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OECD education chief Andreas Schleicher blasts Australia's education system

Dubai: One of the world's most influential education experts, Andreas Schleicher, has criticised the Australian education system for falling behind global standards.

Mr Schleicher, the education director of the Organisation for Economic Development, said that Australia had a very significant drop in the results of students at the top of the PISA testing rankings in the past year.

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Australian education 'very significantly shrunk'

Leading global education experts Andreas Schleicher criticises the Australian education system for falling behind global standards at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai,

"Australia has lost a lot of students with very good results, it's very significant this round and I think that's something to really think about," he said.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international survey held every three years that pits the world's education systems against each other by testing the performance of 15-year-old students.

School days.
School days. Photo: Quentin Jones

Australia's results have steadily declined over the past decade. Last year, Australia ranked 14th behind Poland, Germany and Vietnam, with up to 20 per cent of students unable to demonstrate basic skills.

Speaking at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, Mr Schleicher said Australia's emphasis on having teachers in front of a class over their own professional development was an area that needed addressing.

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"[Australia] more or less defines teachers by the number of hours that [they] teach in front of students," he said. "That is part of the problem."

"We treat teachers as interchangeable widgets on the frontline - they are just there to implement prefabricated knowledge."

Andreas Schleicher of the OECD is concerned about falling Australian standards.
Andreas Schleicher of the OECD is concerned about falling Australian standards. Photo: Jeffrey Glorfeld

He said many countries were struggling to keep the best teachers in the profession because of curriculums that restrict creativity.

"There really is a complete lack of intellectual attractiveness to the teaching profession once you have that very industrial work organisation behind you," he said.

The past decade of Mr Schleicher's data-driven research, which has been harnessed by the education secretaries of both the US and Britain, found that several changes have allowed the world's most successful school systems to prosper.

According to Mr Schleicher, high-achieving education systems such as Finland have implemented selective teacher training with high academic standards, prioritised the development of teachers and principals as goals above reducing class sizes and allowed teachers to be creative in their implementation of the curriculum.

These systems also directed more resources to schools that have high numbers of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. 

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli frequently cites Finland, where teachers are required to have a master's degree, as an ideal model for NSW.

In September, Mr Piccoli announced new entry standards for teachers, with higher minimum marks now required to enrol for an undergraduate teaching degree.

Mr Schleicher added that Australia's needs-based Gonski reforms, with increased investment in teacher training, were a positive step but that more commitment was needed.

"That is one of challenges in Australia - to make sure the funding continues to be channelled to schools with more needs," he said.

The federal government has not committed to the final two years of Gonski funding. According to school funding expert Jim McMorrow, NSW schools would be $1.27 billion worse off without the needs-based funding injection.

The reporter travelled to the Global Education and Skills Forum as a guest of the conference.

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