From the Principal

Education, the top concern for Australians

It is scary, but it appears the aspect of life that causes most Australians worry is the state of education in Australia!

This information comes from the Lowy Institute Poll 2022: Please say whether you personally think each of the following is a very important issue, a somewhat important issue, or not an important issue facing Australia at the moment.”

Top Result: Education

  • A very important issue  → 88%
  • A somewhat important issue → 11%
  • Not an important issue  → 1%

Who/what we beat as a major concern:

  • Health (83/16)
  • Domestic violence (79/18)
  • The Economy (77/22)
  • Terrorism and national security (68/26/6)
  • Dysfunction in Australian politics (65/26/8)
  • Climate change (57/28/15)
  • China’s rise (39/44/11)

Makes you wonder what we are doing that causes so many Australains to worry about education. Here is a sample of some of the reported issues:

  1. Too many changes, few results. The Productivity Commission says Australian schools ‘fall short’ on quality and equity. The report found too many students are falling behind. Every year, between 5% and 9% of Australian students do not meet year-level expectations in literacy or numeracy. Student wellbeing is of significant concern, with one in five young people aged 11-17 reporting high levels of psychological distress, even before the pandemic.
  2. You can’t have quality education without quality teachers and teachers are leaving the profession. A heavy workload and poor work-life balance were cited as the main reasons why teachers are considering leaving the job. Insufficient pay was much further down the list.
  3. Declining participation in science and maths. Almost one-quarter of Australians are capable of only basic mathematics, such as counting. Many universities now have to offer basic (school level) maths and literacy development courses to support students in their study.
  4. Early learning participation is amongst the lowest in the developed world. In Australia, just 18% of 3 year olds participated in early childhood education, compared with 70% on average across the OECD. While low levels of expenditure and participation curtail any system, there is more negative impact from a lack of investment in early childhood than there would be from a lack of funding further up the educational chain.

Our response to these issues

  1. Literacy and numeracy decline: We tested to see if we could do better. We found gaps, so we instituted a whole school focus on literacy and numeracy and are now seeing the positive results from this intervention.
  2. Quality teachers: We have been fortunate to always attract great teachers and have avoided asking staff to teach out of their area. St Columba teachers work incredibly hard and get great results. We know that they are our most valuable resource and we have taken steps to ensure that they are given the support and professional development needed for them to stay on top of their game.
  3. Maths and Science: Our students obviously have not heard about this. Over the last couple of years we have created two new Secondary Science labs, and a Primary Science and Environment Centre. We have also added an extra Mathematics elective in Stage 5 that remains incredibly popular. Thankfully, we have attracted fully qualified, engaging and inspiring Science and Mathematics teachers to take on these extra classes.
  4. Early learning: Columba Cottage continues to offer a great introduction to learning with great staff and excellent facilities.

This does not mean we don’t have areas of concern. Some of the things that confront us as we seek to offer the very best in education include:

  • Resistance to Change: While the world is evolving rapidly, much of the education system remains entrenched in the 19th or 20th century. Those schools that do recognise that we can offer our students the best service by preparing them for the world they will enter on graduation, often face “kickback” from various quarters and are accused of being trend-driven.
  • Education Wars: The media and some politicians love a good war story and the conflict between educational ideas, educational choices and comparisons to overseas systems makes easy journalistic fodder.
  • Quick fixes: Often driven by crisis, educational problems are often addressed through media grabs, unfunded or unformed, untested solutions and lots of blame.  Education is important, complex and our students deserve better than this.

There. Got that off my chest. Feeling better…

Want to share your thoughts on this story, or do you have something you’d like to add? Email me at principal@scas.nsw.edu.au

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