DUMBED DOWN UNDER
Education system failing our kids
AUSTRALIA has plummeted down international education rankings with a major report stripping bare the failings of a national school system which has left our children years behind the rest of the world in literacy and numeracy. Despite more than $18 billion being spent in the Gonski reforms from 2014-17, Australian students are about a year behind in key subjects with scores in reading, maths and science at the country’s lowest level since testing began, according to the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment.
AUSTRALIA’s schools systems are failing our students with a major new international report showing we are now falling years behind the rest of the world in literacy and numeracy.
Australian students are about a year behind in key subjects with our scores in reading, maths, and science dropping to Australia’s lowest since testing began, according to the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).
For the first time Australia has failed to exceed the OECD average in maths and was one of seven countries, including Finland, Iceland, Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the Slovak Republic, that experienced declining metrics across all three subjects of reading, mathematical and scientific literacy.
Australia’s education sector is in shock with experts calling on governments to recognise the report as “the line in the sand”. Record Gonski funding has failed to lift standards while a crisis in teacher shortages is forcing educators to teach outside their specialist subject — without the necessary qualifications.
An overcrowded curriculum has also caused educators to only have time to teach to the middle of the class.
The Australian version of the report is produced by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and PISA National Project Manager, ACER’s Dr Sue Thomson said the biggest surprise was that Australia has not beaten the OECD average for maths.
“For me that is a line in the sand,” she said. “I don’t want to be reporting next time we are below the OECD average. There are a number of countries that have improved while we have not improved.”
Czech Republic, Estonia, Macao (China), Switzerland and Belgium were behind Australia in the original report in 2000 and are now outperforming us in maths.
Our maths performance is down in all states and territories, with significant declines in SA, NSW, Tasmania, WA and the ACT, and the smallest decline recorded in Victoria.
Dr Thomson said Australia should now be looking to learn from other countries and reassess where funding is going. “It is about where that money goes and what it is doing,” she said. “We have a crowded curriculum, teachers don’t have enough time to make sure students are developing that deep understanding they need.”
She said the increase in outof-field teachers means teachers are only teaching from the textbook. She referenced a PE teacher being asked to teach maths. “He was one chapter ahead of the students at all times,” she said. “If you don’t have the understanding yourself it is much harder to pick up the weaker kids and help scaffold them. And you can’t give the high-performing kids the work they need.”
Dr Thomson said that impact was reflected in the PISA results with the increase in lower and average performers and a drop in high performers.
A recent study from the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute found 22 per cent of Australian Year 8 students are being taught by outof-field teachers, compared to an international average of 13 per cent. More than 600,000 15-year-old students in 79 countries and economies took part in PISA 2018, including 14,273 Australian students in 740 schools. In contrast to NAPLAN, which tests skills, PISA looks at how the students can apply their reading, maths, science lessons to real life.
Countries topping the charts included grouped provinces of Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (China) and Singapore, which scored significantly higher in reading than all other countries. Estonia, Canada, Finland and Ireland were the highest-performing OECD countries in reading.
In comparison to BeijingShanghai-Jiangsu-Zhejiang (China), Aussie students performed at a level roughly oneand-a-half school years lower in reading literacy, around three-and-a-half school years lower in mathematical literacy, and around three years lower in scientific literacy.
Sinking more funding into the system is not the answer, experts say, pointing to more than $18 billion of Gonski funding spent from 2014 to 2017.
Glenn Fahey, Centre for Independent Studies, said PISA provided further evidence that there’s no association between funding and better achievement. “We have NAPLAN, we have had several years of Gonski, we now have PISA and we are still not seeing that education return,” he said.
Condell Park Christian School students Gabriel Battistuzzi, Kayleigh Geronimo, Noah Fahd and Charlese Fahd and (inset) principal Donald Leys. Picture: Rohan Kelly