Expert slams Australian education system

by Brett Henebery16 Mar 2016

If there was ever a wake-up call for our education system, this was it.

Speaking at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, one of the world's leading education experts slammed Australia’s education system over the way it operates its schools and treats its teachers.

That expert was Andreas Schleicher, the education director of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

“Australia has lost a lot of students with very good results. The [PISA results] are very significant this round, and I think that's something to really think about,” he said.

“[Australia] more or less defines teachers by the number of hours that [they] teach in front of students. We treat teachers as interchangeable widgets on the frontline - they are just there to implement prefabricated knowledge.”
He added that many countries struggled to keep the best teachers in the profession because of curriculums that restricted creativity.
“There really is a complete lack of intellectual attractiveness to the teaching profession once you have that very industrial work organisation behind you,” he said.
A part of this problem, says Dr David Zyngier, a senior lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy at Monash University, is the privatisation of schools.
Zyngier told The Educator that Australia's education has become “the most privatised in the OECD since Chile decided to stop funding private schools”.

“Our education system, as a result, is no longer as equitable as it once was with school choice policies, politicians continually blaming teachers for student under performance and a general lack of faith in the public education system,” he said.

The OECD has recently issued report indicating that Australia's education system is no longer high quality and high equity. Since 2000, Australian 15 year olds’ results on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) testing have been overtaken by other countries.

This, he said, was due to the gap between the lowest and highest achievers increasing learning outcomes while other countries have focused on increasing equity.

“This is exactly what the Gonski Review was all about - enhancing the education outcomes of the most disadvantaged students of whom 80% go to public schools,” he said. 

“Yet over the last decade public schools have had reductions in funding while private schools have further benefited from increases in public subsidy for their already advantaged students.”

Zyngier added that over 75% of all Commonwealth school funding is currently directed toward the private sector.

“Schleicher acknowledges that the Gonski recommendations were a very good start to improving our system. If all our students were achieving at the same level as those in ACT schools Australia would be outperforming all other countries including China and Finland,” he said.

According to Schleicher, these countries have implemented selective teacher training with high academic standards, prioritised the development of teachers and principals as goals above reducing class sizes and allowed teachers to be creative in their implementation of the curriculum.

Zyngier said the Federal Government's current emphasis on improving teacher quality was “based on an assumption that teachers can actually make that much difference”.

“Since the 1990's teacher work has become more complex, students more difficult to teach, class sizes have actually increased and there is less time for teacher professional development,” he said.

“While research suggests that teachers can make a maximum of 25% contribution to a child's academic progress [family background is 50%, school type 10%, peers 10%, leadership 5%], they cannot do it without adequate resourcing especially when their students are from the most disadvantaged communities.”