Aussie students fall two years behind Asian pupils

Australian students are lagging behind Asian counterparts in science, English and maths by up to two years according to a new study by the Grattan Institute.

by: By Paul Tatnell From: Herald Sun  February 17, 2012

Student lost

Teacher training is blamed for the staggering gap.  (But is this really the case?)

“If a kid [in Australia] is that far behind [in a classroom] we would consider him disadvantaged. They would likely be put into the remedial class,” said researcher Dr Ben Jensen, director of the school education program at the Melbourne-based think tank the Grattan Institute.

Its report, “Catching up: Learning from the best school systems in East Asia,” reveals Australian high school students are more than two years behind Shanghai students in maths and 15 months behind in science.

We trail Shanghai students by 13 months in reading and are also significantly behind Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore in key learning areas.

Researchers say that despite a huge increase in education spending – 44 per cent in the past decade – it has been wasted because it failed to invest in making our teachers better.

Nor did universities properly train new teachers for the pressures of the class room.

“Being nearly two years behind [Shanghai] is staggering, it really is a long way,” said Dr Jensen.

Teachers were not to blame: their training is not up to scratch.

More teachers were not the answer, it was more effective ways of helping students learn.

“Other Asian countries are constantly working out ways of how kids can be better taught, we don’t,” he said.

“The main difference is (teachers overseas) are trained as researchers and they are continually trying new things with children learning and if it has been successful they keep it.”

Dr Jensen said spending in education has drastically improved – but it was being diverted to new buildings and schools.

He said Australia had also been too focused on education debates about smaller classrooms, better teacher pay and schools having the power to hire and fire teachers.

“We are spending a lot of money … but we are spending in the wrong places. We should be spending it on how to better improve our students’ learning,” he said.

“The OECD and the world bank are very clear that most important economic reform is improving student performance.”

US and UK students fare worse than Australia, with both nearly three years behind Shanghai students in maths.

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However my greatest concern is that these authorities, when they keep writing that we need to do something about this – that we need to talk – when I have approached the they remain silent.

Nothing changes until we do things differently. 

I have contact all of these people and departments and every last one of them have failed to do what they so ardently proclaim we need to do – none have asked what is possible.  From the absence of action, it leaves me wondering what the future will bring? If nothing changes then nothing changes.

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Alan Stevens