What does Australia’s education system need to do differently?

What does Australia’s education system need to do differently?

Australian 15-year-olds rank ninth in the world for reading and science and 10th in the world for maths, but almost half still failed to reach national standards in those subjects.

While Australia's results look good on paper, the research says it's mostly thanks to other countries underperforming.

Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare, says while Australia has a good education system, "it can be a lot better and a lot fairer". Indeed, this will be the message at the upcoming International Conference on Thinking, where experts will share their expertise and offer pathways as to how to lift student achievement and improve educational equity.

Patrick Newell, co-national Project Manager for OECD Survey for Social and Emotional Skills in Japan, says most future skills are human skills, so schools should consider how much time they are spending on developing these skills in today's education system.

"Technology can guide our learners through most of what education ministries worldwide require related to cognitive skills," Newell told The Educator. "If most of the future skills are human skills, why is so little time allocated to developing them?"

Newell said today's learners spend a lot of time together, so it makes sense to maximise their potential to develop their social and collaboration skills by working together.

"We would benefit from rethinking how much time is focussed on collaborative project-based learning."

Doug Taylor, CEO of the children’s education charity The Smith Family, says a key focus for Australia's education system is achieving greater equity in the nation's schools.

"With more than 80% of disadvantaged students attending government schools, these schools need to be equipped to achieve their purpose - ensuring all students achieve, especially in basics like literacy and numeracy and, in today’s connected world, gain essential digital skills," Taylor told The Educator.

Recently, the Expert Panel reported to Federal, State and Territory Education Ministers to guide national policy initiatives that all governments agree to over the next five years. Taylor said this means that a student starting high school in 2025, when the new National School Reform Agreement kicks in, will have reached Year 12 by the time the next agreement is re-negotiated in 2030.

"This is a milestone worth caring about because finishing Year 12 is a big deal," he said. "Evidence shows young people who do this have better futures - for themselves, their families, and the wider community as they directly contribute to our nation’s economy."

Pasi Sahlberg, Professor in Educational Leadership at Melbourne University, says post-pandemic, student and teacher wellbeing has become a "third priority" alongside raising the bar and narrowing achievement gaps in public education.

“Some public schools around Australia are now becoming community hubs that work in collaboration with other service providers in the community to complement the educational role of that schools typically have," Professor Sahlberg told The Educator.

"These full-service schools provide wrap-around services and activities during and after school days to help to meet the health and educational needs of children, families, and their communities."

Professor Sahlberg said this evolving movement, which is also common in many advanced education systems globally, is "gradually transforming" Australia's public school system by shifting focus of schooling from narrow academic preparation to learning and developing the whole child.

“Eventually, health is becoming an essential 21st Century skill rather than a subject or information about what it is to be well or cure those at risk of declining health.”