No one could sensibly blame the subsequent worsening on inadequate funding. Having grown by almost 30 per cent in real terms since 2000-01, public expenditure per student is at all-time highs. Nor are there too few teachers: while the number of students increased by 25 per cent during the past 40 years, teacher numbers rose 60 per cent, halving the student-teacher ratio compared with the 60s.He might have half a point here, but has he seen anything about the ridiculous extra curricular tuition system in Korea, in particular? You can obviously go too far in that direction, making student's lives an absolute misery; but yeah, it'll make your education system's average performance look good internationally.
What has changed, however, is that how well students do in school no longer matters. University places used to be tightly rationed, and tertiary admission depended on the scores students received on completing secondary schooling; now, with 44 per cent of students proceeding to university and that proportion set to rise further, test scores scarcely have any enduring impact.
The contrast with the countries whose performance the report wants us to emulate could not be starker. Although the report seems entirely unaware of this fact, in Japan, South Korea and the Chinese-speaking jurisdictions — which invariably dominate the league tables — matriculation rankings are the primary factor determining students’ long-term prospects. Put in the language of sociology, these systems are sternly unforgiving, offering few or no second chances.
And even in Finland, whose approach is less harsh, Amanda Ripley’s widely acclaimed book, The Smartest Kids in the World, concludes that “school is hard, and tests affect students’ lives”, “creating a bright line” that shapes future career opportunities.
And I'm not sure if it is true still, but I understood that the Japanese system used to be mainly about getting into a good university, but the degree of work involved in many of the arts/business university courses once a student got in was pretty easy.
I also find it hard to be too critical of the "alternative paths" emphasis to get into university now. I mean, I think it really is clear that some 17 year old students just haven't reached the level of maturity needed to devote themselves to higher education, but that may well change within a couple of years.
I also like the way that medical schools here do check the personality suitability of people to do medical degrees now.
I don't think our education system is perfect, and it is really frustrating the degree to which teaching is pretty clearly prone to fads and ideas that flow in and out of popularity every decade. I mean, I thought Naplan testing was a pretty obviously good idea, but didn't really realise that some teachers had opposed it from the start as setting up the system to be gamed by schools that would use the test in ways that were not intended. The Naplan skeptics seem to have won the day, too. Or at least, that is my impression.
Currently, when I look at the matter of how teachers are supposed to assess work submitted by my high school attending son and daughter, my overwhelming impression is that the academics are still very prone to overcomplicating the theory of teaching and assessment. But even then, without my having studied teaching and education, I don't really know whether my gut reaction is right, or whether the assessment criteria they use now are much better than what used to exist.
So the frustrating thing is that everyone thinks they are an expert, and it is very hard to judge the better way forward. And it is always treated like a neverending crisis, yet we still end up feeling pretty comfortable that we're making new engineers, doctors and scientists who aren't endangering our lives with their incompetence. So it can't be that bad, surely.