Media stories that highlight student mediocrity, are brought to the attention of the Australian public with predictable regularity. In recent days, ‘The Australian’ ran a front page story that bagged Australian students accomplishments. Our best were described as being on par with Singapore’s least accomplished students.
According to International Student Assessment (PISA) results released in December 2016, students tested in Singapore ranked first in science, reading and maths results for OECD countries. Among these countries, Australian students ranked 14th in science, 16th in reading and a lowly 25th in mathematics.
Comparing Australian with Singaporean students is fallacious. Singapore is an island state of 5.6 million, and the country’s prime focus is on commerce and finance. It is a country that controls the civil and political rights of people and is governed by a semi authoritarian regime.
Australia’s vastness, the fact that education is largely state and territory controlled and our multicultural nature are factors that make us different to Singapore. Singapore’s republic has a centrally administered and tightly controlled educational system. The focus on education is influenced by expectations that graduates will continue to build and expand the industrial, commercial and financial focus of the country. Personal choice and career options are more directly influenced by government and the education system than in Australia.
There are many more occupational choices on offer to Australian students than is the case in Singapore and many other OECD countries. Vocational opportunities within the agricultural and pastoral industry are not options for many in small, densely populated overseas countries, so competence in these occupations is not measured.
The fact that our students are encouraged to think freely and make decisions about their occupational futures is also a plus.
There are weaknesses in every educational system. Australian parents and teachers encourage children to make the most of education and school, but career decisions ultimately belong to students. And study aside, there is a focus on personal and social development and recreational opportunities.
Students in Singapore and other OECD countries are academically focussed on what seems to be a full time, whole of life basis. And all for a few extra PISA points. That is not the developmental balance we need for Australian students. By and large, Australian education meets the holistic needs of our students and generally does it well.