Friday, September 14, 2012

No Cause for Celebration: OECD Education Report Needs a Closer Look

OECD Countries Blue
OECD Countries Blue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Kevin Gould, Researcher in Economics of Education at Central Queensland University, The Conversation:

The most recent edition of the OECD’s Education at a Glance released this week, is another report that has invariably been seen as a report card on Australian education.

Australians want to know: How did we do? What grade did we get? Did we do better than our neighbours?

The report provides information about each OECD country’s levels of schooling, participation, finance, class size and teacher involvement. But rather than focusing on where we rank on the world stage, we should look at some of the bigger issues revealed in the report.

Above average

The report doesn’t say anything most experts don’t already know about Australian education. In general the report shows, as expected, Australia is above average.

We have a pupil-teacher ratio in secondary education of 12 to 1 compared to an OECD average of 13.8 to 1. We have more hours of compulsory instruction time per year for school students than the average for OECD countries. Annual expenditure per student is marginally higher for schooling than the OECD average. For school teachers, salaries represent 92% of full-time adult workers with tertiary qualifications which is above the OECD average.

While these comparisons are interesting, it is more appropriate for Australia to set its own targets for comparison rather than draw satisfaction from a comparison with an average of a selection of countries, many of which are very different in many ways to Australia.

What we should be looking at

What is underlying these annual OECD reports is the idea that education is a sound investment for both individuals and society and that universal completion of upper (senior) secondary is crucial for reducing life-long inequity. It is this second aspect about which that Australians should be more informed.

The report indicates that 70% of potential year 12 students graduated in 2009. This is above the OECD average. But included in Australia’s graduates are those completing what is considered equivalent to year 12 - VET Certificate II for example.

But this certificate can be, and is, completed by students during year 10 or 11 studies. So our true upper secondary graduation rate may be below the OECD general program average.

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