How Australian education is outranking Finland

How Australian education is outranking Finland


A new report, based on the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, reveals some good news for Australian education.

The report – titled: Students’ Well-Being 2015: PISA Results – was based on a survey of 540,000 students in 72 participating countries and economies who also completed the main OECD PISA 2015 test on science, mathematics and reading.

It found that while students in Finland out-perform Australian students academically and report greater well-being, Australian students were shown to surpass their Finnish counterparts in three key areas.

Australian teens were more likely to report that they intended to go to university, more likely to be ambitious to top their class and three times more likely to have a paid job outside school than students in Finland.

The report also showed that Australian students rank well above the OECD average in these areas.

However, 47% of Australian students reported feeling very tense when they study, significantly higher than the OECD average of 37%. Students with a higher frequency of bullying reported lower levels of satisfaction.

Peter Goss, school education program director at the Grattan Institute, told The Educator that Australian students’ aspirations to go to university was understandable given that a degree is a requirement for many jobs.

“Australian students who complete a university degree earn much more than those who complete no study after they finish school — on average $600,000 dollars more over their lifetime,” Goss said.

“Combined with the fact that it is getting harder to get a job without a degree, it makes sense that many Australian students expect to go to university.”

Goss said that in turn, this may help explain why many Australian students aspire to good grades.

“A high ATAR score is needed to get into a prestigious university degree like engineering, medicine or law, where the returns are highest,” he said.

NSW Secondary Principals Council (NSWSPC) president, Chris Presland, said an ongoing challenge for all countries is to maintain high academic standards without sacrificing the mental and physical health of students.

“The OECD study shows that PISA success comes at a cost and I believe Australia needs to be careful to avoid taking the East Asian approach,” Presland said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We are producing knowledgeable and adaptable students ready to engage in the world around us and this is something that should be celebrated rather than forgotten in the pursuit of academic success measured by test results.”

Trevor Cobbold, national convenor of public school advocate group, Save Our Schools (SOS) agreed.

“High education success has its costs and Australia must be careful to avoid taking the East Asian route,” Cobbold said in a statement.

“The challenge is to combine good learning outcomes for all students, irrespective of family background, with highly satisfied, healthy students.”

Key points:

  • 54% of Australian students expect to undertake a university degree, compared with an OECD average of 44%;
  • More than 74% say they aim to be one of the best students in class, compared to an OECD average of 59%;
  • Nearly 35% of Australian students work while they are at school, compared with an OECD average of about 23%