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Jennifer Westacott, champion of education

Jennifer Westacott will introduce Charles Fadel at the 2017 Australian Learning Lecture ‘The New Success: what skills do our children need to succeed in the 21st Century’.

Jennifer has been Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia since 2011, bringing extensive policy experience in both the public and private sectors. For over 20 years Jennifer occupied critical leadership positions in the New South Wales and Victorian governments. She was the Director of Housing and the Secretary of Education in Victoria, and most recently was the Director-General of the New South Wales Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources.

Jennifer has long argued that education has a fundamentally important role in Australian society, and believes it creates the single biggest platform to reduce inequality.

In a recent address to the Australian Davos Connection Forum, Jennifer outlined the significant challenges and disruption Australia is facing from the changing nature of work, increasing automation, the decline of some traditional industries, and global competition.

She argued that, for the first time in history, we have a tool in our mass education system that will allow us to smooth the edges of this disruption to ensure progress for all.

She also argued that if our education system is to play that role, we need a major culture change. Jennifer advocates moving to an education system that is learner centered, embraces multiple styles of learning, and values practical, creative and emotional intelligence as equal to academic intelligence.

Other elements of culture change Jennifer argues for are: to move away from the notion that university is the pinnacle of success and that VET is a second-rate option behind universities; to embrace life-long learning; and to recognise there are many domains for learning beyond an institutional setting.