NAPLAN Stand Still Demands Education Shake Up

NAPLAN Stand Still Demands Education Shake Up

The release of the 2017 NAPLAN test results marks ten years since the introduction of the standardised literacy and numeracy assessment. The scores this year indicate that across the board, results are at a stand still.

It isn’t new that the results haven’t budged. Nor is the hysteria that follows the release of this information. The NAPLAN results have been steady over the past 10 years, with the exception of minor ups and downs in some states – and we have consistently followed up by pointing fingers and attributing blame which gets us nowhere.  

Let’s face facts. Our one-size-fits all approach to education, of teaching students to ‘ace the test’, is not getting the cut through required to ensure all young people are proficient in numeracy and literacy.

It’s also taking, on average, 4.7 years to transition from full time education to full time work. This shows that our focus on foundational skills in isolation doesn’t give us the full picture of how young people are faring in developing essential skills and capabilities need to succeed in work, and in life.

The New Work Smarts report, released by the FYA last week looks at the way we learn, think and do at work and how this is going to undergo profound changes in every job over the next decade.

Crunching 20 billion hours of work performed by 12 million Australian workers, the report maps the changes in work tasks over the past decade and what we can expect in the decades ahead.

What the report shows is that as our focus shifts from manual or administrative tasks which can be performed increasingly by technology, workers will spend more time focusing on people, solving more strategic problems and thinking creatively.

The findings of the report open a window into the future and allow us to forecast which skills are likely to matter the most – or those which can’t be replaced by technology.

For example, on average, workers will spend 30% more time per week learning skills on the job; spend 100% more time at work solving problems, spend over 40% more time on critical thinking and judgment, and over 70% more time using STEM skills; utilise written and verbal communication and interpersonal skills for 29 hours each week (up 14%); and activate an entrepreneurial mindset due to having less management (down 26%), less organisational coordination (down 16%) and less teaching (down 10%).

In the past, building a successful career required young people to learn core technical skills for an occupation and gradually build their skills over time. This is what it meant to be ‘work smart’.

By 2030, being work smart will look completely different. As opposed to being solely focused on foundation and technical skills, young people will need to be able to deploy these capabilities in an increasingly enterprising and creative ways, as well as requiring a thirst for ongoing learning.

This new understanding of what it means to be work smart will require young people to develop their cognitive and emotional skills to a much higher level. They will need to be smart learners, able to continuously learn everyday and respond to new information and technology constantly; smart thinkers with strong problem solving and communication skills, who draw on foundational maths, science and technological knowledge more frequently; and smart doers able to activate a more entrepreneurial mindset, working more flexibly and independently.

Demand for the ‘new work smarts’ is already occurring across the economy. Since 2013 demand for employees with digital literacy is up by 212%, critical thinking skills has gone up 158% and creativity is up by 65%. We also know employers will pay more for people with these skills, with those with skills like problem solving likely to receive up to $8,000 more.

Despite this, a significant majority are not developing the skills needed.

Results from the Programme for International Student Assessment’s 2013 report showed that of Australian 15-year-olds 30 percent are not financially literate and 35 percent aren’t proficient in problem solving. Other Australian data shows that 35% of 15-year-olds aren’t proficient in digital literacy.

Attendance and retention rates at school are the highest they’ve ever been and yet the results just aren’t stacking up.

So how can we help young people achieve stronger results to ensure they’re prepared for the challenges of the future?

By 2030, today’s primary school students will be finished with their school education and our high schoolers will be preparing to enter the workforce. To prepare them we must urgently invest in immersive, enterprise education and careers management strategies where the ‘new work smart’ skills are core to teaching, learning and assessment across all school and higher education systems.

A renewed, strategic and intergenerational strategy is required which encompasses a focused education strategy to redesign the learning system from preschool through higher education (and beyond); a new skills, training, careers education and real jobs commitment to young Australians; and a promise and plan for the equitable intergenerational transfer of knowledge, resources and power in the new economy.

We must collectively build a national vision in which every child and young person is equipped for a lifetime of learning, diverse ways of working, and the hearts and minds to help build the future. The future, our future, depends on it.


Jan Owen AM

CEO, The Foundation for Young Australians


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