Business Leaders Join Gonski in $5M Gift to Disadvantaged Schools
14 October 2016 at 11:00 am
A collaboration by some of Australia’s leading businessmen and philanthropists, led by education reform advocate David Gonski AC, is donating more than $5 million towards students in disadvantaged schools.
The Gonski-led gift is in partnership with newly established charity Australian Schools Plus, which was formed from a recommendation of the 2011 Gonski Education Funding Review.
The Pioneers in Philanthropy group plans to deliver financial support over five years to hundreds of schools in need.
The Pioneers in Philanthropy include Gonski’s wife Orli Wargon OAM, Roger Massy-Greene, John B Fairfax AO and Nick Fairfax (representing their family foundation called Jibb), John Grill AO and his wife Rosie Williams, Ian Narev (representing the Commonwealth Bank) Angus and Sarah James and Kerry Stokes AC.
Gonski told Pro Bono Australia News that the “visionary alliance was founded on a belief that all Australian children deserve access to a great education, regardless of their family background or location”.
“However, disadvantage remains one of the most significant factors in student achievement and education opportunities in Australia,” Gonski said.
As the author of the much-debated Gonski Review, he said the pioneers’ commitment served two purposes – to drive greater understanding of the impact disadvantage has on education outcomes, and to take concrete action that would benefit thousands of students, reward good teachers and support their school communities.
But Gonski was at pains to explain that this philanthropic move had “absolutely nothing to do with the reception of government in relation to our [review] recommendations”.
“In my opinion, and I have said this many times, government is basically like an aircraft carrier. It’s got to cover the whole of Australia… where as the philanthropist is able to be a small boat, a frigate let’s say, able to concentrate separately in relation to particular causes in particular places. And if the two work together, and work together strongly, for the benefit of society it’s a much, much better result,” he said.
“This is not an insult or indeed a sadness in relation to what government has done at all. This is a supplement and hopefully a focused one which brings not just money but care in relation to the issue of specific projects that we are looking at.
“Philanthropy can play a critical role in addressing educational inequality by supporting targeted programs in particular schools or regions not funded by government.
“It has nothing to do with government… there’s room for philanthropists even when governments have done tonnes… there’s never enough and I think this works nicely together.”
The pioneers’ total donation of $5.25 million over five years will:
- support approximately 75 initiatives in clusters of disadvantaged schools, targeted to enable students to overcome the disadvantage-related issues that affect their educational achievement
- recognise and reward great educators in Australia’s disadvantaged schools through the establishment of a new national Teaching Awards and fellowship program, in partnership with the Commonwealth Bank.
“We firmly believe that students from a disadvantaged background are no less talented or able than students whose circumstances have provided them with more opportunities,” Gonski said.
“With the right support, these children are just as capable of achieving magnificent things. We owe it to them to create the environment that enables them to thrive so that, in turn, Australia as a nation can thrive.”
The chairman of Schools Plus Angus James, who is a member of the pioneer group with his wife Sarah, said the group’s commitment would significantly boost the new charity’s capacity to drive change in the education system.
“It is simply unacceptable that students from disadvantaged backgrounds fall behind their peers at every step of their education. For many students, the pioneers’ support will create opportunities that will change the direction of their lives,” James said.
Schools Plus was set up as a charity to deliver philanthropic support for schools in disadvantaged communities in 2013, following a recommendation in the 2011 Gonski Review. More than 4,600 schools across Australia are eligible for tax-deductible donations through Schools Plus.
Schools Plus CEO Rosemary Conn told Pro Bono Australia News that the collaborative concept was unique in having seven people who are all committed to education to join forces in the way that they have.
“To actually not just talk about the issue but take some concrete action demonstrates the power of collaboration on such an important issue. For us as an organisation that is essentially two years old, it is transformational,” Conn said.
“The pioneers are really committed to supporting initiatives in schools that are really going to make a difference… It is really taking a strategic and collaborative view which I haven’t come across very much before.
“We share the view that there’s a specific role that philanthropy can play above and beyond sometimes what governments can fund. It frees up schools to do things that are a bit more innovative and that sit outside of core literacy and numeracy areas.”
Conn said in South Australia, for example, there was a cluster of 10 schools that the pioneers were funding, which was working on how their students could redesign their learning experience.
“The state government is completely across that project and is asking the schools to share the outcomes. The freeing up the school to do something different is where we can be used by the broader system,” she said.
Gonski said he hoped the pioneers group would inspire others to get involved.
“They can either join the group or join the giving so to speak. We would be delighted if people want to match or even do better than us and we would be very open to that but on the other hand School’s Plus is there for even small investments, small donations and we would welcome people joining generally by giving to Schools Plus,” he said.
“We have a group of people who have been successful in their particular walks of life who feel very strongly about education, who feel extremely strongly that disadvantage should be eradicated in terms of education and who feel I think strongly that teachers who do wonderful things should be recognised.
“This is a group that has a uniformity of thinking and we have had two meetings already and I’ve got to say they have a great energy, a great tenacity and enormous intelligence I might say and want to achieve something with the money we put in.”