Maths report card brings Aussie white trash closer to reality

Comment by Peter Roberts

It wasn’t so long ago that then senior Singaporean politician Lee Kuan Yew offended Australians when he called us the white trash of Asia.

Working in Singapore at the time I had a first hand view, and a rather low opinion, of the products of Singapore’s rote-learning early school education.

I was however impressed with an intense focus on improving vocational and tertiary institutions in the city state.

But I wasn’t convinced by Lee’s blunt assessment, after all we had a superior education system, didn’t we?

Well what may have been true then, is no longer.

The latest Programme for International Student Assessment results show Australian 15 year olds are now below OECD average performers where it counts in science and maths, and yes, Singapore is the number one performer of all advanced nations.

Compared with students in the highest performing country, Singapore, Australian students are one and a third years behind in reading, around three years behind in mathematics and one and three quarter years behind in science.

You have to congratulate Singapore for their stellar improvement.

Since testing began in 2000, five countries which were on par in mathematics overtook Australia, while of the 16 countries with lower maths scores, nine now outperform Australia and seven are on par with Australia.

This trash-nation performance was really brought home when a young man told Channel 9 media that while he had studied maths 20 hours a week in China, he was unable to study more than three hours here.

Yet what was the noise coming from Canberra on news of this continuing long-term decline in Australian students’ reading, mathematics and science skills?

It was all the states fault, according to federal education minister, Dan Tehan, and anyway the government had more pressing business to attend to such as incarcerating asylum seekers and bashing unions.

Tehan’s dismissal came in the same week that new figures revealed yet another fall in expenditure on vocational education.

In 2018, Government funding provided through vocational education and training (VET) appropriations and VET intergovernmental funding arrangements totaled $6.1 billion, down 2.1 per cent on 2017, according to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

In addition, the Australian Government provided VET Student Loans and VET FEE-HELP loans to the value of $297.3 million, down 40.8 per cent.

@AuManufacturing has in the past year covered a stream of unrelentingly bad news from NCVER, from falls in STEM education in schools, to a failing apprenticeship system and everywhere you look, cuts, cuts and more cuts.

Really, it all comes back to funding and an unconcern among federal policymakers for this slide in what is the key determinant of national success and economic progress.

The government talks incessantly about jobs, but to paraphrase that other blunt politician of the recent past Paul Keating…we are building a workforce only fit for making beds for foreign tourists.

As Keating once said: “It is not enough to be a clever country; we must be a capable one too.”

Picture: Cochlear

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