Monday, December 17, 2012

Latest Tests show PM's 2025 education goal is in doubt

English: Julia Gillard
Julia Gillard (Wikipedia)
by Dr Sue Thomson, Head of Educational Monitoring and Research; Research Director, National Surveys Research Program at Australian Council for Educational Research, The Conversation:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard in September set an ambitious goal for Australian education: to be ranked as a top-five country in reading, mathematics and science by 2025.

Clearly she is hoping to lift Australia in the international rankings in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tests samples of 15-year-old students on their knowledge, applied in real-life situations.

However, results released yesterday by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) from the more curriculum-based assessments, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), highlight the magnitude of the challenge Australia faces if we are to achieve the PM’s goal.

Australian Year 4 students were significantly outperformed by students in 17 countries in mathematics and 18 countries in science. At Year 8, Australia was significantly outperformed by six countries in mathematics and seven countries in science.

With the exception of a small improvement in Year 4 mathematics scores, performances over the 16 years that TIMSS data have been collected have stagnated.

At the same time, there were dramatic improvements in mathematics or science performances in England, Hong Kong and Singapore, among others, and steady improvements in the United States, Korea and a number of other countries.

The PIRLS results provide the first ever data on how reading levels in Australian primary schools compare with standards in other countries. These results show that Australia was outperformed by 21 countries in reading.

To read further, go to:
Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. We will never achieve this goal set by the Prime Minister. The goal itself is not in accordance with our educational purposes.
    The primary reason is that in Australian schools we teach a wide range of material, skills, and strategies not expected of schools in other countries. We take the role of parent. We take the role of grandparent. We take the role of family friend. What? What What? These days Australian schools are expected to teach road safety, driving, basic personal hygiene, self discipline, study habits, how to make friends, how to care for pets, environmental involvement, library skills, nutrition, and various sports. Oh, and never forget we also attempt to teach the regular academic areas of reading, writing, science and mathematics. Any time there is a mishap the press screams, "We could teach this in our schools!" I do not hear, "Families could teach this to their children." Grandparents, family friends, and godparents once had roles in the lives of our children, valuable guiding roles. Even though most people came from far away and communication was difficult, new links were forged and old ones respected in Australia. These links were vital in teaching and guiding the next generation in life skills. Today Australian schools are so overloaded that teaching the central curriculum is an adjunct and not the central activity. Yes, today's students have distractions; but there have always been responsibilities and distractions. Yes, today's students include a sector that previously was not engaged in education and that calls for increased research and effort. Nevertheless, Australian schools do much more than teaching the basic syllabus of other nations.
    While achieving well on international tests may seem like a feasible goal, the real goal of education is to improve lives. This we do very well indeed.

    1. Well said Louise.

      The criticism that teachers get these days is unreasonable and is based on a total lack of understanding of what teachers actually do. You have said it so well in your comment - the real goal of education is to improve lives and teachers do that very well. International comparisons are completely unreliable and leave out the human component - the cultural and and social environment, as we find in the university sector rankings.

      But, you do have to a be a very special, dedicated and adaptable person to teach these days. The Year 12 Research Project in South Australian schools is a great example. I admire SACE for the concept and what they are trying to achieve. In-depth research into a topic of interest provides so many vital practical and self-development skills for students that I am surprised that there is not project work in the curriculum, although this is on the increase.

      However, the implementation of the Research Project has been just awful. Everyone knows that a teaching degree does not provide one with research skills, and yet teachers are supposed to guide the students in research. Far more focused professional development for teachers on research skills is required.

      Overall, your point is completely valid and needs to be listened to by the public, the media, the education authorities, and the government.