This Chart Should Make Everyone In Australia Stop And Think About Education

Reading in ChinaGetty / Guang Niu

The chart below, via The Economist, shows the change in how a range of countries rank on reading and mathematical abilities of 15-year-olds, over a six-year period.

It’s not good for Australia in the Asian century.

In the chart, which has started to be widely shared, Australia goes from 13th to 19th on mathematics, and from 7th to 13th on reading.

The countries at the top are a roll-call of the country’s skills competitors – established and emerging – in the region, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, and China.

Vietnam sits above Australia on reading ability.

There’s a bit more below, but first here’s the chart:


It’s based on scores from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, or Pisa, a well-recognised benchmark for educational outcomes.

There are valid criticisms of any educational ranking system, but even taking them into account this is a brutal wake-up call for Australia at a time when the federal government is reassessing the Gonski plan for schools funding.

The Pisa tests were the benchmark former prime minister used when she embarked on the Gonski reforms, setting a goal of Australia being in the top five countries in the world in reading, science and mathematics by 2025.

We’ve gone backwards since these goals were announced. Funding is only part of the answer. Teacher performance and the curriculum are critical too.

Competing in the Asian century means not just being “open for business” – something the Abbott government has offered almost as a motto.

Competing also means having a capable, competitive workforce that is up there with the best on a range of measures including on basic classroom results like these. And it means understanding your competitors.

There’s an unsubtle pointer on this in The Economist’s headline: “Diligent Asia, indolent West.”

Right now we’re sliding on these rankings. A similar fall over the next six years’ time would be a disaster, and a huge embarrassment for a country that has had more than two decades of continuous economic growth.

There’s more at The Economist.

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