Australia · Education - General

Changes to Australian education system recommended

For some time now there have been concerns in Australia about the declining levels of academic performance in schools. There has been a steady decline in literacy, mathematics and science performance among Australian students for over a decade! How can Australia turn this trend around to return to having one of the top quality education systems in the world?

In July 2017, the Australian government commissioned the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools headed by David Gonski, which produced a 156-page report in March 2018 and publicly released last month. The report recommends sweeping education changes and has been touted in the media as an attack on Australian education quality.

Gonski 2.0 review outcomes

According to the OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) evaluation, Australia has dropped significantly in the decade and a half period of 2000-2015, namely from 4th to 16th in reading literacy, from 7th to 25th in mathematics and from 4th to 14th in science. The decline has not been focused on specific cohorts of students, but across all socio-economic groups and in all of the school sectors: public, Catholic and independent.

The so called Gonski 2.0 review says that Australia must modernise its industrial era model of education and move toward individualised learning for all students. Three priorities are identified by the report:

  1. Deliver at least one year’s growth in learning for every student every year
  2. Equip every child to be a creative, connected and engaged learner in a rapidly changing world
  3. Cultivate an adaptive, innovative and continuously improving education system

The report makes 23 recommendations and 17 findings across the five areas of 1) laying the foundations, 2) equipping every student, 3) supporting expert educators, 4) empowering school leaders, and 5) innovation and continuous improvement. The need to support parents to be engaged in a child’s learning is directly identified in one of these areas (the first one), 2 of the recommendations and 1 of the findings.

Overall, Australia’s school curriculum must be overhauled over 5 years and focus more on individual student progress and achievements. This individualised support for students includes unique student identifiers to enable consistent tracking and an online assessment tool to help monitor individual progress.

The report is very comprehensive addressing the learning pathways of students, teaching approaches by teachers, curriculum and assessment frameworks, and the full range of stakeholders including parents and school boards.

Individualised learning progressions

Some of the key recommendations center around the concept of “learning progressions”. The idea is, rather than have the curriculum presented in year-level packages of content and achievements, that the curriculum will be restructured to levels of increasing proficiency through which students progress independent of their year levels and ages. Since students learn and progress at different rates, this means that students of the same age and year will not necessarily be at the same level in their learning progressions.

This also means that there must be a stronger focus on individualised learning (and teaching) using revised curriculum and formal learning assessments along with supporting online tools. Undoubtedly, this will modify the way that teaching is carried out and increase the amount of teaching resources to support such individualised learning.

Parental involvement, engagement and responsibility

There appears to be an underlying assumption that the weakness of Australia’s current educational outcomes lies in the education system itself. What about the fact that the home environment, parental support and engagement, and worldview espoused as the foundation for education in the home and school, all have an influence on a child’s learning ability, capacity and progression? To be fair, the report does acknowledge that the “foundations for excellence in learning are laid early in life” and that “children’s home environment shapes their early learning”. Further, the engagement of parents was not a direct focus of this review, rather it is covered in another review that produced its report in December 2017, Lifting Our Game: Report of the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools through early childhood interventions.

The report did find that there is “strong and developing evidence of the benefit of parent engagement on children’s learning” and there is a need for parents to be engaged in a child’s education. The report speaks about “enabling parents and careers to be partners in their child’s learning”; however, parents ought to be more than “partners”, since they are ultimately responsible for the learning and progress of their child.

Parents are leaders and experts in their children’s learning. The degree of family engagement in children’s learning is known to have a strong relationships with childhood vulnerability, developmental outcomes, and post-school destinations.
(Submission to the review from Tasmanian Council of Social Services)

I would suggest that we know that the influence and engagement of parents is crucial for a child’s learning. The teaching and discipline of the home is absolutely essential for a child, for covenant children who need to be nurtured in the way of knowing and serving God. In fact, parents have the duty and responsibility to take charge of their child’s learning and education, and teachers and schools are an extension of the home with delegated authority.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov 22:6)
We will not hide them from their children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. (Ps 78:4)
He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly. (Prov 13:24)

Online assessment tool spanning many years & teachers

The recommendation to develop an online assessment and monitoring tool can be a very good help and repository of information for teachers, particularly in sharing information between different teachers across many years of a child’s educational progression. The intention is that this tool will maintain a child’s assessment and progression record for the entire duration of their schooling, as well as be shared by all the teachers they may have throughout their schooling.

Who determines its content and monitors a child’s level of achievement and progress? Further, what information will be stored, who will be able to access it, and how will it be used? We would not like to see the “Big Brother” syndrome where children’s history and records are used inappropriately either by education professionals or government in order to influence teachers and parents (and students). Undoubtedly, information from such a system would be aggregated and used to inform educational policy and directions. However, the privacy and confidentiality of student sensitive information as well as teacher independence in assessing and measuring learning achievements must be preserved.

Exploring more on the recommendations for educational changes in Australia

Although we have touched on some aspects and outcomes, the report covers very much more and in much greater detail. For example, the report recommends enchancing and valuing the role of teachers and the teaching profession, a topic also covered in another article on this website, The Value of Teachers. Hopefully your appetite has been whetted to read the report and analyse further its effects on the education of our children, indeed God’s covenant children!

The full report including background, priorities, recommendations and findings can be accessed here.