Schools: Raising the Bar and Reducing Failures

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Sunday, 13 Oct 2002

MEDIA RELEASE Schools: Raising the Bar and Reducing Failures The Director for Education at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Dr. Barry McGaw said in Sydney today “Australia does very well in international comparisons of its schools, but some other countries show that Australia could do better.” “Australia’s average performance is high. Among 28 OECD countries, the performance of Australia’s 15-year-olds ranked 3rd in reading, 5th in mathematics and 7th in science,” Dr. McGaw said. “But other parts of the picture are less flattering.” Dr Mc Gaw is in Sydney to give a plenary address entitled Raising the bar and reducing the failures: A possible dream at the ACER Research Conference 2002. In his paper, to be delivered to the conference at 9.30 am on Monday 15 October, Dr McGaw examines what Australian educators can learn from international comparative studies, using data from the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). “There are greater differences among Australian 15-year-olds than there are among those in other high performing countries like Finland, Canada, Korea and Japan,” Dr. McGaw says. “These countries achieve high quality and equity at the same time. Australia, on the other hand, achieves well with its elite students but not so well with its poorer students. In Australia, a fear of ‘dumbing down’ the curriculum often results in an abandonment of weaker students to unchallenging courses in the interests of separate provision for more advanced students. These other countries expect more of all and achieve it. While Australians debate about the risks of ‘dumbing down’ some other countries are successfully ‘levelling up’ and outperforming Australia overall while matching Australia at the high end.” “The same conclusion can be drawn from analyses of the influence of social background,” Dr. McGaw said. “In all OECD countries, there is a tendency for students from more socially advantaged circumstances to perform better at school but again in countries like Finland, Canada, Korea and Japan, the relationship is much weaker. The school systems in those countries ameliorate the influence of home background. They manage to give young people from poorer backgrounds a more nearly equal chance to benefit from education.” “If you are going to be born in relatively poor social conditions, then you would be better to be born in Finland, Canada, Korea and Japan than in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States or Germany,” Dr. McGaw says. Dr. McGaw, an Australian, heads the OECD Directorate for Education. He was previously Executive Director of the Australian Council for Educational Research and is well known in NSW as the architect of the New HSC. The OEDC is an intergovernmental policy think-tank based in Paris. Australia is one of the 30 current Members. The two-day ACER Research Conference 2002 gets underway Monday with an official opening by the NSW Minister for Education, the Hon. John Watkins followed by Dr McGaw’s address and response from Susan Pascoe of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority.