President Obama Speaks to Australian High School Students

November 17, 2011 | 4:19 | Public Domain

President Obama answers student questions on a visit to an Australian high school.

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Remarks by President Obama in a School Visit

Campbell High School
Canberra, Australia

11:53 A.M. AEST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, thank you for taking the time.  Part of the reason I wanted to come by was when Julia came to Washington, D.C., we had a visit with some high school students there.  And I didn’t want to miss out on the fun when I came to Australia.  So I wanted to get a chance to find out what’s going on and see if you guys had any questions.

I had a wonderful time here.  On the way here, your Prime Minister was telling me about all the deadly animals that could kill you if they bite you.  (Laughter.)  There seems to be a surplus of those here in Australia. 

But part of the reason that I love meeting with students is because so much of what we do together, your Prime Minister and I, is focused on your future, how we can make sure you’ve got good careers, have opportunity, and the world is safe and we’re taking care of our environment in a serious way.  And I’m always inspired when I meet with young people because you’re not stuck in some of the old stodgy ideas that the rest of us are sometimes.

So who wants to start first?  Somebody have a question or a comment?

Yes, what’s your name?

Q    My name is Emily, and my question is directed to you, Mr. President.  What directions will the American education system be taking for the future?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, it’s a great question.  You know, the United States historically became an economic superpower in part because we were ahead of the curve when it came to education -- establishing compulsory public high schools, using the G.I. Bill to help veterans coming home go to college.  And we still have some outstanding schools in the United States.  But we also have some schools that just aren’t doing the job, and a sizeable number of our young people who aren’t getting the kind of support they need.

So one of my biggest priorities when I came in was, how do we reform the system overall?  A lot of it starts with early childhood education.  A lot of poor children don’t get the support that they need when they’re very young, so by the time they get to grammar school, they’re already behind.  They don’t know their numbers, people haven’t read to them, et cetera.  So working with programs that are geared to young people -- or very young children, when they’re toddlers and infants, to give them a head start, that’s pretty important.  We’re focusing a lot on math and science education, where I think we’ve fallen behind. 

The most important thing for every grade level is the quality of the teachers.  So we’re spending a lot of time thinking about how do we train teachers more effectively, how do we pay them more so that they have fewer worries about supporting themselves and can really focus on the work that they do. 

And making sure that they are up to snuff when it comes to the subject matter that they teach.  And we’ve seen studies that show that the biggest correlation, other than the parents, about how well a student does is the quality of their teacher.

So we’re going to be spending a lot of time focusing on those issues over the next several years.

PRIME MINISTER GILLARD:  Aussie influence.


PRIME MINISTER GILLARD:  Secretary Duncan, who is the equivalent in the U.S. of the federal Education Minister, played basketball in Australia.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  He was a professional basketball player here in Australia, and is married to a Tasmanian wife.  (Laughter.)  So he obviously was inspired while he was here by the excellent schools.

Who’s next?

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’m Meg.  Have you ever thought about teaming up with a high-profile celebrity such as Justin Bieber to appeal to more people?  (Laughter.) 

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, that’s an interesting question.  I interact a lot with celebrities.  They end up coming to the White House for a pet cause, or some of them were very supportive of me during my campaign.  But generally speaking, hopefully if I’m going to be successful, it’s going to be because of the ideas I put forward and not because I’m hanging out with Justin Bieber.  (Laughter.)  Although he is a very nice young man, and I’ll tell him you said hi.

12:00 P.M. AEST

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