Australia must raise the ATAR score for those wanting to study education if it is to catch up in the international education stakes, advocates say.
On Wednesday a chorus of concerned parents could be heard across the nation as the results from the triennial Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed Australia recorded one of the sharpest falls in performance of any country.
Australia ranked 16th in reading, 29th in maths and 17th in science, while China dominated the top spots, followed by a strong performance from Singapore.
Part of the reason Australia ranked so poorly was our “worryingly low” ATAR scores for education degrees, said education consultant Catherine Scott, who is a former research fellow at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).
“The smarter the teacher is, the better the kids learn,” Dr Scott told The New Daily.
“The only indicator we have of intellectual competency is a student’s ATAR, so if we’re letting people in on quite low enter scores, we’re admitting people who don’t have the cognitive competency to do a good job in the classroom.
“We’ve allowed the quality of the teaching force to lower.”
An Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) report in 2018 showed the proportion of students being admitted to teaching degrees with an ATAR of 70 or lower has increased significantly over the past decade, from 30 per cent in 2007 to 40 per cent in 2016.
There are also fewer students with high ATAR scores entering teaching degrees, with only 11 per cent of students who scored between 91 and 99.95 taking up education at university.
On top of this, those doing education degrees aren’t being taught how to teach properly, Dr Scott said.
“Teaching education in Australia is atrocious,” Dr Scott said.
“The techniques that people are given to teach are inadequate. People come out of their initial training with no idea how to teach kids how to read.
“The problem is a whole ideology has taken over teacher education that includes ways of teaching that don’t work.
“The programmed way to teach reading is called balanced literacy and it’s garbage. It leaves 25 per cent of kids illiterate.”
According to a report released last year by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), only 82 per cent of year 10 students reached the international baseline level for reading in 2015, compared with 86 per cent of students in 2006.
ACER’s Sue Thomson said the long-term decline was concerning.
“We’re a long way behind the Chinese powerhouse, a year and a half lower than Singapore in reading, three years in maths and two in science so we are substantially behind,” Dr Thomson said.
“I think we should draw a line in the sand at this point. This is an opportunity for us to say ‘OK, let’s stop. Let’s try and do something about it’.”
Gabbie Stroud, a teacher and author of the book, Teacher, said standardised testing was creating a distraction for teachers who just wanted to get in the classroom.
“Probably for teachers they would love to get back in and do good teaching but they’re too busy getting data,” she said.
“That’s all we talk about and I think we need to be changing that conversation.
“What sort of citizens do we want graduating from school?
“We could be testing on anything. What if we shifted and focused on arts, student wellbeing, on how many kids are exiting our schools without depression?”
Changing our education system to get better results isn’t about mimicking other countries, but we can look to China for one idea, said Monash University’s Philip Wing Keung Chan.
“The reason China put these four regions in there is not because the government wants to be the world’s best but because China is testing the effectiveness of the education reform in those regions,” Dr Wing Chan said.
“If they find a good result with the international test they extend it to other provinces.”
Australian states and territories just need to look to the ACT, which rated exceptionally well, he said.
“The ACT performed very well. Compared to the global ranking, reading would be No.3 in the world. Science would be fifth in the world and when you look at maths, maths is sliding so it would be 15th,” he said.
“My argument is, don’t just compare with China and other countries, we’ve got a good example in Australia.
“The success of the ACT provides a good example for other states and territories.”