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It was the weather that led Telstra’s Susi Steigler-Peters to teaching. As she stood in the university admissions queue at Newcastle University, the science queues were long, the teaching queues shorter, and her friends were agitating to get to the beach, so she signed up for teaching instead.

As luck would have it, education and Steigler-Peters proved a good match.

For the last four years Steigler-Peters has been Telstra’s national general manager, education, responsible for the carrier’s thought leadership in how ICT can be applied to K-12, TAFE and tertiary education. A former classroom teacher and education consultant, Steigler-Peters joined Telstra because; “We were a decade into the 21st century and not much had changed in the education space and we needed to do something about reform. I have a pretty strong reform agenda – structured around business innovation and providing key clear opportunities for customers to get together with Telstra to do some structured experimentation, move away from trials and pilots that are funded for ‘x amount of time’, so that when the funding falls away so does the innovation. We wanted to move away from that and look at what is possible and what can we do in partnership.”

To date under Steigler-Peter’s stewardship Telstra has held a series of education roundtables with schools and education stakeholders; produced a white paper on personalised learning; created an education special interest group under the auspices of the Australian information Industry Association; and is now completing a second white paper on teacher professional learning.  She’s hoping that Telstra’s initiatives will help spawn systemic reform.

“We might be working with the deputy director finance of a particular education system to understand the challenges over 12-24 months then understand some of the immediate pieces of work they are doing and  how Telstra can help in that space. That might be designing and implementing virtual learning environments, or if they are building a new school – what might that new school look like?”

Steigler-Peters is prompting people to; “Rethink schooling models and the business of teaching and learning; to re-examine the practice of teaching.”

She believes that Australia is deeply in need of educational reform, pointing to the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) assessments for Australia which show that; “Things are not as good as they look on the surface and in fact we are starting to slip behind and that has serious implications for the economy and establishment of intellectual capital. There are many competitors in the world and if we become complacent we will perish and I am calling that a malaise, and that has been around for over a decade.

“We are more than a decade into 21st century but what have we done … we should not be waiting for a disaster to occur in order to respond to it. We need to be proactive and establish structured experiments that are sustainable and scalable.”

Improved student engagement; updated teacher professional learning and pedagogical reform; and transformation of the learning environment are all required in order for Australia to lift the bar on education, she says.

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Beverley Head

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Beverley Head is a Sydney-based freelance writer who specialises in exploring how and why technology changes everything - society, business, government, education, health. Beverley started writing about the business of technology in London in 1983 before moving to Australia in 1986. She was the technology editor of the Financial Review for almost a decade, and then became the newspaper's features editor before embarking on a freelance career, during which time she has written on a broad array of technology related topics for the Sydney Morning Herald, Age, Boss, BRW, Banking Day, Campus Review, Education Review, Insite and Government Technology Review. Beverley holds a degree in Metallurgy and the Science of Materials from Oxford University and a deep affection for things which are shaken not stirred.

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