The state of the education debate in Australia

Another year of NAPLAN results released, another negative spin by the media.

Yet this time it is getting a bit much. A host of outlets are saying “NAPLAN results have only gone up marginally since the introduction of the test”. Last year the criticism was about the real decline of results. I personally am confused about how they can criticise both a decrease and a slight increase. Are educators expected to produce really large increases in results? It seems like anything less isn’t going to stop the teacher-bashing, although even after only a few years experience, it really doesn’t seem like that is ever going to happen in the Australian context.

The debate about compulsory education in Australia is a pretty sorry affair. The two main discussion points are the need for more funding (and the concomitant arguing about which sector is the most deserving of government funding), and the poor student outcomes delivered by our schools and teachers. Endless pundits with little or usually no educational background tell us what needs to be done: less ‘social engineering‘ (read: protecting vulnerable student groups), less unions, more money / less money, phonics / not phonics, more financial literacy, focusing on just the “3 Rs” (like we’re in the 1950s again and that is all that matters… oh wait it does because that is mostly what NAPLAN and PISA test), more interpersonal skill training, meditation, mindfulness, more PE, more computers, less IT… I could go on.

It seems to me the missing voices in this loud debate are the host of extremely well-respected education experts currently residing in Australia. Obviously the elephant in the room is John Hattie, but we have many academics from universities around the country with lots of ideas about how to continue to improve education in Australia.

The constant negativity surrounding the education debate is also rather depressing. Yes, on two high stakes tests, which test a very narrow strip of skills, we aren’t doing that great. But isn’t Australia in the middle of the world’s longest-running boom in economic history? If education is the driver of future economic growth, isn’t anyone willing to give K-12 education in Australia a pat on the back for producing the people who’ve made this a reality?

As with good teaching, we learn just as much if not more from focusing on our strengths, not obsessing endlessly over our weaknesses. I for one wish the national debate would shift in that direction.

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