(As a part of the series of "Education around the globe", we take a close look at the education system of Australia.)

Australia consistently ranks in the Top 10 of the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triennial test in dozens of countries, in the main categories of maths, reading , science and collaborative problem solving abilities.

It is also one of the Top 10 countries to live in and raise children due to factors such as positive cultural influence, quality of education, quality of life, most-forward looking, retiring comfortably and status of women.[1]

Though it became a nation in 1901 by merging together a federation of British colonies, the first period of Australian education was dominated by the social and moral needs of a convict society which, from 1810, began to develop a free minority.  The focus was on the problem of conversion and moral restraint and the initial educational efforts came in the form of sermons and bible readings by Anglican church. The first teachers in the schools were female convicts who could not be used for manual labor. Since labor was the main means of revenue, learning was despised and not encouraged. Till the 19th century, religion dominated education and was run by churches. With the gold rush in 1850s and the increase in the number of free settlers, the demand grew for non religious education and state funding separate from religion. The economic boom of 1880-1900 led to development of an effective welfare system which included health and education. It was the period of implementation of free, secular, and compulsory education. State funded public schools expanded in this era and currently around 70% of students attend public schools across Australia.

Structure

School education is similar across all of Australia with only minor variations between states and territories. School education (primary and secondary) is compulsory between the ages of six and sixteen (Year 1 to Year 9 or 10). School education is 13 years and divided into:

  • Primary school - Runs for seven or eight years, starting at Kindergarten/Preparatory through to Year 6 or 7.
  • Secondary school - Runs for three or four years, from Years 7 to 10
  • Senior secondary school - Runs for two years, Years 11 and 12.

Around 70% of the students study in government or public schools and rest attend Catholic or private schools. Tuition is free for Australian citizens and permanent residents, but stationery, textbooks, uniforms and other schooling costs are not covered under government funding ,although the costs are minimal (average $316 per year). The Catholic schools charge attendance fees apart from the stationery costs. Private schools tend to have very high fees and as a result only around 10% attend there.

Curriculum and Pedagogy

All states implement the Australian curriculum for English, Mathematics, Science and History for Foundation to Year 10. The National curriculum[2] consists of :

  • eight key learning areas—English, Mathematics, Science, Humanities and Social Sciences, Health and Physical Education, Languages, Technologies and the Arts
  • seven general capabilities—literacy, numeracy, information and communication technology capability, critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, intercultural understanding, and ethical understanding
  • three cross-curriculum priorities—sustainability, Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.

Students across Australia take the NAPLAN tests in Years 3,5,7 and 9. The NAPLAN test held in May is a Australia-wide literacy and numeracy testing in line with the national benchmarks set by  Federal Government. Year 7 is a big change for students. There is a wide range of subjects with different teacher for each subject. Students have to be well organized, consistent and competition is high. In their final two years, students complete the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) which enables entry to university or other tertiary education. Alternative assessment programs (for example the International Baccalaureate) are also available at some schools.

The pedagogy is student centric focused on student achievement, engagement and well being. It is evidence based and concentrates on HITS( High Impact Teaching strategies) like such as setting goals, structuring lessons, collaborative learning, multiple exposure and differential teaching.  Various teaching methods like inquiry based learning personalized learning, STEM learning and project based learning is used. The use of technology is high in Australian schools and students are issued i-pads from prep year and use multiple apps for numeracy, spelling and reading.

Teacher Quality and Continuing Education

In order to qualify to be a teacher, one needs to hold a 4 year undergraduate degree in Bachelor of Education or if one has an undergraduate degree in any other field, he needs to complete a two year post graduate program -Master of Teaching. This should include a practical component of supervised teaching in a school or pre-school.

The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST) set standards for high quality teaching and development of professional learning goals. The standards are organized into four career stages and guide the preparation, support and development of teachers. The stages represent the continuum of a teacher's developing professional expertise from undergraduate preparation through to being an exemplary classroom practitioner and a leader in the profession.

Migration

Since the past few decades, due to an aging population and declining birth rate,  Australia has sustained the national population growth through migration. In fact, Australia has one of the most diverse and, relatively speaking, largest immigration programs of any western nation. It has one of the most diverse cross cultural populations in the world with two thirds (67 per cent) of the Australian population born in Australia, nearly half (49 per cent) of Australians  born overseas (first generation Australian) or one or both parents born overseas (second generation Australian).

This migration program has created a significant impact in the economy and education sector. NAPLAN data analysis shows that children of migrant families in Australia consistently outperform their non-migrant peers at school. Schools with lots of migrant-background students not only achieve at higher levels, but they have higher growth over time, on average, too. A major reason could be that migrant students are motivated to study hard and learn more by parents who had sufficient drive and ambition to seek opportunities in a new country.  The “peer effect” has been shown to be a big influence on student performance, so a school where hard-studying migrant students set the culture might be expected to do better overall. Another reason could be that Australia has a good assimilation program which helps migrant children settle in schools faster through welcoming school environment, better targeted support programs, better access to general health and social services.[4]

ICT

There is great focus on digital learning and the government closely works with schools to establish rich ICT infrastructure and resources. Australian schools have one computer for every student compared to the OECD average of one computer for every five students. And the average 15-year-old Australian student spends more of their school day – around an hour – on the internet than their counterparts around the world.

The National Innovation and Science Agenda, launched in 2015, is a comprehensive suite of initiatives to increase the participation of students and the wider community in STEM and to improve their digital literacy. Some programs include initiatives to inspire curiosity and develop science and maths knowledge in early childhood, online computing challenges for Year 5 and 7 students nationally and support for school leaders to drive digital literacy and partnerships between ICT leaders and schools.

In terms of EdTech space, the market in Australia is well established and expected to grow to A$1.7 billion by 2022. This is due to increasing student demand for education services and technology innovation and competition amongst institutions.Leading online providers in Australia include Ducere, Online Education Services, Open Colleges, Open Training and Education Network, and Open Universities Australia.

Issues and concerns

  • Decline in STEM subjects enrollment : Despite multiple strategies and programs, participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics  subjects have continued to decline across Australian schools, with a 2017 Federal Government report, the National Scientific Statement, reporting that enrollment had hit its lowest level in 20 years.  This is due to science brain mindset and lack of specialist teachers in these areas. Many science and maths teachers lack the ability to spark enthusiasm for these subjects in their students.
  • Less focus on early childhood learning :  In Australia, just 18% of 3 year olds participated in early childhood education, compared with 70% on average across the OECD. Preschool programs are relatively unregulated, and are not compulsory. The first exposure many Australian children have to learning with others outside of traditional parenting is day care or a parent-run playgroup. Recently , the state councils have started 3 year and 4 year kinder programs which run from once a week to thrice a week. These kindergarten programs  are usually privately run but attract state government funding if run for at least 600 hours a year and delivered by a registered teacher.

Conclusion

A country which started as a convict colony is now one of the richest and developed countries in the world. As we have seen in other countries , regarding education as a key driver for growth and prosperity has been instrumental in establishing robust education systems. The migration program and government policies have created a diverse and multi cultural environment where children develop the ability to study, learn and work with people with different perspectives and outlooks in life. This helps in building essential life skills like conflict resolution , design thinking and creative thinking. These skills along with academic skills and well-directed government funding in education makes Australia one of education's success stories.  

References

  1. Top 10 countries to raise children in
  2. The Australian education system
  3. OECD Australia
  4. Children with migrant families perform better