From the Principal - The Great Crusade
There has been a lot of discussion in the media following the Prime Minister’s announcement on the Gonski Review of Schools and Australia’s international literacy and numeracy rankings. The Prime Minister outlined a bold vision, one she has called a “crusade”, to become one of the top 5 nations in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (for further information - http://www.oecd.org/pisa). To achieve this end, the Prime Minister indicated a complete overhaul of school funding arrangements which will commence in 2014 and be fully implemented by 2020.
Such lofty goals are admirable and visionary; the commitment to better resource education for all students is deserving of praise whenever and by whomever it is given. Yet there is some disquiet I have about this week’s announcements. First, while it is aspirational to see Australia in the PISA top 5, the cultures of those top performing nations are vastly different to that of Australia, especially when it comes to issues such as tutoring, weekend classes, summer schools and the like; a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald highlighted such concerns, and SMH journalist, Paul Sheehan, identified parental commitment and involvement as critical to student achievement, an idea not often praised in political and media discussion.
To me, though, it seems the Prime Minister’s crusade has a questionable goal. In what way will being in the top 5 benefit our nation? Perhaps economically? The manufacturing powerhouses of south-east Asia are strongly represented at the top of the PISA rankings, yet Finland (also frequently referred to in the media) is nowhere near them in manufacturing. Strangely, Finland is the home of Nokia, early pioneers of smartphones, yet they recently commenced moves to shift their manufacturing from Europe to China and Mexico. The value of Finland’s manufacturing economy nearly doubled between 1990 and 2007 (pre-GFC), from $27billion to $52billion; during the same time, Australia’s manufacturing economy performed better than Finland, increasing by nearly 2½ times, from $44billion to $99billion. During the same time, though, India increased by 4½ times and China by 12!
It has been argued that creativity and innovation are keys to our future, yet some of the “top 5” countries do not have education systems which foster them. On the contrary, it may appear they favour technical excellence over innovation. Perhaps, then, the Prime Minister’s vision is to rebuild our manufacturing base at the expense of the creativity and innovation prerequisite for manufacturing. Interestingly, PISA reports that students in Finland are nearly the lowest likely to enter engineering and computing, a curious finding for a country that is the home of smartphones and telecommunications design.
I applaud the Prime Minister for her commitment to education; she has consistently kept education at the centre of her political leadership, for which she is to be congratulated. But education is not just about standardised testing regimes. Therefore, the tests should not be the only measure of educational value, nor the rationale for increasing expenditure on education. Interestingly, a recent PISA briefing reveals elements of what makes for successful learners:
- 15 year old students whose parents read books with them in their first year of primary school performed significantly better than those who didn’t;
- This result was consistent, regardless of socio-economic status;
- Parents’ engagement with their 15 year old is strongly associated with better performance in PISA.
I find it encouraging that these keys to success, even in standardised tests such as PISA, are built on long term commitment to learning and a strong parent-child relationship, both of which are central to the philosophy of learning at St Paul’s. By focusing our energy and policy on these, the results will flow naturally. Now, where’s my book…
Mr Paul Kidson
 Moyle, K, (2010), Building Innovation: Learning with technologies, Camberwell: ACER
 PISA in Focus 10: What can parents do to help their children succeed in school? http://www.oecd.org/pisa/49012097.pdf