Education is the great enabler. It is the best way of tackling inequality.
A modern economy requires a higher level of foundation skills including higher-order reading, writing and mathematical skills, as well as digital literacy.
In the future, technical skills and knowledge are unlikely to be enough. Employers will be looking for a mixture of values such as accountability, honesty and a work ethic, behaviours such as adaptability, collaboration and resilience, and skills such as business literacy, critical analysis and problem-solving.
Despite ongoing funding increases, Australian students are falling behind.
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is conducted every three years by the OECD and is the internationally accepted academic benchmark for 15-year-olds.
In 2015, Australia’s average score in scientific literacy was 510 points, a decline of 17 points compared with 2006. Australia was significantly outperformed by nine countries.
In reading literacy, Australia’s average score was 503 points, a decline of 10 points since 2006. Australia was significantly outperformed by 11 countries
In mathematical literacy, Australia’s average score in maths literacy was 494 points, a decline of 26 points since 2006. Australia was significantly outperformed by 19 countries.
When the PISA scores are broken down in results for states and territories, the achievement gap between the best performing state and worst performing state is equivalent to 1.5 years of schooling in science and maths, and one year of schooling in maths.
Compared to 2006, a higher proportion of students are underperforming, while the proportion of high performers has remained static for reading and maths and declined for science.
Governments make a significant investment in post-secondary education and training, spending $20 billion per annum on VET and higher education subsidies and loans.
The post-secondary education and training system is unlikely to deliver the type of workforce − better skilled, more responsive workforce and better matched to job opportunities – Australia will require to drive economic growth without substantial structural reform.
Our education system is not oriented towards lifelong learning and VET is viewed as a second-class citizen to higher education (HE). Getting into HE is seen as the pinnacle of success for a school student.
VET and HE operating as two silos rather than one system, leading to a distorted funding model with the wrong incentives, and learners being treated unfairly.
This biased funding model reinforces the stigma that a VET qualification is less prestigious than a university degree.
The OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) measures the key cognitive and workplace skills needed for individuals (aged 16–65) to participate in society and for economies to prosper.
Australia’s most recent results from 2012 show:
Overall performance across literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments ranges from average to very good.
One in five Australians – around three million adults – have low literacy and/or numeracy skills (defined as not being able to reach Level 2 proficiency in literacy or numeracy on a scale that goes up to Level 5).
There is a relatively large gap between the most proficient and least proficient adults in literacy and numeracy.
Many well-educated adults have low literacy and/or numeracy skills.
Good literacy and numeracy are prerequisites for most roles in the labour market and will become even more important as job growth continues in roles that require the ability to clearly and consistently communicate.
There was a 32.8 per cent decrease in the number of apprentices in training between December 2013 (380,955) and December 2017 (256,140).
This is a major concern given the continuing importance of apprenticeships to the economy.
Rigid pathways into trades, professions and occupations serve as a barrier to people wanting to change careers, increase their skills, or find work that best suits their abilities.