Action Required to Make Education Australia’s Advantage

Too many young Australians are being left behind by our school education system, a discussion paper released today by the Business Council of Australia has found.

The paper highlights that Australia is at risk of falling behind countries such as Finland, Japan and Korea when it comes to measuring key education outcomes in areas including maths and science learning and attainment.

In responding to this challenge, the paper identifies a five-point plan to overhaul school education so that every young Australian has access to a world-leading education system.

BCA President, Mr Michael Chaney, said: “Business is concerned that, while far-reaching changes have taken place in the way the wider community works, communicates and is organised, many aspects of our school system have not changed since the 1960s”.

While Australia’s school education system is generally good by world standards, and in some specific areas is leading the way, our report has found there are key areas where we are at risk of being left behind by the quality and improvements taking place in other nations,”Mr Chaney said.

We need a major rethink on ways to improve in these areas and to lift quality of the school system as a whole if we are to want Australia to continue to improve its standard of living so that we are one of the top five nations of the OECD.”

Restoring our Edge in Education: Making Australia’s Education System its Next Competitive Advantage, has been prepared for the BCA by Professor Geoff Masters, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council for Educational Research.

The paper identifies the following five strategies required to lift school education outcomes:

1. Greater early intervention – identifying potential learning problems before they become entrenched, difficult and costly to address.

2. Increased customisation – making education and training more responsive to the needs, interests and aspirations of individual learners.

3. Strengthening the teaching profession – improving the professional support structure and conditions for teachers and school leaders to strengthen their ability to develop and work as highly qualified, knowledgeable professionals.

4. Increased investment – increasing public investment in education.

5. Improved governance – clarifying roles and responsibilities and improving mechanisms for ensuring that education and training is meeting the needs of individuals and the Australian society.

Mr Chaney said there were two key areas in particular where Australia is facing major challenges when considered against the performance of the world’s leading school education providers.

The first challenge is the number of young people who fall behind in their learning during their school years, and achieve only minimal educational outcomes. This often translates into leaving school before Year 12 or its training equivalent. Early school leavers limit their opportunities to find good jobs and to engage in further learning at a later stage that might lead to a secure and rewarding career path,” he said.

“A second major challenge is the shortage of young people with the knowledge and skills required for effective participation in modern workplaces.

Mr Chaney said that business leaders are motivated by the importance of making sure that all children are provided with the knowledge and the skills that are needed in the 21st-century workplace.

“We want to see every young person given the best possible opportunity and encouragement to start and maintain a long and rewarding career and to contribute to their community in this way,” Mr Chaney said.

“This complements the needs of business, because we require increasing numbers of school, vocational education and training and university graduates with relevant technical knowledge and with well-developed employability skills such as the ability to communicate effectively and to work as a member of a team.

“Importantly, high-quality school education is crucial to our future innovation, productivity and standard of living.

“Business leaders are concerned that, while some of these issues are being addressed in some parts of the school system, a comprehensive strategy to reform school education is needed.

“In particular, for a large proportion of schools, the same centralised governance and management structures have been in place for more than 40 years. Similarly, the poor condition of infrastructure, including buildings and technology, reflects a lack of investment and an outdated mindset when it comes to priorities for education.

“Based on the challenges identified in this discussion paper, the BCA will, over the next six months, develop specific recommendations on where we think the greatest benefit can be gained from changes to policies and arrangements from early childhood development and education, through to both primary and secondary education and training,” he said.

Restoring our Edge in Education: Making Australia’s Education System its Next Competitive Advantage (PDF, 1MB)