More Funding Not The Answer To Fix Our Education Woes

Written by:
8 March 2024
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Originally Appeared In

The Institute of Public Affairs’ Bella d’Arbrera contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into the national curriculum and government spending, conducted as part of the IPA’s Foundations of Western Civilisation Program.

Parents can hardly be blamed for feeling pleased when they hear more money is to be spent on their child’s education.

For more than a decade, debate around education in Australia has largely boiled down to which side of politics is going to spend the most, with almost a complete lack of regard for what is being achieved in the classroom.

This has created a scenario in which parents have been lulled into a false sense of security, as they assume the more money thrown at schools, the greater the achievement on the part of their child.

Research by the Institute of Public Affairs has revealed that between 2012 and 2022, federal and state governments spent a combined total of more than $716 billion on primary and secondary school education.

In that period, spending on education increased by 43 per cent, with the federal and state contributions increasing by 75 per cent and 32 per cent respectively.

What the IPA’s research also found was that this huge increase in funding to schools coincided with a long-term decline in student achievement.

One only needs to look at the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment benchmarks. The academic outcomes of 15-year-old Australians in mathematics, reading and science have all fallen.

Today, our students are more than 16 months behind in mathematics and, in reading, a year behind where they were in the year 2000.

In science they are 10 months behind where they were in 2006, when testing began.

Last year’s NAPLAN test results revealed that one in three Australian students are not meeting the basic standards of numeracy and literacy.

Worryingly, just 15 per cent of students are exceeding expectations.

It gets worse; the majority of Australia’s Year 9 students use punctuation at a Year 3 level.

Let that sink in. We are spending record amounts, yet on any credible scale, achievement is going down, not up. It is not just the IPA that is concerned about this decline in our children’s achievement.

The Productivity Commission noted last year that despite school income per student increasing by nearly 20 per cent, adjusted for inflation, since 2011, there has been, “little discernible improvement in test scores”. Where did we go wrong? There are three main culprits that can be identified.

The first is the introduction of the National Curriculum, mandatory for every student in Australia.

This has dramatically shifted learning from a system based on knowledge and facts to one underpinned by political ideology.

The second is substandard teacher training at our universities, which is having a detrimental impact on the career prospects of our teachers, setting them up for failure.

Universities are churning out teachers who spend as little as 10 weeks in a four-year degree learning the skills to teach core subjects, such as reading, writing, mathematics, history and science to students.

The third is the myopic arms-race on education funding. This can be traced back to 2010 when David Gonski was commissioned by Julia Gillard, the then Minister for Education in the Rudd Government, to chair a committee to make recommendations regarding schools funding in Australia.

A key goal for the Gonski funding method was to propel Australia’s school system into the top five internationally by 2025. The benchmarks clearly show this is not going to happen.

To his credit, the current federal education minister Jason Clare has declared that we need to get back to basics, particularly in relation to teacher training.

However, Clare has also announced he is “not trying to break the Gonski model”, rather he wants to finish it to “make sure that we fund our public schools properly”.

Again, this misses the point. Funding is not the issue. What our students are being taught and how our teachers are being trained needs to be urgently revisited.

The primary objective of our education system must be to ensure students learn the core skills of reading, writing and mathematics. But Australia’s education system is failing to meet this most basic goal.

Our young people deserve nothing less than genuine reform that puts their academic success at the core of their education.

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