President Obama didn’t spend all his time in Australia with government officials, military troops and other grown-ups. He also stopped in at Campbell High School in Canberra, a sort of mirror-image visit to one that he and Australian prime minister Julia Gillard made in March to Arlington’s Wakefield High School.
“On the way here, your prime minister was telling me about all the deadly animals that could kill you if they bite you,” Obama said to the students, evoking laughter. “There seems to be a surplus of those here in Australia.”
On a more serious note, the president said he is trying to correct educational inequality in the United States.
“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,” Obama said.
“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.”
Prompted by Gillard to speak about the “Aussie influence” in U.S. education, Obama recalled that Education Secretary Arne Duncan played professional basketball in Australia, and married a woman he met while playing there.
“He obviously was inspired while he was here by the excellent schools,” Obama said.
When one student, perhaps an aspiring political consultant, suggested that Obama appear with celebrities such as Justin Bieber in order to broaden his appeal, the president sounded skeptical.
“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,” Obama said. “Although he is a very nice young man, and I’ll tell him you said ‘hi.’ “