Billions extra to reform education in Australia

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia announced a A$14.5 billion (S$18.8 billion) funding boost for schools on Sunday in one of the country's biggest education reforms in decades.

Under the proposal, the extra cash will be made available over six years from 2014 with the government setting a goal for Australian schools to be among the world's top five in reading, numeracy and science by 2025.

"A world class school system is a key part of a strong economy for the future," said Prime Minister Julia Gillard, a former education minister.

"It will help every Australian child get the best education possible and secure a high-wage, high skilled job."

Ms Gillard plans to make education a central pitch in her bid to be re-elected to government in September, with her ruling Labor currently badly lagging in opinion polls following a bitter party leadership struggle.

Of the money, the government would put in A$2 for every A$1 in extra investment made by the country's states and territories to allow classrooms and teachers to be better resourced.

Ms Gillard gave state and territory leaders until June to agree.

"This new money will help schools pay for specialist teachers and modern resources. It will make sure every school is properly funded and will help give our kids the best start in life," she said.

"It is vital that we as a nation seize this moment to make a difference for every child in every school for the long term."

The announcement follows the most comprehensive investigation of the way schools are funded in Australia in almost 40 years - the Gonski Review - which was commissioned by the government and released last year.

It found Australia was investing far too little in education, putting it at risk of slipping behind the rest of the world.

Part of Ms Gillard's reform agenda is to make "Asia literacy" a key plank of future education strategy.

She has previously announced a plan to prioritise Asian languages to better equip future generations to deal with key regional partners such as China, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and India.

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