What Do We Win?

The global race to be one of the top five Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) countries is a debate all around the world at the moment. Countries are endeavouring to find that pedagogical panacea and structural reform that will give them an edge over Finland and many of the Asian countries. During the current race, I have often wondered whether anyone has stopped and asked, “What do we win?” Is there a massive global sheep station on offer or a world cup in education?

The Australian National Assessment Programme for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is our local standardised  tests. Merrylands East Public School (Sydney) treats the tests like another school activity due to the Federal Government’s compliance requirements. However, I will create some heresy amongst some education purists by saying that our school does not teach to the test, or focus on it during teachers’ programming, and when the results arrive, they are simply disseminated to our parents without any valued judgements. Our school results over the years can range from the global financial crisis to the Australian mining boom but we don’t measure our school on them. This is not to say that schools don’t need to improve in Literacy and Numeracy – all schools do! It’s the benchmark that we set ourselves that really matters and that will be different for each school.

International and national standardised testing do not reflect the complexity of achievements in a school, nor the breadth of successes. Each school and individual students have their own success stories to tell.  For Merrylands East, the pedagogical shift towards project based learning and genius hour with higher levels of student self regulation and engagement are just some of the highlights. Parents have accepted that NAPLAN is a necessity but place their value on the diversity of school programs and the creative products designed by their child in an open learning environment.

I have asked myself the question, “Do I want to be like countries Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea or the city of Shanghai?” The answer is an emphatic, “No.”  If we truly believe in the concept of lifelong learning, then education is not a race to cram  knowledge into 13 years of schooling within a narrow corridor and constricted area of the curriculum. Instead, learning is collaborative process where students and teachers help each other fulfil aspirations and dreams.

Speaking to Australian employers, they do not ask for NAPLAN results but look for creative designers, authentic problems solvers, good interpersonal skills, teamwork and a love of their product. We need to foster the same skills with a love of learning. Just recently, a number of teachers visited our school and  one student displayed a portfolio of online games that he had created and proudly picked a 3D version. Another 12 year old student showed 3 weeks of project animation called Emma. She explained the thousand photos of each individual line or fill in change and the product was created using MovieMaker. Our students are proud of their achievements and articulate their learning due to their ownership of learning. Parents are won over too. They see the products that their child is creating and the school culture that embraces creativity in open plan learning.

The Australian Curriculum General Capabilities and outcomes are the major focus areas of Merrylands East curriculum. Literacy and numeracy are woven throughout learning with students having the opportunity to demonstrate outcomes in a diverse range of evidence. Creativity is highly valued and students will often celebrate the success of themselves and others.

The global top 5 in standardised tests in 2025 produces no prizes. Therefore, let’s create a better future for our students and ensure that they continue to be lifelong learners beyond schooling and a standardised test score.

3 comments for “What Do We Win?

  1. Jonathan Martin
    November 22, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Hello John:

    So terrific to see Australians participating here on ConPrin. I was a very active participant on the blog here two and three years ago, but no longer since leaving my principalship to become a writer and consultant.

    I agree wholeheartedly that employers are seeking, and educators ought to be providing, “creative designers, authentic problems solvers, good interpersonal skills, teamwork and a love of their product” and that “We need to foster the same skills with a love of learning.”

    But I have to respectfully disagree with you on a few points here. First, I suppose it is a rhetorical argument on your part when you ask “what do we win?” but I will say I much prefer it that PISA has no prize, and I know the people who run PISA don’t run the test in order to award a prize (a world cup). That is not the point. The point is that some people, including me, are very, very curious about how international practices compare, and about what educators are doing in other countries around the world and about what we can learn about them, and about how different practices might produce different results– and I for one welcome this information which PISA provides. Sure, the headlines are about which country is on top– but we are all sophisticated enough to read beyond the headlines and know that it is not the headline news which is important, it is the enormous amount of information on comparative practices which is important. You can visit the OECD website to find literally dozens of reports, freely available in pdf, offering incredibly rich analysis of educational practices.

    Second, I disagree that PISA is measuring who can “cram knowledge into 13 years of schooling within a narrow corridor and constricted area of the curriculum.” If you look at PISA test questions, available online, you can see they are very much about thinking and communication skills, about applied problem solving to real world scenarios, and not about knowledge crammed and regurgitated.

    Ironically, I’m working with schools which have adopted a major new commitment to Project-Based Learning and are thrilled about the opportunity PISA provides, unlike or much more so than any other test, to measure the kind of more meaningful learning that PBL promotes.

    I’m all for creating “a better future for our students and ensure that they continue to be lifelong learners beyond schooling and a standardised test score.” But to do so, I think I can benefit from more information about which countries, using which educational practices, are accomplishing exactly this outcome, and I think PISA is the single best provider of this information.

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