Falling standards more complex than media suggests – principal

Today, Labor announced it would spend almost $400m on teaching scholarships to encourage recent graduates with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) degrees to continue their study and become STEM teachers. 

In a statement this morning, Labor leader, Bill Shorten, said that while many countries in our region are high achievers in maths and science education, Australia’s science and maths literacy rankings was falling.
“The most recent PISA report ranked Australia 19th in maths and 16th in science, based on the performance of 15 year-old secondary students. In the year 2000, Australia ranked fifth in maths and seventh in science,” he said.
As part of Labor’s education plan to return Australia to the top five performing nations in reading, mathematics and science, Shorten, has pledged to provide $4.5m towards teacher training and students with a disability.
The Coalition’s plan involves $1.2bn to schools that would be conditional on literacy and numeracy checks for students in Year 1, as well as schools demonstrating a proportion of literacy and numeracy specialists.

Under the Coalition’s plan, teachers would also be paid based on competency rather than length of service.
While both major parties have outlined their respective education funding commitments, will either plan see the kind of change they envision for Australia’s schools?
Australia ‘obsessed with standardised testing’
Dr Paul Browning, who is principal of St Paul’s School, located in Queensland, told The Educator that while schools would never say no to extra funding, more money doesn’t necessarily equate to better student outcomes.
“However, I do believe that a needs-based funding model is vital to help address the issues of inequity in educational access and support all Australian children,” he said.
One of the key obstacles to Australia reaching its target of being in the top five performing nations in literacy, reading and mathematics, says Browning, is with its “obsession” with standardised testing.
“One of our biggest road blocks is our obsession with standardised testing. Nations like Finland perform far better than us and they don’t have a standardised testing regime,” he said.
“The second biggest road block is our obsession to ‘be like’ others. Our obsession to be [in the top five] means that we are constantly comparing ourselves with nations like Korea and cities like Shanghai. We want to be like them. What are they doing that we aren’t?”
‘Don’t blame the schools’
Browning said Australia needs to “accept and embrace” the cultural differences between ourselves and the current high performing nations as measured by PISA.
“Our falling standings are a result of a far more complex set of factors than what popular media would have us to believe. It isn’t actually all ‘the schools’ fault’,” he said, adding the world for Australian students had “changed dramatically” over the last decade.
“More and more of our students have become disengaged from schooling. There isn’t the same expectation of hard work and personal responsibility as there is for students in Korea, China or Singapore.
“Our nation needs to rethink how education is delivered, how we capitalise on our nation’s differences and strengths, and how we equip our young people with the skills and dispositions they need to compete for employment on a global stage, rather than seek to be the same as.”