Here in Australia there is an ongoing debate about how to improve our education system as a whole. Australia always looks at the PISA findings and in that latest findings we have fallen behind a number of other countries in some key areas.
With two levels of government there is debate both at a Federal level and at the State levels. Over the years I have been involved in education there have been numerous study groups given the task of investigating the Education System with the latest being The Gonski Report. An overview in the Financial Review summarises the main points and some interesting discussion on the Conversation site.
So to begin with what is PISA and what does it do?
The PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings have become very important when people look at the education in a particular country. Politicians and the leaders of various countries look at where their own country is ranked and then they often try to “cherry-pick” the most successful elements to incorporate them into the system in their own country. This does not lead to a well thought-out
The PISA rankings are created from an international set of tests which a statistically valid number of 15-year-old students (from OECD countries) undergo that then allow a comparison between the different educational systems across the world. They measure abilities in reading, maths and science. The tests are taken every three years, beginning in 2000.
The video below explains the PISA research.
The two countries that have been doing well across the board in the PISA results are Singapore and Finland. These systems countries are often quoted by authorities in other OECD countries as benchmarks so what do they do in their schools?
Education in Singapore
Singapore has become one of the top-scoring countries on the PISA tests. Some of the Singapore approach is outlined in the video below.
I recently spent a few days in Singapore school and the teaching and learning strategies in Singapore were very rigorous and intense but there was certainly a very positive energy coming from both teachers and students.
Education in Finland
Finland’s formula for success is very different to Singapore but its approach to education has been very successful for a sustained period of time. In Finland there is an emphasis on early intervention and it is then followed up with sustained individual support for every student. These from the basis to educating the whole child in Finnish schools.
So where are we in Australia? Whilst Australian students’ results were not inherently bad, they are not shown as improving. I agree that we should see the need for improvement as important. Who would not believe that we should always try to improve the learning of our students? What can we do to change our education system to improve student skills? This would then show better results for our students and rate a highly like these two systems outlined above?
Hence the Gonski Report and the recommendations to improve education within Australia. The response to the Gonski Report from the Australian politicians was fairly predictable. The report has been widely regarded as a good plan but too ambitious, too costly. We can do bits of it but not the whole. If we do just some of it, what will be funded? The arguments about who gets the monies they deserve, the private, Catholic/religious or government schools, has been a never-ending one, with each sector claiming it doesn’t have enough and the other sectors should get “less of the pie”. I have always claimed that the education funding pie should be bigger and the different sectors should get together to argue that point of view. That seems to be a major part in the Gonski Report but it is not just about the money but haw you spend it.
The major point that comes across in both the Finnish and Singapore examples is that teachers are highly regarded. They are supported and encouraged in their efforts to continue their own educations.
This week in Victoria the teachers a going on strike. Yes, it is partly about pay, but it is also very much about conditions, professional development and the opportunity to advance in the profession. Teacher should be encouraged by having the time and space to reflect on their own learning as well as the learning of their students. Teachers should be encouraged to work together to improve the learning of our young people as a whole. The Victorian government has offered the teachers in government schools a very different scenario. One that I, and many others, see as being detrimental to a collaborative and harmonious environment. A quality teacher needs, and should be able, to share their learning in a supportive and collaborative environment. What is being put on the table could see more rivalry between teachers as best results for their own classes alone so they can put their case for advancement above others. This means that good practises will not be shared and the reasons for success will be closely guarded. When teachers are well-trained, excited about the learning of their students, have time to reflect on their teaching and learning as well as share their experiences, ideas and worries, their students will reap the benefits. Working in a boy’s school I see just how much the boys respond to positive learning environments. They achieve best when they have a positive learning relationship with their teachers and they feel supported by their fellow students parents and their teachers. Students can identify times when things are not going well and respond accordingly.
So if we want to improve learning in our schools, in what ever state or territory, we need well-qualified and respected teachers who are excited about learning and working with young people, teachers who support and help each other as well as their students. This is not a lot to ask or expect nor would it cost an extravagant amount of money or infrastructure.