How Australia Can Win The Education Race

As part of the Australian Government’s response to the Gonski Report, this week Julia Gillard will announce she wants to see Australia ranked in the Top 5 of educational systems by the year 2025.

By pure chance I’ve written my top tips to ensure we improve education standards. You can read a less Aussie-centric tip sheet on the Huffington Post here. But if you are Aussie focused…. then please – read on!

It was great to hear Prime Minister Julia Gillard championing Australian education last week. She was encouraging us to win the Education Race in order to remain an economic powerhouse.

It was rousing stuff, but wait a minute – a race? 

Since when?

How fast are the kids supposed to be learning?

As a teacher, how hard should I push these kids? Who are we racing against this week?

Please don’t say Asia – they’re top of the league.

I’m not surprised by the reduction of education, a complex social debate into a pithy one-liner. After all this is how most of our debate – educational, political or social takes place. Think Stop the Boats, Local Schools – Local Decisions, I Give a Gonski, the Great Big Tax, Lost Generation etc.

In fact the last time I can remember any decent public debate around education, it was on the ABC’s Q&A and even then there wasn’t a teacher on the panel.

But Shadow Education Minister Christopher Pyne was, and in reply to Ms Gillard’s speech, Mr Pyne stated, “The Government have some serious questions to answer.” 

Exactly! Yes they do! So ask them Mr Pyne… Mr Pyne? Chris? Anyone…

But hang on there. This could work in my favour.

Let’s assume for a moment, that education is a race. Because to be quite frank, in doing so it will make my job a hell of a lot easier.

I won’t need to come up with interesting and engaging lessons. No need to find any relevance in the curriculum other than the fact we are trying to win. All kids LOVE competition right?

I could stop gibber-gabbering and get down to the nitty-gritty. With appropriate support, I could get some serious rote-learning happening.

But first I need to know what our Key Performance Indicators are.

In footy, it’s points. Playing attractive football is (literally) pointless if you can’t score. In cricket, it’s runs and many a dour batsman has kept out a more aesthetically appealing player based on the fact they have a higher scoring average.

So what are we competing for in the Education Race?

As far as I can tell, it all boils down to PISA league table positions.

In this regard performance in the PISA tables is not too dissimilar to performance in sport. Perhaps it’s from this that Ms Gillard draws the sporting analogy?

Or maybe Ms Gillard is reflecting on the Olympics, where much was made of the poor performance of the Australian team, particularly in with regard to their Chinese counterparts.

As is often the case, when national sporting teams fail to live up to their billing, a far-reaching enquiry ensues. Often these enquiries seek to find out what they can learn from their rivals.

So let’s apply this enquiry based approach to our education system.

If we want to compete with China and ultimately win the Education Race, we need to learn from their system.

What do they do so well, and how can we apply it here in Australia?

Reports vary, but some suggest that students spend up to 12 hours a day at school, attend school on the weekend and many kids say they don’t have any spare time to play with friends. Forty percent of kids say they have no friends to play with at all.

This could be because, according to a Chinese Youth and Children Research Center survey conducted in 2007, around 50% of parents refuse to allow their children anytime to go outside to play as it detracts from study time.

It’s clear we need to keep kids in school longer and obviously parents need to do their bit, but how on earth are we going to fund this? Particularly in light of the hoo-ha surrounding Gonski.

Why not have big tobacco firms sponsor our schools?

At Sichuan Tobacco Hope High, students parade around in school uniforms with Marlboro logos emblazoned across their back.

Forget Local Schools Local Decisions! If we genuinely care for our children’s future and want to match it with the Chinese, then governments need to woo back the tobacco industry. They’ve been ostracised long enough.

We also need to stream our kids in middle school in the way they do in China.

According to the China Education and Research Network, secondary education is delivered by academic lower and upper middle schools.

At the age of 12, lower middle school graduates wishing to continue their education take a locally administered entrance exam, on the basis of which they will have the option either of continuing in an academic upper middle school or of entering a vocational secondary school.

Vocational schools offer programs ranging from two to four years and train medium-level skilled workers, farmers, and managerial and technical personnel.

Schools for Skilled Workers typically train junior middle school graduates for positions requiring production and operation skills.

Imagine if we followed this model in Australia.

We could ensure we only have our best academic students taking the NAPLAN tests.

Imagine what that would do for our standards?

No need to worry about all those pesky socioeconomic considerations, indigenous issues or immigrants with their cumbersome language issues and emotional baggage.

We could remove them from ‘real’ school and farm them out to the numerous manufacturing and manual labour industries we have in Australia.

And imagine if we could forget teaching about our history in the same way that the Chinese have expunged the less desirable elements of their history from their records. Even well educated university students have little knowledge of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Imagine if we didn’t have to waste time teaching the history of Australia, or the cultural sensitivities and divides that exist because of it?

Imagine if we didn’t have to teach critical or creative thinking and writing skills?

Imagine if the internet was so heavily censored by our government that there was nothing of interest to distract our kids from the latest bout of numeracy and literacy exercises.

We teachers need some support in achieving this, and whilst some parents and other do-gooders may baulk at the price – figuratively speaking – of this kind of education. I’m sure we can all agree, that winning the Education Racewill be worth it!

Put the champagne on ice, we’ll be top of the league in no time!

‘Aussie… Aussie… Aussie…’

0 thoughts on “How Australia Can Win The Education Race

  1. Sarah Thorneycroft Reply

    Nailed it in this one. This is what I have such a problem with – the measures by which we determine educational success (ie winning). Is it that we breed students that are better than other countries at filling in bubbles on literacy and numeracy tests? Because if that’s the case, stop now, I want to get off. I’ll come back when we all define educational success by producing creative, critical, resilient thinkers. This incredibly narrow cultural view we have on what constitutes success and being smart does my head in.

    But hey, who cares when you can be the champion, right?

  2. USteacher Reply

    Just change a few words and you could be descri ing what is happening in the United States right now. Why are we letting people who know nothing about children and education tell us how we should be teaching?

  3. Duane Swacker Reply

    Dan,

    Found out about your blog from Diane Ravitch’s blog. I’ll have to read some of your other posts.

    Be that as it may, the whole standards and standardized testing regime on which this supposed “race to the top” is a complete falsehood. Let me point you to a fellow Aussie, Noel Wilson, who has written the most damning critique of educational standards and standardized testing. The critique has never been rebutted and the educational powers that be are best served by not even acknowledging Wilson’s work, hoping that by confining it to obscurity it will at best gather some cobwebs in the dust bin of education discourse.

    Wilson’s 1997 dissertation “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” found at: http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/577/700 identifies 13 sources of error in the making, giving and disseminating the results of educational standards and standardized testing which in turn renders the whole process invalid.

    Another shorter version is his review of the educational “Bible” of educational and psychological testing that is put out by the APA, AERA and the NCMTE. The review “A Little Less than Valid: An Essay Review” can be found at: http://www.edrev.info/essays/v10n5index.html . As he comments in the review “If the test event is not valid, if indeed the test is invalid, then all else is vain and illusory”. In other words start with crap end up with crap.

    I invite you to follow along this year for a thorough study of these two studies at my blog “Promoting Just Education for All” at: revivingwilson.org . This is a free (hot damn) graduate level seminar brought to you by the Universidad of OYE (hell, I figure if rich billionaires can fund unaccredited ‘leadership’ academies, this poor high school Spanish teacher can also supply unaccredited graduate level course work-ha ha!!). Please feel free to join in on the discussion of Wilson’s most important work!!

    Thanks,
    Duane Swacker
    aka: OYE EL PENSADOR

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