Billions of dollars have been ...


Billions of dollars have been spent to reform education in Australia, but why are we still so low in the rankings? The system is failing us

reform education
The Silicon Review
29 November, 2022

By Thuy Pham

Education is a powerful component that contributes to our economic growth; not only does it play a key role in environmental, societal, lifestyle, and health benefits, but it also influences the path that we choose to go down. Billions of dollars have been poured into Australian education, yet it is deteriorating at an alarming rate. The NAPLAN results are yet another example of how ACARA and the government are failing teachers to deliver consistently high-quality education to our students. There is a troubling inconsistency in our education system, which has no standardisation and no clear structure. We need a permanent solution. Deepening our investments and bolstering an emphasis on implementing a more standardised curriculum is the only solution to saving our education system.

We have all seen this situation one too many times, where we are faced with worrying figures about the decline in students' learning standards. While ACARA gloats about the overall stability of the recent NAPLAN results, there are mixed feelings among parents. One in every seven Year 9 boys is not reading at the standard level and there has been a significant decline in Year 5 mathematics. In addition, the decline in educational standards over the years shows that we were fourth in the world in 2003 for literacy and 11th for numeracy. In 2018, we slipped down to 6th and 29th in literacy and mathematics, respectively. How can we expect our students to excel in a system that is failing them?

It’s shocking how variable our system is because, regardless of whether we look at a private or government school, there is inconsistency throughout. Students are not being taught at their level of challenge. Being overchallenged impacts self-efficacy and motivation negatively, while being underchallenged leads to students reaching a plateau. This is because teachers have to deal with multiple levels within a class and are burning out.

Contrary to what people may think, pouring billions of dollars into the system without knowing the root cause of declining educational outcomes is destructive to the economy and our future generations. Instead of shuffling papers, the government needs to support teachers by implementing a standardised curriculum that gives them a backbone to lean on.

Unfortunately, these systemic pressures are leading to many teachers leaving the profession, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. Graduate teachers, in particular, require a consistent starting point with regard to educational content rather than curating their own and reinventing the ever-changing wheel. We remove this pressure by introducing a uniform curriculum that can be used as a springboard for other learning activities and that can be individualised to each students’ needs, allowing our educators to focus on the quality and enjoy the process of teaching rather than being strangled by low-value administrative tasks.

We only have to look to countries like Estonia, which has a national curriculum ranked highly. Students begin standardised tests in Year 2 and have an e-schooling system where a lot of their homework is completed and graded online. Teachers also have the autonomy to take risks in how they design and implement their lessons and it is this balance that makes their system so successful.

There are currently programmes that are able to produce material that is close to what the educational ideal is. We need to be assessing students and providing them with individualised learning programmes that are aligned with the current curriculum standards and individual challenge levels.

Gonski’s $319 billion that went towards educational reforms has quite obviously been wasted. There is no use in attracting the highest performing university students while offering them the highest salaries in pretty learning spaces if we don’t support them with the right resources.

Curriculum reform is more than just rewording and rewriting outcomes. We need real solutions that teachers can adopt as a starting point, which will guide educators and future generations. Being able to deliver a program that is sequenced correctly is equally as vital as the person delivering the material. ACARA should stop wasting all this money on frivolous curriculum reforms and instead address the fact that we are suffering a widespread learning loss that must be recovered.

Yet despite this, not all hope is lost, as there is a solution. Having a suggested blueprint for teachers to follow along with the specific activities and guide.This doesn’t have to be mandated, but having a detailed guide, particularly for generalist teachers who may lack the knowledge in program planning but have a gift in teaching and motivating students, is what’s needed and what teachers can draw from and adapt if required.

We need this system implemented to combine lost knowledge with the future of education. Left unchecked, these realities will continue to shadow the Australian economy. We can and must do better for our educators and our future generation.

About the author

Thuy Pham is the founder and CEO of Spectrum Tuition and aims to make high-quality education accessible to every student. Thuy holds a BA in Teaching and a BA in Arts Linguistics, both from the University of Melbourne.