Is money the answer to improving student outcomes?

Is money the answer to improving student outcomes?

Following the release of OECD’s PISA 2018 results, policymakers and leading figures in the education sector quickly voiced their disappointment – and theories as to how Australia’s education system can be improved.

Experts also pointed to other high-performing systems as models that Australia could consider.

In Europe, Estonia topped the PISA tables, ahead of countries like Finland, Germany and Poland.

Mailis Reps, Estonia’s Minister of Education and Research, credited the tiny Baltic country’s success to its education system’s swift adaptability in a fast-changing world.

“I believe that Estonia’s success in PISA test is a combination of different parties. Education has been highly valued historically and our society strongly believes in education,” Minister Reps told The Educator.

“The success has also been enabled by the universal access to quality education. Our system is based on equity and comprehensive school principle and all students have equal access to education.”

Meanwhile, The Grattan Institute has been focussing on how Estonia’s government provides funding to its education sector.

In an article published in The Conversation Peter Goss, Grattan Institute’s School Education Program director, and Matt Cowgill, a senior associate at the Institute, wrote that at first glance, Australia spends more per student than Estonia, but there is much more to this story.

According to data from OECD’s Education at a Glance 2019 report, Australia spends US$10,000 annually per student in primary school and US$11,650 per student in secondry school. Estonia, on the other hand, spends US$6,900 annually per student in primary and secondary school. 

However, Goss and Cowgill said that when GDP is considered, this reveals that Australia and Estonia spend roughly the same on school education. 

With one in six Australians being school-aged, Australia spends 3.9% of its GDP on education. Estonia – with one in seven of its citizens being school-aged— allots 2.9% of its GDP.

“Private funding of school education is higher in Australia than Estonia, but much of this goes to sports ovals and arts centres, not teaching,” the authors wrote.

Australia’s teachers were also found to be paid twice as much as teachers in Estonia, where secondary school teachers get paid just $US22,000 as a starting wage.

Teachers still leaving the job early

Goss and Cowgill pointed out that Australia’s best teachers are poorly paid when compared to other professionals, which deters high-achieving young people from pursuing a career in teaching. This also pushes teachers to leave the profession early in their careers.

An earlier report released by the Grattan Institute found that while Australian teachers get a decent starting salary at $65,000-$70,000, their peers in other professions are still paid more. Further, teachers’ pay does not rise as they age and hone their expertise.

Another recent report, titled “Attracting High Achievers into Teaching”, noted that a little more funding can often go a long way.

With only $620 per student a year – the bulk of which allocated for strcuture career pathway –  the report said this could transform the teaching workforce as it already covers one-third of the increase that government schools are set to receive if they were to fully receive their Gonski funding allocation.

Already, some states have been making inroads in helping high-achieving students consider a career in education and put a stop to the teacher shortage, such as Victoria which earlier announced cash incentives to entice teachers to stay in the profession.

“Of course money is never the only answer,” Goss and Cowgill wrote.

“But investing in great teachers would pay for itself many times over, because a better-educated population would mean a more productive and prosperous Australia – and it might just be the key to reversing Australia’s PISA woes”.