Daily Archives: June 28, 2009


From the local (and only) daily newspaper here in Adelaide:

PARENTS hope new minimum teaching times for maths, English and science in South Australian primary schools will bring Australia in line with top-performing countries and lift student test scores.

Figures reported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show Australia lags behind countries such as the Netherlands, France, Mexico, the UK and the Czech Republic in teaching time committed to core subjects.

On average, students in the 30 countries in the OECD spend 50 per cent of class time on reading, writing, maths and science, compared with 24 per cent in Australia. In contrast, Australian teachers have the flexibility to dictate what is taught in 59 per cent of class time, compared with just 4 per cent of flexible time as the OECD average.

Now, I have a foot in both camps here - as a teacher in the public school system that is often under the critical gaze of the SOUTH AUSTRALIAN ASSOCIATION OF STATE SCHOOL ORGANISATIONS (SAAOSSO) and a parent who is represented by the same organisation. I do find it interesting that SAAOSSO's method seems to be criticising the public school system equals improving it. Anyone can cherry pick OECD statistics to present a favourable argument - I'm wondering if all of those countries who spend that time exclusively on core subjects are all out performing Australia in their literacy and numeracy achievements. Actually an actual link to the statistics being quoted in the news article would have been useful rather than assuming that the reader should take the article at face value.

And as a teacher who sees the benefit of covering SACSA outcomes in "flexible" time in the guise of Inquiry Learning, I wonder why we'd even want to strive for the OECD average of 4 %. This perception that we don't spend enough time on the "basics" is very interesting. I have heard that this call is usually because the government (or in this case, the parents' representative body) don't really have a clear vision of the future, so grasping for the past is the usual response. Just for the record, I have no problem with the State Government's call for minimum times for English, Mathematics and Science. My own timetable for my class matches those requirements pretty well - but I sense that "flexible" equals "undesirable" in this new initiative. Improving our own education system needs to focus on what is relevant for our students, not as Greg Carroll puts it so eloquently, following the ball around.

Image adapted for review purposes from the OECD Document titled ENHANCING EDUCATIONAL PERFORMANCE IN AUSTRALIA.