Professor Geoff Masters AO, ACER’s Chief Executive, published an influential series of papers in 2015 on the “big five” difficulties facing Australian school education. What progress has been made six years later – with a global pandemic – in addressing such challenges?
Experts from research and practice worldwide will explore the most important concerns and look to the future of education in Australia and beyond in five webinars between February and May.
Professor Masters noted in 2015 that despite reform attempts, regular government assessments, and continual requests for change, progress toward enhancing the quality and equality of Australian education is typically gradual.
On a worldwide scale, progress toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and encourage lifelong learning for everyone. But unfortunately, it was too slow before COVID-19 struck, and whatever achievements gained were erased by the pandemic’s school closures.
Professor Masters suggested that true reform requires addressing the deepest and most vexing underlying issues confronting Australian education.
The following are five ways why Australia’s educational system is failing our children:
- Raising the stature of teaching as a career
According to a 2007 McKinsey report, high-performing school systems continually attract highly capable people into teaching or nursing essay help service, raising the profession’s prestige and attracting even more excellent candidates. But unfortunately, in some of the world’s most prosperous countries, getting into a university teaching program is as difficult as getting into engineering, science, law, or medicine.
Given that these high performers hire most of their science teachers and taxation assignment help tutors from the top third of high school graduates, the Australian governments aspire to do the same. The national progress toward this goal could be tracked by tracking the percentage of education degrees made to Year 12 students with ATARs greater than 70.
While the ATAR isn’t the ideal metric, high-performing countries like Singapore and Finland focus on academic achievement and other qualities like teaching drive, willingness to learn, and communication skills; it’s a decent place to start. This percentage would serve as a straightforward national performance metric.
- Disparities between Australian schools must be narrowed
Since the study began, results from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) show a widening difference between the experiences of Australia’s most and least advantaged students. As a result, the PISA results of Australian schools have become increasingly disparate. Increased performance discrepancies in poor and high socioeconomic class schools have been linked to this growing imbalance.
The percentage of the total variance in students’ results related to ‘between-school’ differences (with the remaining variance being ‘within-school’) is a simple national indicator of inequalities between Australian schools. The current trend of increasing gaps amongst Australian schools, as reflected in PISA, should be reversed as soon as possible.
- Creating a curriculum for the twenty-first century
There are numerous grounds to doubt whether the curriculum adequately prepares students for life and work in the twenty-first century. Long-term declines in Australian 15-year-olds’ ability to apply what they’ve learned to real-world problems (as evidenced by PISA results).
Also, a decrease in the proportion of Year 12 students choosing to study advanced science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects when these skills are becoming increasingly important, is especially concerning.
These issues will not be solved solely through curricular modifications; they will also necessitate investments in teacher quality, pedagogical reforms, and the alignment of assessment methods with new curriculum priorities.
Nonetheless, the curriculum’s content and organization and the emphasis placed on various types of learning are critical predictors of student engagement and learning results. Prioritizing depth over breadth of learning and promoting cross-disciplinary, team-based problem solving are two key difficulties for a 21st-century curriculum.
- Getting all youngsters off on the right foot
Many children enter school with the potential of being locked into long-term low achievement trajectories, leading to disengagement, poor attendance, and early school exit. According to the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC), 22% of children starting school are ‘developmentally fragile.’
This equates to roughly 60 000 youngsters. This category is disproportionately made up of indigenous youngsters and those from low socioeconomic origins. Developmentally susceptible children are less likely to achieve successful school transfers and risk poor long-term educational outcomes.
A good place to start is universal access to high-quality, affordable, integrated early childhood education and care provided by competent early childhood educators with a deep understanding of child development and health and safety issues.
A crucial next step is to ease the transition to school by establishing individual learners’ starting points through assessment, increased collaboration between primary schools and early childhood education settings, and programs of support and targeted interventions beginning when children enter school.
- Getting rid of the ‘long tail’ of underachievers
One of the most difficulties educators has been figuring out how to address better the learning requirements of the many students who fall behind in our schools, fail to reach year-level goals year after year, and grow increasingly disengaged.
According to the OECD, one in every seven Australian 15-year-olds does not meet an international reading competence level. As a result, they leave school without the reading abilities necessary to participate fully in the workforce and contribute as productive citizens in the 21st century. In addition, one in every five Australian 15-year-olds does not meet the worldwide baseline level in mathematics, leaving school without the necessary math skills for life after school.
Each year of school has its curriculum; kids are placed in mixed-ability classes, instructors present the curriculum for the year level they are teaching, and students are assessed and graded on how well they perform on that curriculum. A different strategy would be to diagnose each student’s starting place for learning through evaluation, target education to their specific requirements, track progress over time, and communicate that progress with parents and families.
Revisiting the ‘big five’ issues
The world has changed dramatically since Professor Masters recognized the critical difficulties confronting Australia’s education system, not least a pandemic wreaking havoc on many pupils. Yet, these challenges have remained in many forms. Experts from educational research will join policymakers and practitioners in a special series of free webinars to examine what progress has been made in each area – and what needs to happen next if Australian education improves quality and equity.
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