When you are climbing the ladder of success, make sure it is leaning against the right wall.
Education is on the political agenda this week in Australia. In the media our PM, Julia Gillard has been quoted as championing:
A national crusade, a chance for change, education transforming the life of every child.
This can be achieved, it seems, by improving our position in the PISA (see below for a summary of the process) rankings, which assesses reading, maths and science from 70 countries and economies. According to PISA, in the overall comparison Australia is already ranked 9th and considered “statistically above the OECD average.”
I want Australia to be back in the top five countries educationally..to be world’s best by 2025.
A vision for education is welcomed, and measurable and timely goals for progress are essential, but my questions are:
Of the top performing countries and economies, are the post-school and post-tertiary employment rates equally impressive?
How do we measure student achievement and engagement that takes into consideration attributes for the future, such as creativity, entrepreneurial thinking and multiple intelligences? (Given that Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk: Schools Kill Creativity became a rallying call for many)
According to Howard Gardner in an interview with Huff Post journalist Matthew Lynch earlier this year: I’m not confident that these international comparisons are beneficent…What distinguishes Singapore and Finland are the Professionalization of Teachers, and the Egalitarian nature of the system.
The PM has set a time frame on achieving this vision: 2025, when 2013’s five-year-olds start school, they will be the ones we watch for the next 13 years of school. In my opinion, to achieve success there needs to be:
1. A realistic time-frame. Finland’s journey of reform started 40 years ago and Singapore’s 30 years ago. We need a vision of reform spanning greater than 13 years to:
- change the culture on the status of teachers
- implement pay reforms
- transform teacher undergraduate education.
Which leads me to…
2. Bi-partisan agreement for long-term educational reform. The blueprint that guides the education system in Finland has been agreed to and maintained through the changes of government. The education of young people is considered too important to be politicised.
3. Assess and address the risk that standardised tests become the goal of education. Ten years ago, George W Bush signed the “No child left behind” law. A lofty and admirable vision for raising student achievement, which has not been without controversy. Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post wrote (emphasis mine) …because of its misguided reliance on one-size-fits-all testing, labeling and sanctioning schools, it has undermined many education reform efforts. Many schools, particularly those serving low-income students, have become little more than test-preparation programs.
4. Become future-focused. A deliberate strategy that recognises the skills and attributes required to embrace the challenges and opportunities that lay before us, such as those articulated by Howard Gardner in 5 Minds for the Future:
- the disciplined mind
- the synthesising mind
- the creating mind
- the respectful mind
- the ethical mind
These cannot be assessed on standardised tests.
5. The filter is ‘learning’. According to the Grattan Institute report: Catching up: Learning from the best school systems in Asia – “These four systems* all focus on the things that are known to matter in the classroom, including a relentless practical focus on learning.” (*Shanghai, Korea, Singapore Hong Kong). When ‘learning’ is the filter it guides a range of decisions such as school design, timetabling, staffing, technology, leadership structure and curriculum delivery. It constantly challenges the existing paradigms.
Of course we must look at the top performing countries and learn from them, but we must also be future-focused, looking at the skills, knowledge and attributes our Australian young people will need into the future. This doesn’t mean trying to retro-fit the existing system, but strategically reinventing education in such a way that the reforms take us where our nation wants and needs to go.
My preference is that we are also known as the ‘creative country’ than just the ‘clever country’.
Our ladder needs to be leaning up against the right wall.
A quick summary of PISA – Program for International Student Assessment
- The international study was launched in 1997 by the OECD
- 70 countries and economies participate
- Each cycle assesses 15 year old students in reading, maths and science
- Every three years a randomly selected group of 15 year olds take tests, focussing on one subject in each year of assessmentTests are not directly linked to school curriculum, but are designed to assess application of knowledge to real-life situations
- 2000 – reading
- 2003 – maths and problem solving
- 2006 – science
- 2009 – reading
- 2012 – maths
- The difference between the top-performing economy in reading, Hong Kong and the lowest performing, Mexico, is considered to be the equivalent of 2 years of schooling
Australia’s positioning out of 70 participating countries and economies
In the overall comparison Australia is ranked 9th and considered “statistically above the OECD average.”
Maths: 13th (retesting 2012)
Educational equity (countries): 6th/34
Top performing countries and economies:
- Korea and Finland are the highest performing OECD countries
- Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Korea and, famously, Finland.
- The prominent performers are within our region.