Maths teacher and internet sensation Eddie Woo used his Australia Day address in Sydney on Tuesday to champion the importance of education, and how it can change the world.
Mr Woo is the head mathematics teacher at Cherrybrook Technology High School, the largest secondary school in New South Wales, and also reaches more than 170,000 subscribers through videos on his Wootube channel.
The father of three is also a volunteer facilitator with the University of Sydney’s Widening Participation and Outreach program and the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2016 ChooseMATHS Teacher Excellence Award, the 2017 Sydney University Alumni Award and the 2018 NSW Australia’s Local Hero.
He opened by speaking of how being a teacher gives him the opportunity to see and savour the best of what Australia is.
“I get to see students dream of what they might one day become and achieve,” he said. “I see them aspire to cure disease, to tackle climate change and fight for the rights of the disenfranchised. I get to watch them grow into pastry chefs, engineers, nurses and even fellow educators – citizens who will make a positive difference in Australian society.”
What made that more meaningful was seeing those students achieve in the “nitty gritty mess of everyday life,” he said.
“I get to see my students face and overcome enormous challenges: from severe learning needs to socioeconomic disadvantage, from broken families and domestic violence to substance addiction. I have the weighty privilege of seeing not just my students but entire school communities respond with care, integrity and kindness in some of the most harrowing circumstances.”
As the child of migrants who moved to Australia from Malaysia predominantly for the country’s educational advantages, Mr Woo himself grew up with everyday racism and bullying, being “harassed and isolated for not being Australian”.
“It took me many years to not just realise I was genuinely Australian but to feel that I was – and then it took me several more years to see how being Australian has fundamentally shaped me as a person,” he said.
Education is at the heart of altering simplistic world views, Mr Woo said, quoting Nelson Mandela who declared: “Education is the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world.”
He also urged Australia to truly value its schools and teachers, saying education is one of Australia’s greatest assets, but won’t stay that way without giving educators the cultural and capital support that they need to do their jobs.
“Australian teachers are undervalued and overworked, so only those who are willing to make the sacrifices stay,” he said. “That needs to change. Valuing education isn’t about awards and accolades. It’s much more about trust and respect. Parents, politicians, managers and the media – we all must do our part in honouring our schools and those who work in them.
“Our children are depending on it.”
Watch the address here.