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Archive for March, 2020

PISA 2018 and the Future of Australian Education

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

The results of the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment or PISA were announced in late 2019. The responses to the results raise issues about Australian education policy and the factors considered most significant. In a summary statement and a set of four essays together with supporting notes, I examine the contrasts between the approach which governments in particular have taken over the last 40 or so years and the issues which really are most important.

Australian education policy focuses on school. What is actually important is the first 4 to 7 years.

Policy concerns standardised testing. That is summative and assumes the primary influence is the teacher and the school class. In fact, it is formative evaluation by the teacher and attention to each child and their progress which makes the greatest contribution. The most important factors are the family, the growing environment and peers.

Most of the discussions in policy concern financial resources. There is general agreement that what is important is how the resources are deployed.

Increasingly, government funding has privileged independent schools and parent choice, sometimes justified as a democratic right. In fact students from independent schools achieve no better results than those from public schools, fuinding of which has been largely left to the states resulting in underfunding of public schools and excessive funding of independent schools.

The most important factors influencing eventual learning outcomes are in the home and the intellectual and physical environment in which the child grows. Issues such as early childhood support and the contribution especially of the mother, social and economic factors such as the work environment of the father, and mother, and opportunities for a diversity of experiences supporting the cognitive growth of the child are critical.

At school the teacher makes an important contribution but the dynamics of the school as an organisation and the role of the principal as learning leader, as well as support for the professional growth of teachers, are vital.

Overall there is inadequate attention to these issues, inadequate recognition of trends, prejudices derived from neoclassical economics and choice theory and a failure to understand that the achievement of 18 year old students, who are tested by PISA, are the accumulated experiences of 18 years and not mainly the influence of school teachers in the previous 2 or three years! Despite PISA reports over 18 years pointing out the negative consequences of inequality in resources, Australian policy, most especially in the last few years, has increased the inequality.

I address the major issues in a summary statement to which the five separate essays, each of which are supported by short notes on related subjects, are linked.

Two shorter essays are contemplated for the near future dealing with learning from the experience of others, the analogue of which in the natural world is convergent evolution, and secondly the folly of efficiency and the analogue of redundancy, both genetic and ecological.

Finally, I intend to summarise some issues about the lessons that First Nations people have given us to learn from their 65,000 years of occupation of Australia. They have been ignored through a combination of arrogance and ignorance which largely continues to this day.

The unfortunate characteristics of contemporary Australia, which Donald Horne long ago pointed to in The Lucky Country, have been largely ignored.