General education

Students from Sydney's West embrace the future of Australian schooling

Sean Barrett / 21 June 2018

The education experience of 15 school students from Sydney’s West summarises better than the thousands of words written in three recent high-profile reports, what Australian schooling can look like.

The pivotal Gonski 2.0 report told us Australia needs to move from an industrial model of schooling producing workers, to one producing thinkers who will invent the businesses and jobs of the future.

Two weeks prior to that, the Chief Scientist in his latest report into inspiring the next generation to take up STEM, talked of his “firm belief that industry-school partnerships have important, even life-changing impacts.”

Prior to that, businessman Bill Ferris in his plan for Australia’s prosperity and jobs future nominated education as the number one imperative. The report said: “Education determines the capability of workers and entrepreneurs and therefore the economy’s productivity and innovation capacity.”

It is easy to be lost in the complexity and jousting around these reports. (There were more than 500 articles written on Gonski 2.0 alone.) Easy to believe they talk of a dreamed-of education future.

According to Jan Owen, CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians, at least in the case of Gonksi, the voice of youth is missing.

Against this background, and just days after the publication of Gonski 2.0, it was therefore fascinating to witness an unheralded meeting of minds between 15 school students and 15 international start-ups to discuss entrepreneurship.

The students are part of Rooty Hill High School’s Young Entrepreneurs Program, in Sydney’s West.

The start-up entrepreneurs are part of an international program called Free Electrons and are developing disruptive business ideas.

Bringing the budding and practising entrepreneurs together was the idea of the Origin Foundation, an education philanthropy. It was designed and facilitated by Dr Michelle Anderson whose work in cross-sector partnering has influenced government policy.

As if channelling Gonski, the Chief Scientist, and Ferris, Dr Anderson explained: “We don’t need everyone to be an entrepreneur, but in order to secure our nation’s sustainability we do need to be cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurial-minded people.”

But Dr Anderson was not channelling theory she was pointing to reality. Rooty Hill is just one of a growing movement of schools and organisations which are, in many ways, ahead of policy. They are talking about entrepreneurial learning approaches and forming alliances. ‘The Paradigm Shifters’ collaboration and the Future Schools Alliance are two recent examples of school leading innovation. The dreamed-of education future is already emerging, all-be-it at small scale.

The Rooty Hill School has developed a program that teaches students work and enterprise capability, including creative thinking, resourcefulness, and problem identification skills. Plug those concepts into a search of the reports charting Australia’s future education, prosperity and jobs and you will find matches.

Today’s school students are faced by a world of work that is changing rapidly, where they face the prospect of having more than a dozen jobs in multiple industries. Rather than be daunted by the prospect, some, like the 15 representative students from Rooty Hill, are taking on the challenge.

“I want to learn from their experiences,” said Year 12 student, Patience Thornton-Whiu, of meeting the entrepreneurs. “How they dealt with different issues through the process and how they manage to work as a team, as I think that collaborating is a big thing now. Getting advice from people who have experienced it first-hand will be really helpful as I might be able to apply this to real life situations I experience,” said Patience.

“For me, it’s the journey they took to get to where they are today,” said Year 12 student Ky Staai. “The trials and triumphs they’ve had and what skills did they need to overcome the obstacles that they faced. It’s also interesting for me because it might be something I want to get into post school, or even while I am at school, so getting these insights on how to become a start-up is paramount to me.”

Clearly the students are up for the challenge and it is exciting to see schools and teachers are too.


“It is important for students to learn from entrepreneurs so they are able to make comparisons between their entrepreneurial journeys including the highs and lows of the journey and how they overcame challenges along the journey,” said Kathryn Short, the lead teacher in the entrepreneurial learning program at Rooty Hill High School. “This is an opportunity for our students to build their networks for post school opportunities.”

It was fascinating to see the students as active and equal contributors alongside global start-up entrepreneurs.

“The possibilities that may come out of this are endless, which is exciting,” said Dr Anderson. “We want to expose as many students as possible to authentic opportunities, to people further down the track than them - but we need to act intentionally to enable that to happen, as it won’t just occur by osmosis.”

For today’s school students, and their parents, the education discourse is largely negative and reports like Gonski 2.0 can be a by-word for complexity.

It is therefore refreshing to see that some schools and students aren’t waiting for consensus among the warring parties on the best way forward. They are getting on with building an education framework based on innovation, passion and adaptability.

More about how the Origin Foundation is helping young people prepare for the future world of work.

Sean Barrett is the Head of the philanthropic Origin Energy Foundation.

Back to Top