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.