New report might be good for Australian education

Image produced by Innovation and Science Australia under a Creative Commons license.

Innovation and Science Australia, a Australian government agency, have released a reportAustralia 2030. The report makes proposals intended to maximise Australia’s future success in science and technology. I always read such reports with trepidation because they are usually full of educational platitudes about engagement and jobs that don’t exist yet.

The report’s authors do seem to accept the case for teaching so-called generic, transferable, 21st century skills. And that’s a minus in the ledger because such skills, as far as they exist, cannot really be taught. The authors also seem to think you can motivate students into pursuing STEM careers, whereas it is likely to be the other way around: success in STEM subjects leads to motivation.

However, apart from these mistakes, the authors are refreshingly sensible. They use the graph above to show that simply spending money on education does not improve outcomes. I would suggest that this is because education is infected by too many bad ideas, and if you invest in a bad idea, you are hardly going to make things better.

The report’s authors also realise that they key issue is to recruit high quality teaching candidates and to train them well, with more subject specific training, particularly at secondary level. And they call for better professional development of existing teachers. While suggesting teachers should be trained in delivering a mix of inquiry-based learning and explicit teaching, they recognise the data from PISA that shows a reliance on inquiry is associated with poorer outcomes. This last point seems to have passed by the vast majority of bureaucrats and commentators and so the authors can only be commended for this.


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