Unfortunately It’s More Of The Same

Dear Reader,

The deficiencies of Australia’s education system have been revealed again by the release of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment Test (PISA), confirming the trend of long term decline in levels of student learning outcomes.

PISA assesses the knowledge and skills of 15-year-old students in mathematics, reading and science. The tests explore how well students can solve complex problems, think critically, and communicate effectively. This provides insights into how well education systems are preparing students for real life challenges and future success.

The 2022 results just released show, incredibly, half our pupils failed to reach proficiency standards in maths and 43 percent failed to reach proficiency in reading. Our students are four years behind ladder-leaders Singapore in maths and more than two years behind them in reading and science.

Despite the self-congratulatory rhetoric in some quarters, as Australia sits 11th on the ladder, there is in fact nothing to celebrate. Our position is not due to any improvement on our part; it is because other countries have deteriorated even more quickly. Our results overall are actually slightly worse than those of 2018, and our students have fallen well-over a full academic year behind our students who went to school in the early 2000s. The results unmistakably reflect long term decline.

Further, our percentage of top performers has decreased. In 2003, we had 21 per cent top performers in maths. In 2022, we have 12 per cent top performers. Australian-born students performed at a lower level than first-generation students in all assessment areas. Australian-born students also performed at a lower level than foreign-born students in reading and maths. Results indicate, the longer students have been in the Australian education system, the worse off they are.

Figure1. Trends in performance in mathematics, reading and science

The decline is not merely statistical; it reveals once again that our students are not being equipped with the essential skills required for independent living, let alone for global competitiveness.

Unsurprisingly, the Australian Education Union assessment of the results suppressed the real nature of the problem and attributed the results to a funding issue. But there is no shortage of money. Billions and billions of dollars, in ever-increasing budgets, are poured into education every year.

What we teach and how we teach it, is core to the problem of these unacceptable results. And it is this that requires frank and immediate attention.

Breeding a nation – what can we learn from Singapore?

PISA ladder leader Singapore has been widely recognised as one of the world’s top-performing education systems for many years. Singapore is said to have a high-quality teaching workforce, supported by effective teacher preparation and ongoing professional development.

But aside from, or in addition to, understanding staffing and academic imperatives, an element of the Singaporean curriculum of particular interest (and not assessed by PISA) is the country’s explicitly stated educational requisite competencies of ‘critical and independent thinking’, ‘moral integrity’, and ‘national pride’. Singapore’s curriculum specifically states a desired outcome for students is to “Know and love Singapore”, and to “Be proud to be Singaporean and understand Singapore in relation to the world”.

I’m no psychologist, but instead of drumming into our students that they ought to feel ashamed to be Australian, and alerting them to their guilt as an intergenerational oppressor, ACARA, the authors of the National Curriculum, would do well to consider the impact of its relentlessly negative curriculum on our young. Perhaps with benefit of a positive and uplifting perspective of their country, our kids would be more inclined to develop a skill set that enables them to participate constructively within it.

Class Action out and about

As I wish you Happy Chanukah and a very Merry Christmas, I finish up for the holiday break with this quote:

“Remember, if Christmas isn’t found in your heart, you won’t find it under a tree.” — Charlotte Carpenter

Kind Regards

Colleen Harkin

National Manager, Class Action Program and Research Fellow