National survey results: Secondary school students reveal why they think Australia’s education system is failing

Tuesday 20 November 2018 – World Children’s Day:  Secondary education in Australia is too focused on training students to pass exams and assignments, rather than teaching knowledge that will be valuable through life., and it is failing to provide the practical life skills students think they will need, according to the results of a national survey of 1001 students released by UNICEF Australia today.
“UNICEF’s recent international Report Card 15: An Unfair Start report placed Australia at the bottom third of 41 high income OECD and EU countries in terms of education equality, the OECD itself found in 2015 that 17 per cent of Australian young people leave secondary school without achieving basic educational skill levels, and the Gonski Review of our education system found that academic performance in Australia has been in widespread decline since the year 2000,” said UNICEF Australia’s Director of Policy, Amy Lamoin.
“We wanted to better understand, the factors that may be contributing to our poor educational outcomes and international ranking,” she said. “So we spoke to the most important stakeholders– students themselves”.
School students between the ages of 14 and 16 from every state and territory were surveyed by YouGov Galaxy about their experiences of the Australian education system looking at factors considered by Report Card 15 to impact upon student achievement, such as teachers, subject matter, assessment, home support, school facilities, parental background, gender and extra-curricular activities.
Four main points stood out among the raft of information that students shared:
 -  Teachers:  Achievement and having a good teacher are highly related: and students are not only aware of this, but want teachers who are skilled, who inspire them and are driven themselves.
 -  Curriculum:  A significant number of students want more “practical skills” to be taught at high school: those that will benefit them in life once schooling has finished.
 -  Assessment:  A number of students reported the education system to be lacking because it is training them to pass exams, rather than to retain useful knowledge and life skills.
 -  Home support:  There is a high correlation between academic achievement and parental or carer encouragement and involvement at home. 

Among the highest achieving students, 54 per cent said one of the main reasons they have achieved highly is because they had a good teacher. Conversely, among students at the bottom of their classes, 73 per cent said that one of the main things that would have helped improve their academic performance was a better teacher, and 84 per cent said they needed more help from their teacher.
Student comments about teachers included, “It’s important to hire skilled teachers who present content well, encourage learning, and show an interest in [their] improvement,” and “Teachers should be as highly regarded as surgeons because they each hold your life in their hands.”
One fifth of students (21%) feel their education is lacking in relevant “practical” skills that will be of benefit to them in life after they leave school. Half of all students (51%) said they would like to learn more practical recruitment skills for getting a job. Exactly half said they wanted to learn more practical on-the-job skills. Almost half (48%) wanted to learn more practical financial skills, such as how to budget. And 40 per cent nominated practical living skills, such as how to be healthy, eat good food and exercise.
“Schools play a big part in creating the kind of societies we have,” Ms Lamoin said. “The difference between Australia and other countries that are performing well in education is that they have asked and answered two key questions. First, what kind of society do we want? And second, what kind of citizens do we want?  Australia needs to consider the big purpose and project of education - and this is a conversation for the whole community, not just our decision makers”.