What the ‘other’ end of year report card says about Australian education…

What the ‘other’ end of year report card says about Australian education…

Another 200,000 year 12 students are preparing to take their next steps toward their working lives this month.

But while they anxiously await a text message to deliver their results, the Australian education 2017 report card is in – and it doesn’t look good.

This year, Australia has been ranked 39 out of 41 countries from the European Union (EU) and OECD in levels of quality and inclusion education for children, according to a report card released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The 2015 Program for International Student Assessment results (PISA) shows Australia performed 20th in mathematics, 10th in science and 12th in reading out of 65 countries and economies – that we are falling behind the world when it comes to skill development.

And with the exception of minor ups and downs in some states, our NAPLAN test results have been stagnant over the past 10 years.

What’s more, according to the Mitchell Institute’s Preparing Young People For The Future of Work report, about a quarter of Australian 19 year olds have not finished year 12 or vocational training.

Even when young people do stay and finish their study or training, on average it is taking 4.7 years to transition from full time education to full time work. Figures released in a report from the Brotherhood of St Laurence this week indicate that close to one in five unemployed young people have been out of work for at least a year despite trying just as hard as older jobseekers to find employment.

More than a quarter of recent graduates in full-time jobs believe their roles are unrelated to their studies, with their degree adding nothing to their employability.

It isn’t new that Australia is falling behind when it comes to adequately upskilling young Australians. This is a trend that PISA has shown a steady decline in over the past decade.

Our approach to education, where information is transmitted to students as opposed to a student-centred learning experience supporting autonomous, continuous learning in ‘real world’ environments, is failing us and them. Young people are increasingly disengaged by an education system that doesn’t teach in ways they want to learn, or provide them with the skills required to thrive in a world of work where they’re expected to have 17 different jobs over 5 careers in their lifetimes.

As leading education expert and head of the OECD’s PISA unit, Andreas Schleicher said earlier this year “Australia treats teachers as interchangeable widgets on the frontline – they are just there to implement prefabricated knowledge.” The bottom line of Schleicher’s assessment was that something has gone wrong in our education system, and we’ve gone from “great” to “good”.

Our goal should not be to ensure that young people are simply finishing school but to make certain that every student has built a ‘portfolio’ of skills and capabilities with which to thrive in the new economy.

As opposed to being solely focused on foundation and technical skills, the Foundation for Young Australians’ New Work Smarts report shows that 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.

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. 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.

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.

If Australia is to meet the challenge of equipping young people with these skills to navigate the future of work, a substantial shift in current approach is required. To enable young people to adapt and thrive learning should promote skills of collaboration and problem solving, making and designing, empathy and emotional acuity, rather than regurgitating learned information in order to ace the test.

In order to facilitate the teaching of skills and capabilities, our understanding of education systems must change. Collectively, we must urgently prioritise a comprehensive and strategic investment in young Australians as 21st century learners, entrepreneurs, innovators and contributors – in equal part.

Jan Owen AM

CEO, The Foundation for Young Australians