“Education Policy Not Adding Up, OECD asks What’s Wrong with Australia’s Schools?” PISA discourse and impact on Schools
INTRODUCTION The recent article, Education policy not adding up: OECD asks what’s wrong with Australia’s schools? (Bagshaw & Smith, 2010), published in the Sydney Morning Herald, announced that Australia was slipping in the global education league tables with the Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development (OECD) Education Chief, Andreas Schleicher, blaming the education system. Schneider suggested teacher creativity is restricted in the ‘policy-packed’ education system and that we need to rethink the role of the teacher. Schleicher’s key message seemed to be lost in the article which ‘slammed’ poor teacher quality as the main takeaway message, misusing his quotes to support an unsubstantiated perception of the problems in Australia’s education system.
The article is one that perpetuates a consistently negative message of Australia’s “failing schools” (Thomas, 2005). According to Thomas (2005), the media often “characterises wild assertions” and claims of a failing system with unqualified or unsubstantiated commentary, usually from a government minister. The relationship between the influence of media discourse and the intent of government agenda is most evident in the radical reform of educational policies by a conservative government during the 1990s. Throughout this era, the media has increasingly played a key role in the public discourse on education policy which cannot be downplayed (Blackmore & Thorpe, 2003). Often serving the needs of national agendas, the media mobilises public support for ‘solutions’ to perceived ‘problems’.
Recently, coverage of Australia’s academic decline in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has been increasing in the media, mobilising public and government debate to ask “what’s wrong with Australia’s schools?”. PISA is often referred to in the global education community as the “international league tables” with and increasing importance on countries rankings, making the process more competitive, and more high stakes internationally. Initially Australia’s high performance in the first PISA test in 2000 was noted in the Australian media with “pride” although discourse has gradually moved towards an “Our Failing Schools” rhetoric which creates a policy epidemic needed to ‘fix’ the ‘education problem’ while also supporting neoliberal, pro-market economic reform introduced in the 1990s.
This paper aims to highlight the problem tin public discourse of education, taking PISA results and Australia’s ranking out of context to create news. The increasingly negative media representation of Australia’s public education system gives the government the opportunity to provide a ‘solution’ to the perceived “crisis in education” using pro-market reform.
To understand the problem, the paper will first look at the development of educational policies over the past two decades during a period of rapid policy reform and how the establishment of PISA impacted on the education policy discourse in Australia. In addition, the paper will determine to what extent Australian schools were impacted. As Blackmore and Thorpe (2003) have pointed out, the importance of mass media in educational discourse can no longer be ignored and media have become central to understanding the discourse surrounding PISA at the time. In addressing the key questions, the research will use print media to give anecdotal evidence from schools and policy makers, on how PISA was used in the discussion around education policy and how PISA impacted on schools.
Although the paper will acknowledge a number of benefits of PISA to Australia’s education reform, the paper will also recognise the growing of the OECD in public policy and with new changes to PISA, bringing a greater impact on Australian schools.
Completed as a part of coursework for Education Policy and Reform in Australia, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne.
Master of Education Policy (International), The University of Melbourne.