can be strongly focused on science without spending more on particular institutions that are this space,' he said.
Mr Abbott's comments drew swift condemnation from Labor, the Greens and and the federal teachers' union.
Labor education spokeswoman Kate Ellis said: ''This is the Prime Minister who has just cut the Partnership Brokers Program, which was successfully joining industry and schools right here in Australia.
''Tony Abbott is happy to talk about the importance of schools working with employers in New York, while at home he has cut funding to programs that do exactly that.
''If Tony Abbott was really serious about schools working better with industry, he would keep his promise not to cut education, and reverse his $80 billion cuts.''
Greens school spokeswoman Penny Wright said: ''The private sector has no place writing the curriculum for public education. Our schools are not for sale.''
Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos said: ''Students leaving schools today can expect to have several different careers. They need a broad curriculum that prepares them for this, not one that is designed for the short-term staffing needs of one company.
''Tony Abbott should abandon this thought bubble, and reassure Australian parents that he will not be handing over schools to corporations.''
Mr Abbott arrived in Washington over night before a busy day of meetings with senior congressional leaders, including Democratic minority leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, Republican majority leader Eric Cantor, and Speaker John Boehner.
He will meet President Barack Obama on Thursday.
with Matthew Knott