Comment by Peter Roberts
Australian industry is rightly focused on education and STEM education in particular as a determinant of future competitiveness, but the problem is we are not quite sure whether our young people are getting better, or worse compared to international peers.
This week saw the release of comparisons for 2019 in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which studies how well year four and year eight students mastered factual and procedural knowledge taught in school mathematics and science.
On this measure high school students achieved their best-ever results in maths and science, finishing in the world’s top 10 internationally.
However the picture was different in primary maths where Australian students ranked a worrying 27 in the world behind Turkey and Cyprus.
This latter, disappointing result is more in line with results from the other international comparison study, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which last year recorded its worst and still declining results for students in their final years of school.
The PISA results showed Australian 15 year olds are now below OECD average performers where it counts in science and maths, with our students one and a third years behind in reading, three years behind in mathematics and one and three quarter years behind in science.
The key similarity between the two results is that Singapore, a country formerly a long way behind Australia, is clearly number one whereas Australia has slipped way down the pack.
The essential difference between the good news and the bad news tests is that the bad (PISA) tests how well students apply their knowledge to real-life challenges, while the relatively good news (TIMSS) is aligned to the curriculum.
Manufacturers would naturally be most concerned with how students apply knowledge than with the particulars of their studies.
In this regard, despite all the talk from successive governments of the importance of STEM education, Australia’s report card still looks like a bare pass.
We seriously need to do better.
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