TOO EASY – NO WORRIES – SHE’LL BE RIGHT
PISA EDUCATION RANKINGS and AUSTRALIA.
Education of Australian youth is veering towards crisis. Catalysts for this opinion are the poor position of Australia in the OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the observation by the Human Rights Commissioner, Dr Gillian Triggs, to the effect that “Our parliamentarians are usually seriously ill-informed and under- educated”. (Age, 23 April, 2016) Australian politicians are the product of a failing Australian education system as illustrated by the following data. The parlous state of Australian education is revealed in the PISA rankings below. Top ranked are Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan.
- Australian ranking is 14 – below Poland 11, Vietnam 12 and Germany 13.
- Australia ranks19 for secondary school enrolments behind USA, UK and UAE.
- Australia ranks 17 for having the highest share of students who lack basic skills.
- Concerning the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, Australian standards are falling.
The PISA test results for 2000 and 2012 are:
OECD PISA RANKINGS for AUSTRALIA 2000 and 2012
The OECD report suggests that if PISA results improved by 25 points Australian GDP would improve by 7.2% by2095. (Education Policy in Australia , OECD, June 2013) Clearly, Australian education policy must improve – but how? Examples of education policy in South Korea (PISA 3) and Finland (PISA 6) should be a guide. The OECD makes the point that it is not the wealthiest countries that perform best but it is those nations that value education the most.
SOUTH KOREA, EAST ASIA, Ranking 3.
The driving imperative for East Asians is for educational excellence as a means of improving ‘their lot’ in the harsh competitive reality of their lives. The quality of this education system depends upon the expectation and demands of the parents. The national culture of Korea has produced an ingrained drive for intense study with the objective of improving socio-economic status and mobility. Students acquire q clear objective and a sense of purpose at an early age. South Korean parents arrange after-school tuition as a matter of common practice; in this context Koreans prize effort above an inherently high IQ. East Asian children have about fifteen hours of homework each week while Australia students apparently have around nine hours. This pressure in South Korea produces suicide among the fifteen to thirty year olds but, despite this lurking danger, students persist with a vigorous education to improve their prospects. (South Korean Education, The Conversation, March, 2015)
FINLAND, EUROPE, Ranking 6 (Leads Europe)
The successful Finnish system is totally different from the East Asian model and from Australia.
Summarised, the Finnish model results are:
- PISA rankings for maths and science are 1 Singapore, 5 Taiwan,
6 Finland, 7 Estonia, 14 Australia.
- In 2000, Finland’s PISA ranking for reading was the best in the world.
- In 2003, Finland lead in maths.
- By 2006, Finland’s rankings were science second, reading third and maths sixth
- The end product is that 93% of Finnish youth graduate to professional or vocational careers.
Reasons for Finland’s educational success, in an approximation to importance, are:
- The nation values education such that teachers have the same social status as lawyers and doctors.
- Professional staff have progressed to a five year Masters degree or higher.
- Teaching staff are selected from the top 10% of the nation’s graduates.
- The teaching profession is totally dedicated to education.
- Education is about education, not tests.
- Teachers spend coaching time with students outside school hours – human interaction is the key.
- Set homework is minimal.
- In sixth grade students may sit for district-wide exams (with teacher approval). Results are not published, but are discussed between student and teacher.
- During school years there is only one final exam for for university entrance.
- Finland has a single unified State school system.
- There are no comparisons between schools or regions and the education system is not run on statistics.
- Education inspectors have been abolished and the schools are run by academic staff. Politicians are banned from oversight.
By contrast, nearby Norway follows the United States education system –its PISA rankings have stagnated whereas Australia’s have declined.
AUSTRALIA AND THE TYRANNY OF CULTURE DISTANCE
Culturally and historically Australia differs from South Korea and Finland. Australia enters 2017 with an education problem. Australia, dangling off the southern extremity of south-east Asia, is the poor country cousin in terms of PISA rankings compared to its northern neighbours.
The East Asian nations, due to population pressure, have struggled hard for their livelihoods, By contrast, the few in sparsely populated Australia where ‘Our lands abound with nature’s gifts and boundless plains to share’ Australians have never had to fight and struggle for survival as have peasant communities to our north. The East Asians peasant poverty has generated an iron will to improve their lives, to generate an income or starve. Australians, en masse, have never suffered the same problems. For far too long it has been ‘Too Easy – No Worries – She’ll be Right’. This observation does not denigrate the hardship and achievement of our early settlers.
It is clear Australia does not value education to the same degree as East Asians or Northern Europeans. Australia’s PISA rankings are 14 and falling further away from our Asian trading partners. The 3, 5, 7 and 9 NAPLAN test results were described by the Federal Education Minister in August 2016 as ‘flat lining’ over the past three years. Combined, the PISA and NAPLAN results constitute a serious problem.
The Gonski Review Report (2012) identified concerning trends in Australian education – performance has declined over the past decade. Gonski stressed the need for equitable school funding with extra funding to disadvantaged students (a move toward the Finnish model). The original funding program was subsequently reduced by $30 billion by the Abbott Government (SMH 2 Dec. 2014). Subsequently, the Turnbull Government announced it will ‘re-invest’ $1.2 billion into education, this apparently still leaves a shortfall of $28.8 billion. As announced by Treasurer Morrison the Federal education package over the forward estimates is $73.6 billion.
Under the current situation, Australian youth are in a public education system that leaves them trailing students in East Asia and Northern Europe. Initial suggestions to remedy this situation are:
- Australia must change its culture and value education more highly. Our political elite will have to set an example.
- The status of teachers must be raised.
- Academic teacher levels must be improved to Masters qualification.
- Teachers to spend more time with students after school hours.
- There must be a single unified Federal education system.
On 24 March 2015, the Australian Financial Review resurrected a warning by the Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew. In 1980, Australia was warned “It could become the white trash of Asia if it did not reform”. That comment was taken on board by the then Labor Shadow Minister Hawke who concurred with the observation. Unless Australia improves its education system perhaps another Asian leader will repeat the epithet. Already, Australia is at a disadvantage. Both the Federal Minister for Education (Hon. Simon Birmingham) and the NSW Minister for Education (Hon. Adrian Piccoli) have no hands-on education experience; culture change must start at the top.
Is Australia prepared to fully participate in the Asian century or will indifferent education condemn future generations to education rankings below our neighbourhood nations? If our Australian children do not improve their education levels then responsibility can fall squarely on National culture and on politicians that are not prepared to enforce change.
Returning to the opening comment by Commissioner Triggs, she is not alone in her opinion on Parliamentary educational levels. Mr Barry Jones, polymath and ex-MP (Australian Inspiration) has opined that “much of Australian leadership has been and continues to be mediocre”. In a swingeing comment (ABC RN, 16 Dec. 2016), Dr Ric Charlesworth, AO, indicated “meritocracy in our political system is in short supply, it is diluted by party hacks”.
Australian youth will continue to be disadvantaged unless we, the people, improve our culture, Our new mantra should be:
DIFFICULT – CONCERNING – MAKE IT HAPPEN