PISA 2016: Why it’s not all doom and gloom

Students struggling with their schoolwork at age 15 are facing a high risk of dropping out of school altogether, a new OECD report has found.

The report, released on Wednesday in Paris, was based on the Program for International Student Assessm­ent (PISA) test of half a million teenagers from 67 countries in 2012.

It found that one in two of Australia’s poorest students are lacking the basic maths, science and reading skills needed to find a job.

“Students who perform poorly at age 15 face a high risk of dropping out of school altogether; and when a large share of the popul­ation lacks basic skills, a country’s long-term economic growth is severel­y compromised,” the report said.

Varying factors have been cited for Australia’s decline in maths, reading and science, including insufficient STEM education and student teachers with weaker university entry rankings being accepted into teaching courses.

However, while some education headlines paint a grim picture of the state of Australia’s education system, there are some encouraging initiatives taking shape that seek to reverse this trend and lift Australia’s ranking in subjects like maths and science on the world stage.

The NSW Great Teaching, Inspired Learning (GTIL) initiative has received international recognition as a model that has delivered improved teaching quality and student learning outcomes.

NSW Secondary Principals Council (NSWSPC) president, Lila Mularczyk, who attended the Oxford University Education Research Symposium last year, told The Educator that the internationally renowned education expert, Pasi Sahlberg, was “blown away” by GTIL’s positive impact on teaching and learning.

Promising signs of a STEM turnaround are also being seen in Victoria.

The opening of two new Pathways to Technology (P-Tech) schools in Geelong and Ballarat has the potential to lift students’ STEM skills, Nicholas Wyman, CEO of Skilling Australia Foundation, recently told The Educator. 

The P-Tech model is being unveiled as the Federal Government moves ahead with its national innovation and science agenda, a push to make Australia a more competitive 21st century economy.

“All of the Year 9 students are enrolled in the learning experiences over the next 12 months, and this will be an opportunity for them to meet the employers and get involved in some hands-on project-based activity,” Wyman said.

“Both of these schools [in Geelong and Ballarat] have a steering committee, comprising people, such as principals, employer partners and government employee, who are serious about making a change.”

Even though the latest OECD report showed that one in two 15-year-old’s were underperforming in maths, there are some who say that with the right approach, Australia’s sagging performance in mathematics also be turned around.

Professor Kaye Stacey, a prominent voice in mathematics education told The Educator that “coordinated approach with a long-term agenda” was missing from attempts to boost students’ maths performance. 

Stacey said what was lacking in maths education were crucial elements such as inquiry, problem solving and reasoning, which he said feature strongly in students “actively engaged in thinking mathematically”.

“We need a co-ordinated approach, with a long-term agenda that can systematically implement prioritised actions,” Stacey told The Educator.
“These actions will relate to curriculum, teaching and assessment and high quality evaluation and associated research.”

Australia’s digital literacy, which is also lagging on the global stage, is the focus of a new initiative to help teaching and learning in this area.

Louise Lewis is the founder of CloudEd, an initiative to improve digital teaching and learning through applying internationally recognised frameworks and techniques tailored to educators. Lewis told The Educator this week that the core concepts included in the course have been shown to be successful when put into practice.

The training course started in Gosford on the NSW Central Coast on Monday and runs over three weeks.