Legislative Council: Wednesday, October 19, 2022


Educational Equity

The Hon. S.L. GAME (15:32): Teachers in this state are not clear on what to teach and the standard at which to teach it, and there is enormous disparity between what is being taught. As a result, those children from socio-economic hardship are not being given the employment and further study opportunities they deserve. The teaching system favours those from elite backgrounds and that is unacceptable.

This is not a problem brought about by teachers. Our students are going backwards and it is our school system and education leaders who are responsible. The current system encourages teachers to meet learners where they are at. Effectively, teachers are being advised to lower standards for those already falling behind.

It has been reported that some aspects of the curriculum are so vague that teachers could spend a lesson or a year on the content. This ambiguity brought about by a skills-based rather than a knowledge-based curriculum is leading to enormous variability in the content South Australian school students are exposed to, with the effect that the inequity between the quality of education, and thus the employment outcome, between those with privilege and wealth and those from socio-economic hardship is growing.

At the start of the century, the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development's Programme for International Student Assessment test results showed that 12 per cent of Australian year 5s were considered effectively unable to participate productively in life due to poor literacy levels. This rose to 20 per cent as of 2018 and by 2030 the figure is predicted to shift up to 25 per cent.

Learning First, a public schools research group, produces evidence to show that targeted teaching exacerbates the learning gap between low and high socio-economic young people. It encourages inequity and fosters prolonged disadvantage. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds should not be taught at a lower level than their elite peers. We know these children begin with lower vocabulary counts, have less reading material at home and less opportunity for extra-curricular activities. Meeting them where they are at just perpetuates the inequity and we have the research to back this up.

Grattan Institute research suggests that in grade 3 there is a 10-month gap in NAPLAN results between students whose parents have a high educational background and those who do not. By grade 9, that gap has extended to over 2½ years. Yes, children need appropriate scaffolding and support, but unless they are exposed to the same high-quality materials, what chance do they have to catch up?

South Australian students deserve an education that puts equality over autonomy and flexibility. Rigorous academic standards should apply regardless of student backgrounds. Dropping standards, providing easier books to read and assigning lower-level tasks is setting children up to fail. A 2018 report by The New Teacher Project affirmed this with the statement: 'Kids deserve schoolwork now that honours their aspirations for the future.'

The ABC reported on the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) report this past Tuesday 18 October that the majority of Australia's year 9 students use punctuation at a year 3 level. According to the report, 85 per cent of year 9 students are constructing sentences at or below the level expected of students two years below them. The AERO chief executive has suggested these atrocious outcomes are the result of a loss of the systemic teaching of writing. Another report by education consultant Vibhuti Taneja reads:

Traditional, standardised teaching is effective and increases levels of healthy student competitiveness, gives clear direction to their education, and instils discipline, routine and productivity in learning.

When the priority shifts to autonomy, variation and flexibility, the results are immediately dropping. Globally, countries that have pursued this progressive agenda of targeted learning have seen poor results. Finland is experiencing three decades of declining educational outcomes and increased inequality. France has for the past two decades seen an ongoing decline of educational outcomes, with those from the most poorly educated communities being the worst affected.

How much more evidence is needed before we halt the pursuit of an ineffective agenda? Contrastingly, according to the earlier mentioned OECD student assessments, China, which has robust, standardised knowledge-based teaching, beat every other nation on scores for literacy, maths and science. Other countries that performed above average were Singapore, Latvia, Korea, Estonia and Taiwan, which all pursue a strict standardised curriculum. Our young people should never be underestimated. They deserve to be challenged, stretched and rewarded no matter the socio-economic background they come from.