“Back to Basics” – Our education minister doesn’t disappoint. But what really matters?

We were all waiting for it. 

In the light of Australia’s PISA results, we knew that our politicians wouldn’t let us down and the headline confirmed it: Education Minister pushes for ‘back to basics’ approach in schools

Australian’s Minister for Education is quoted as saying “schools need to renew their focus on literacy and numeracy as the foundations for student success”.

What does this mean?

I honestly don’t know any educators in Australia, or anywhere in the world for that matter, who wouldn’t agree that strong foundations are essential for student success. Is the back-to-basics cry purely to reassure parents that the government is serious?

I have travelled to Finland a number of times since this small nation was hailed as an educational triumph. Eight years ago, in a session at the Finnish National Board of Education, they named the countries that were beating a path to their door. The same counties that have mostly overtaken Finland in PISA now. However, none of these countries make the top ten on the World Happiness Index.


We need to measure what matters. The results annual school leaving certificate, the Higher School Certificate, for my state will be out this week. A media report shows,

An analysis of almost two decades of Higher School Certificate data contradicts the declining results among NSW’s top students in global reading, maths and science tests, showing more students are achieving top results in similar HSC subjects.

Between 2001 and 2018, more students achieved band six – the highest result – in chemistry, mathematics and advanced English, according to an analysis of NSW Education Standards Authority data by Sydney University psychometrician James Tognolini.


When it comes to the crunch, for their final exams, not an international test for 14-15 year olds, our students appear to be doing well.

Basics matter. Great teachers dedicate their efforts to establishing essential foundations. The back-to-basics cry is not helpful.

Instead, as a nation, we need to invest in our teachers. We need more science and mathematics teachers, who are educated and passionate scientists and mathematicians. At present many teachers are required to teach these subjects, without the foundational knowledge, due to staffing shortages. 

How do we inspire our current school graduates, those who are passionate about their subjects to become teachers, to help them to see that this is a wonderful vocation.

I’d rather see Australia higher in the World Happiness Index. Asking why have we moved out of the top ten? What are those pesky Scandinavian countries, those small European nations, and our commonwealth siblings, Canada and New Zealand, doing that make their people so happy?

What are the ‘happiness basics’?


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