Addressing concerns about Australian students’ performance

The PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) global report from December 2013 delivered some negative news about the Australian education system, suggesting that a generation of teenagers had dumbed down their learning. Factors such as unruly classrooms, bullying and poor results among girls in maths were addressed. As teachers strive to make a difference in the learning environment, how has Australia responded to the PISA results and what factors impact on the classroom today?

The Issues Highlighted by PISA

In 2012, one in three Australian students found themselves falling below the national baseline level in reading and science, while four-in-ten flunked maths. ACER (Australian Council for Educational Research) is keen for this academic slide to stop, but it needs government intervention. Sue Thompson, the author of the PISA Australian chapter, claims that students here are not equipped with the skills they need to enter adult life and that there are fewer leading students with good grades. Increased spending has not impacted on results, as Australia had a 44 per cent increase in educational spending in the last decade and yet continues to decline in the international rankings.

Education for the Disadvantaged

Education for the disadvantaged is a major issue and one that has been seen as being under-invested in during the past. Social class origins are being seen as key to understanding how students learn and the attitudes they bring with them to the classroom. Parents’ wealth and occupational status are factors of this, with many youngsters or their parents not making informed choices because they are unaware of the opportunities of various learning incentives. Children with learning difficulties are being supported more effectively now, and are given help with concentration skills and behavioral issues to enable them to connect with their learning environments. Studies show that concentration levels can be enhanced with motivational techniques but that also a healthy diet among different social classes is important to student learning abilities. At the heart of these studies is a general acknowledgement that education about social classes and their impact, diet and concentration and motivation in the classroom are all crucial for the sustained improvement of learning.

Educational Quality for all

ACER held a research conference earlier this month on the topic of ‘Achieving Educational Quality for all’ and this highlighted the gender differences that are impacting on results, as well as addressing plans of how to tackle these disparities. The confidence and self-esteem of students is seen as key to their learning progress, and researchers say the focus needs to be on improving participation and motivation in the classroom. Characteristics that impact on performance include the educational challenges faced by rural students as well as professional development for teachers. Professor Gore highlighted the importance of good quality pedagogy as this improves student performance and narrows the equity gap for those students who are disadvantaged.

Teaching in Australia

With the Minister for Education announcing a $22 million boost for the Teach for Australia programme in June this year, more teachers are being placed into classrooms through the fast track high caliber graduates initiative and this is reaching disadvantaged schools in rural areas. It is hoped that this will make a difference to education standards, with more students being reached and motivated by talented trainee teachers.

AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) promotes excellence in teaching throughout Australia and has professional standards for Teachers to outline teaching in schools today and how input should be of the highest quality. AITSL is working to make sure the best trainee teachers are attracted to the classroom and to ensure that they are given the best training for the job. The Government’s ‘students-first’ approach means that the onus is on engagement, motivational techniques and achievement and this is decided by the quality of teachers entering the field. From 2015 AITSL plans to be implementing the research and guidelines it has been developing to ensure quality of leadership is paramount and to improve Australia’s school ratings on a global scale.

Further Reading and Citations: accessed August 2014

OECD Education Rankings 2013 Update,, accessed August 2014 (Australian Council for Educational Research: ‘Achieving Educational Quality for all’) accessed August 2014 accessed August 2014 accessed August 2014

OECD (2004), Education and Equity, OECD Observer, February 2004 Australian Government Department of Education, accessed August 2014

accessed August 2014 Accessed August 2014 Accessed August 2014

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