How Australian students are falling behind the rest of the world

student studying

Australian students are falling behind on their ability to apply themselves to the real-world. Our prestigious international standing has been on a steady decline every year since 2000 according to PISA test scores, an assessment that compares the literacy, numeracy and science abilities of 15 year olds in the OECD.

Comparing results

The good news is that NAPLAN results have been steadily increasing in both literacy and numeracy. However, international education trends show that when our students are required to apply these skills to real-world examples in the PISA examinations, they are falling behind in both categories.

graph showing a downward trend of pisa literacy results
Source: Independent Australia

graph showing a downward trend of pisa numeracy results
Source: Independent Australia

The data suggests that Australian students are improving when examined by standardised testing, but are having increasing difficulty with the PISA format, which focuses on how students apply their skills. This means NAPLAN results may not be showing us the full picture, and what areas we need to improve in to better prepare our kids.

Why might NAPLAN results be misleading?

The NAPLAN exams assess the literacy and numeracy capabilities of Australian students from years 3, 5, 7 and 9. While these 2 skill sets are vital to our kids' futures, critics have argued that they aren’t sufficient to prepare students for the real-world. After this year, the need to prepare our kids to solve complex problems has never been more dire. Learning outcomes such as critical and creative thinking are essential to encourage the great minds and problem solvers of the future.

According to a recent NAPLAN review, the literacy component of the test has encouraged a reliance on overly formulaic writing styles. ACT Education Minister Yvett Berry has argued that it is forcing a “high-stakes culture...stigmatising lower scoring schools and placing unfair stress on students.” The standardised testing model means teachers have more pressure to focus on their students' marks, rather than encouraging them to take risks, explore and be more creative in their literacy education.

How might we better prepare our kids?

There are fundamental flaws in the NAPLAN approach to assessing our student’s capabilities. The main issue is that it only assesses literacy and numeracy. According to the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), students should be equipped with 7 key general capabilities, of which literacy and numeracy make up two.

The other 5 are:
  • Critical and Creative Thinking
  • Information and Communication Technology Capability
  • Ethical Understanding
  • Personal and Social Capability
  • Intercultural Understanding

Despite being of equal importance according to the curriculum, these capabilities are not explicitly tested in NAPLAN, and therefore Australian students are likely falling behind. Additionally, unlike the PISA test, NAPLAN does not assess science capability, an area of study critical for future generations.

It’s time to start prioritising these general capabilities to better prepare our kids for the future.

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