Page 3385 - Week 11 - Tuesday, 20 September 2005

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The Chief Minister got up and talked about Australian benchmarks and ACT performance against those. Let us again look at what these TIMSS benchmarks are and let us look at some others. In the latest survey, Australian year 8 students received a score in mathematics of 505 points. The ACT, on average, scored 538—certainly above the Australian average. This is certainly above the general international average, too, of 467 but is well below the Singaporean average of 605.

In addition, whereas the percentage of children reaching the advance benchmark in Singapore is 43 per cent, in Australia it is just 7 per cent. That is the telling factor, not that we are above the international benchmark—and yes, we are above the Australian benchmark. The fact is that a very small percentage are in that catchment group that achieves that rating. What the opposition wants to say is that we need to have a look at the entire student body, not just that top performing echelon that are clearly achieving well.

Our education minister, Katy Gallagher, defends the current system on the grounds that it is more cooperative and team based, but this is not conducive to mathematics training. In fact, the minister’s representative on education Ms Strauch, in estimates hearings, has advised that Singaporeans place much more emphasis on content and less on a cooperative, team-based approach than Australia. She said:

… there is a whole variety of approaches being used … a combination of rote and cooperative learning.

I refer to the estimates transcript, pages 919-920.

According to the minister, the ACT curriculum is “relevant as possible to the world in which these kids live”. She also said

There is a whole range of skills that we try to promote and foster through the delivery of a comprehensive curriculum.

Yet mathematics training requires a traditional approach, a much stronger approach, according to the indicators and international benchmarks against which we can measure. As Donnelly argues—going back to Dr Donnelly again—whether curriculum developers in Australia, and I would also say the ACT in that sense, adopt a syllabus, a standards or an outcomes approach will profoundly affect what is taught in our schools over the next 10 to 20 years and therefore could dramatically affect the education that is provided for our kids with which to compete in the international global environment.

Therefore, this government must seriously consider where the ACT’s education system is heading in all their airy-fairy ideas about curriculum. They need to get serious about this issue and look at the ACT’s education standards in light of the international arena, not just the national sphere. I repeat: they need to look at it against the performance of the top echelon of our students versus the middle and lower echelons of our students. That is the benchmark we should be exercising—the middle and lower echelons of our students’ performances against national and international standards. And they are not doing that.

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