Australia's 'tolerance of failure' behind declining PISA results


The co-ordinator of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has linked Australia's steady decline in all three test areas of maths, reading and science to the country's "tolerance of failure" in schools.

Andreas Schleicher, who is head of the OECD's education directorate, said that "it is perhaps too easy to do well in Australia" and that the country tends to accept that "some students will come out less well".

"We asked students what makes you successful in maths and many students in Australia said that it's about talent, but if you asked students in China or Singapore the same question, you had the vast majority saying, 'I can succeed if I try very hard and my teachers support me," Mr Schleicher said.

"In other countries, there is a belief that the education system is not just sorting them but that it can make a difference. There would be a much greater tendency for teachers to redouble their efforts for students who are struggling."

They are two-and-a-half years behind in maths compared to students in Singapore, which is leading the world, one-and-a-half years behind them in science, and one year behind in reading.

"Australia used to be very good at the high end of the skill level but there's been a gradual slide over the last 15 years," Mr Schleicher said.

He said that the countries that are now performing best "pay more attention to how they develop and retain the best teachers".

"In countries like Singapore, teachers are not just delivering education but also designing the education system and researching innovative practices, it's a very different role that they play," Mr Schleicher said.

"Australia needs to make teaching intellectually more attractive and provide better support and opportunities for the profession. Many teachers are still left alone with many different challenges in the classroom and they get limited feedback.

"There are few professional practices that have such a highly qualified profession in one place, [almost all] teachers have university degrees. If you were running a business, you would take much more care in nurturing that talent."

Mr Schleicher, who is currently in Australia for the University of Wollongong's Early Start Conference, also said that it is "a pity" that Australia is not participating in a newly developed test for preschool students that will be conducted in participating countries over the next two years and assess early numeracy and literacy skills, social and emotional skills and self-regulation among five-year-olds.

A recent OECD report found that only 15 per cent of Australian three-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program, compared to the OECD average of 70 per cent, which could be directly impacting PISA results.

"Australia is a good example of a country where much of early childhood programs are developed around the care component and learning outcomes have not gotten as much attention as they should," Mr Schleicher said.

A spokesman for the Federal Department of Education said that "Australia already has the world-leading Australian Early Development Census that the department runs every three years ... for all children in their first year of full-time school", which it believes is "a more valuable tool" than the OECD's new test.

It is also understood that a government assessment of the project found that the proposed sample size was much smaller than the AEDC, the cost of participation was prohibitive, and that it had limited interest from other countries, which have also questioned its value.

This story Australia's 'tolerance of failure' behind declining PISA results first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.