What’s wrong with Aussie schools?

I wonder how many times we need to hear the OECD and Grattan Institute tell us that our education system needs to be performing over and above and not under and below international benchmarks!  The link between our declining performance on PISA and teacher quality has been the subject of commentary from educational experts for more than a decade.

Speaking recently in Dubai, OECD’s education chief, Andreas Schleicher warned that without sufficient investment in the teaching profession and a fundamental rethink of the role of teachers in today’s world, we risk slipping further down the international ladder.

It’s not just the economic imperative that we won’t be globally competitive that should compel our profession to change, but the moral imperative of giving every student in every school a world-class education.

One of the problems according to Schleicher is that we continue to see teaching as number of hours spent in front of students as though it’s the only half of the whole when in fact the other critical half is professional learning and teacher collaboration.

I agree wholeheartedly with Schleicher that we must move away from seeing teachers as deliverers of a curriculum to teachers as ‘owners of professional standards.’  This view is evident in Finland where it is widely accepted that educators are ‘the ultimate authorities on education, not bureaucrats…’

The profession has been compliant for too long in the face of imposed educational reforms and mandates dictating the nature of teachers’ work.  Our education system is too valuable to be a political and ideological target for short-sighted policies.  I’m not naive enough to suggest that we are close to partisan politics in Australia but the time for a coherent pre to post schooling framework was a decade ago.

It’s striking that the OECD’s education chief has expressed concerned about the future of our education system. It is even more striking though that our politicians have failed to listen and our profession has failed to take the lead.


6 thoughts on “What’s wrong with Aussie schools?

  1. Andreas Schleicher also noted that the billions spent in Australia by educational bureaucrats on technology has made little or no difference to student learning outcomes. Schools or school systems that have re designed classrooms to suit a technologically driven paradigm are not getting value for money.

    As a Principal delegate of AiTSL’s tour to Shanghai and Singapore in recent years I tend not to get too wrapped around the axle on comparative scores with other OECD countries. Having inspected Shanghai schools and universities I am very suspicious of their high results on ethical grounds. Singapore on the other hand is something to marvel at. In Singapore they have MOE ( Ministry of Education) which is a one stop shop for everything education related. From building schools, writing the curriculum and hiring staff the MOE does it all. In Australia we have no less than 15 bodies doing what 1 MOE does.

    I understand your narrative about schools being more innovative and taking greater control in education. My hunch having been a Principal for over ten years in lower and upper Socio economic suburbs of greater Sydney is that Australia and Australians do not fundamentally value school education enough compared to many of our OECD nations who are above us on PISA. My generalisation is that we are only now realising as we headlong into the Asian century that traditional jobs that once paid well in Australia are no longer here. Friedman’s “The World is Flat” book brilliantly describes where Australia and the USA and countries that were kings in the industrial world are now with the emergence of Asia. We also have a generous social wage compared to many of these nations who have been exposed to very good education we once enjoyed if you are basing it on PISA results.

    The irony with what you are seemingly passionate about is that these very nations like Korea and Chinese Shanghai and Taipai still largely follow an industrial model of education but are getting higher results purely out of necessity. A high result in school means an opportunity of a better life! In Australia you can do poor academically but as we see time and again in Australia this does not mean all is lost. Plumbers and some other trades live very well in Australia because government policies largely skew reward their way, ie negative gearing to name but one.In Finland as you mention (although results are slipping) values education very high and the teachers in their schools. They invented it takes a ‘village to grow a child’ approach because the mission and vision in a town like Nokia for the phone company is the same as the local dentist, tradesman, in fact everyone dance to the same beat. They move as one with a common core purpose to develop the whole child and create meaningful learning and jobs beyond school.In Australia ‘she’ll be right’ is still a prevailing attitude for many.

    At any rate once again what you are saying makes all the right noises but educators taking control over education is only part of the equation. We still have a little way to go yet, perhaps when our living standards drop will we realise collectively as a nation across all divides of ses, ethnicity, rural and suburban areas that the key to prosperity is actually valuing education and not view it as a fundamental right but a fundamental privilege will change be seen.

    1. Having looked at the Singapore Maths and Sciences curriucula, I think we should wholesale throw out the Australian Curriculum in those subjects and simply adopt the Singapore Curriculum.

    2. Frank – I really appreciate your thoughts. You have nailed the issue for me regarding the value of education. I have written before about appalling education policy. What we understand about good learning – it is contextual, connected and meta-cognitive. Each context brings a different challenge, connections bring opportunities and we learning about learning by doing the work. This might look over-gilding the lily. It is the core of what we need to do if we are to deliver value to learners in today’s world. I live for the day when we have a bipartisan approach to education but I won’t let the yearning for it be the end point. We actually need to do something and that something is about appropriate learning frameworks (curriculum), outstanding teachers (learners) and great tools to enhance their core skills. There is no one size fits all or silver bullet. It requires a deeply complex and rigorous intellectual task which people baulk at by taking the easy option.

  2. I have been teaching 20+ years, and never once has a school leader or education bureaucrat ever asked me “what would you do do improve education in our school/system/state/country?” without them having already decided what they would do. Any “consultation” has been directed to us teachers agreeing to what has been pre-decided. AiTSL included.

    1. I’ve just returned from Singapore – they are challenging the curriculum with its lack of creativity and innovation. Everyone is focussing on the nature of teacher and learner and that is where we will find a way forward.

  3. I think the problem is that the 3 P’s (Papers, Pollies & Parents) all focus on things that research says have little or no influence.
    -Class Sizes
    -School Funding Models
    -Holding Students back a year
    -Open vs Traditional Learning Spaces
    -Ability Grouping
    -Calculators (I remember my teacher told me I wouldn’t have one in my pocket every time I needed one)
    -Extra Curricular Programmes

    When I first moved to Australia from the UK, I began to wonder if the purpose of the education system was to move money around, as that was what the whole debate in the media was about. Very rarely was their talk about educational outcomes.

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