| 31 July 2023

Education overhaul: Holistic approach the secret to improved student and teacher outcomes

In the ever-evolving  education landscape, the quality of teaching plays a pivotal role in shaping student outcomes.

The education ministers’ proposed overhaul of teaching standards focused on how we train teachers to teach.

While this aspect is undoubtedly crucial, it is important to recognise that it is just one piece of a larger puzzle. A more comprehensive and holistic approach is necessary to truly drive meaningful change and improve student outcomes.

One aspect that demands attention is the proportion of out-of-field teachers, particularly in mathematics. Alarming statistics reveal that up to 40 per cent of teachers in years 7-9 fall into this category according to the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI).

Australia’s performance in the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tests 15-year olds around the world in maths, English and science, show that for maths, Australia ranked 10th in 2003 and 30th in 2018 and below the OECD average for the first time.

To address this issue, it is imperative we provide more resources and support for maths teachers who find themselves in the challenging position of teaching a subject they may not be specialised in.

It is difficult to teach maths in an inspiring and applied way if you do not have a background in the subject. By investing in targeted professional development programs and mentorship initiatives, together with providing teaching support and resources, we can equip out-of-field teachers with the necessary tools to succeed.

Mechanisms for increasing the number of qualified maths teachers in our education system are clearly also required.

Curriculum is another crucial factor in improving education.

Maintaining a strong focus on numeracy, especially in high school, is essential. Considering the reintroduction of mandatory mathematics in senior years, together with ensuring electives such as physics and engineering studies are available in all schools (physics is still not available in many girls’ schools), can also foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of subjects which underpin many careers of the increasingly complex and technology-enabled future.

To unlock the full potential of teachers, it is crucial to address the environment and expectations placed upon them.

Even the most talented and passionate educators cannot achieve their best if their pastoral duties are overwhelming or if classroom disruptions are prevalent.

To truly understand the barriers to effective teaching, it is vital to listen to teachers about their experiences.

The Scott Review serves as a valuable resource in identifying and addressing these barriers. By reducing administrative burdens, enhancing support systems, and fostering a positive and conducive teaching and learning environment, we can help to establish the conditions in which teachers thrive.

While funding is undeniably important and Australia would do well to examine whether current funding for education is commensurate with our national aspirations, it is just as important to focus on the how those funds are allocated.

Increased funding is undoubtedly much-needed, but it is also essential to explore innovative and efficient ways to invest in education.

By considering research findings, analysing successful models, and adopting evidence-based practices, as well as intentionally designing our education system so that it gives the educational outcomes we seek, we can ensure that every dollar spent has a meaningful impact on student outcomes.

This article is based on an opinion piece recently published in The Mercury.