There’s a glaring omission in Gonski 2.0 - students. The learners at the center of this reform are absent from the thinking and design of future learning systems and environments. Failing to recognise students importance and agency in their own learning is a serious oversight for three main reasons.
Firstly, students are leaving the building, literally and metaphorically, in droves.
The numbers on disengagement speak volumes. Australian students are increasingly disengaged in the classroom and not completing school, with research suggesting that up to 40% of Australian students disengage regularly in the classroom due to boredom, poor-quality teaching or work being too difficult. Further, 25% of 15 year olds believe school won’t prepare them for life after school, and 10% feel school is a waste of time.
The impact of this is wider than education completion. It is also impacting young people’s wellbeing and belief in their capacity to achieve, with 1 in 5 students sighting academic ability as a key barrier to their future opportunities in the most recent Mission Australia survey.
Once students disengage they are at greater risk of falling behind their peers and of dropping out. No longer can we isolate students’ learning experiences from their mental health outcomes.
Secondly, students know how they learn best.
Research from the Mitchell Institute, as well as the Foundation for Young Australians’ (FYA) $20 Boss program have shown that young people learn best where the emphasis isn’t on ‘acing a test’ but learning how to do things in a real world context, having control over what they are learning and how.
Around the world, the most progressive education systems are focusing on developing a new understanding of what it means to be smart in a world changing due to automation, globalisation and insecure work.
There are already many examples being developed overseas, with countries like Belgium about to introduce a dual education system in secondary schools, where students can spend 60% of their time in the workplace and 40% in-school learning.
These learning experiences are best suited to developing the enterprising skills and capabilities that will be both in demand and highly portable in the future of work. A future where 15-year-old today will potentially navigate 17 jobs in 5 different industries.
Thirdly, what happens in education affects the rest of your life, not your scores but your experience. The mindsets, skills, capabilities and confidence to approach the world that you learn and acquire.
In the last century, Australia’s promise to our young people has been that their education is the ‘golden ticket’ to a good job that pays a fair wage.
Over the past decade however, that promise has been at risk due to a system which has failed to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world.
Even when young people do all the right things: go to school, go to university or TAFE, stay the course; they are still not gaining the skills needed to secure a job. Research from FYA shows it’s taking significantly longer once young people finish full-time education to actually find a full-time job.
The Gonski 2.0 review acknowledges the need to shift the “rigidity of curriculum delivery and assessment” in Australia’s system. The old ‘supply and demand’ model of education is holding our young people and their educators back and it urgently needs to change.
Recommendations pushing for a renewed focus on general capabilities recognise the rapidly changing world we live in – and the changing demands on our knowledge, skills and competency.
This evolution, or even revolution, will not be sufficient however, without students in the driver’s seat to ensure we deliver an education worth having.
Jan Owen AM
Foundation for Young Australians, CEO