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Monday, 3 March 2014
Page: 1279


Ms SUDMALIS (Gilmore) (11:40): The latest PISA results, published in 2013, show we had a 20-point drop in mathematical proficiency since 2003—and, dare I say, 16 of those points were dropped between 2006 and 2012. In 2003 only 14.9 per cent of students were below level 2 in maths; yet in 2012 there are 18.3 per cent. Nations like Vietnam, Turkey, Latvia, Japan and even Ireland have now out-performed us. With the billions of dollars poured into education during that period of time, extra school halls and laptops to every student in particular year groups, we as Australian taxpayers would expect to see an amazing growth in achievement levels for our children. Sadly that is not the case. There has been less than a one per cent improvement in maths performance. The final blow comes when you look at the literacy levels: only 15 per cent of our 15- to 19-year-olds, those at greatest risk of not getting a job, have achieved mid-level literacy compared to 25 per cent of their parents.

Money thrown into schools is not the answer. As an experienced teacher and involved in the supervision of practice teachers, I have seen exactly what effects some of the ridiculous money throwing and weird policy making have created. In 2011, students were supposed to be in schools up to the age of 17—in a widely announced and popular policy called 'earn or learn'. Did anyone at that time ask the classroom teachers just what this might mean to the teaching dynamic? I think not. I sat in classrooms that year as an assessment observer, watching teachers grapple with unnecessary discipline problems, as resentful students attended classes they were not suited for but had to attend because of their age.

The wonderful rollout of laptops was an unmitigated disaster—with no budget for repairs and maintenance, insurance for possible theft and spares for classroom use and no technology available to stop students using these for entertainment during class rather than as research tools. The following is a true story. A young practice teacher asked her students in year 9 to close their laptops for the next part of her lesson, but the young boys in the back of the class had them open and continued to play their games. At least with notebooks—and I mean the paper kind—you could see if they were closed or not and students learnt to write. It is no surprise that our numeracy and literacy achievement levels have declined. Many schools have a storeroom loaded with broken and damaged laptops, with no money to take them to the local tip—because they have to pay a carbon tax fee to dump them—and no extra budget in place to replace these assets, especially as the rate of technological advance has meant that many of these devices now have redundant or incompatible applications.

We as a nation must invest in education—there is no argument from any person in government or parent or educator—but the discussion point is: where is the best investment dollar? Experienced teachers will tell you, especially if asked, that in-service and training in this changing and dynamic profession is critical. Stop dumping every social problem at the feet of teachers and expecting them to implement solutions with little or no training. Our outstanding teachers are facing so many different issues in the classroom: students with behavioural problems or learning difficulties; having fully integrated and inclusive classrooms, which is recognised as being of social benefit but stretches their personal resources; and test regimes which at times have inappropriate community expectations. It is time to address the real mechanism of better educational outcomes for our nation.

It is essential to have core curriculum subjects. We are a highly mobile nation and moving from school to school is hard enough but from state to state is very difficult. Most importantly, student outcomes have a direct relationship with teacher quality. If a teacher has the qualifications, the tools of their craft, support from the school admin structure and the ability to put different professional strategies in place, the students will achieve. The OECD 2013 report adds that increased student achievement is gained by: parental involvement; principals who act as communication leaders with both parents and teachers; classrooms conducive to learning; good teacher-student relationships; and quality teachers. This is the philosophy behind our initiative Students First.

Additional research on 'effective schools' suggests a strong relationship between the quality of an orderly learning environment, teacher quality and student performance. Our teachers are the greatest asset for educational improvement. Now is the time to invest in them, talk and consult with them. It is important to get their views—they are in the classrooms. The best source of information is from the teachers—not representative groups, but those still facing a class every day and taking care of the nurturing and education of our children. Quality teaching is the mechanism to improve student outcomes.