The latest reports from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) reform council reveal that Australia’s educational outcomes are reflecting improvements, particularly in the early years and in year 12 attainment.
The reports, which show the five year progress on state and federal government targets, also found that one in eight working age Australians are at the lowest level of literacy, while one in five are at the lowest level of numeracy. Researchers found that more than a quarter of young people are also not fully engaged in work or study after they leave school, writes Bella Counihan of The Conversation.
According to the reports, the number of young people fully engaged in work or study is down 1.2% since 2006. The decrease is attributed, in part, to a fall in full-time young workers and comes despite a rise in the proportion of young people in full-time study.
Professor Greg Craven, deputy chairman of the COAG reform council and vice-chancellor at Australian Catholic University, said that the fall in full-time young workers was in part due to the effects of the global financial crisis.
Professor Craven said while there were positive results in other areas, this development was of real concern. “What happens to young people when they leave school is crucial to how we meet the future demands of our economy – and to the quality of their lives,” Professor Craven said.
The reports also found primary school reading and numeracy scores improved over the five years, but there was little or no improvement at the high school level.
In 2008, COAG agreed to ensure that all children have access to a quality early childhood education program, which would be delivered by a four-year university-trained early childhood teacher for 15 hours a week, 40 weeks a year. In 2012 the levels of enrollment and attendance at pre-school programs were high, with a national average of around 96%. The highest levels were in Western Australia and the lowest were in the Northern Territory.
In addition, the program to increase the number of students reaching year 12 or equivalent to 90% by 2020 was also on track, according to the reports. The figures show the attainment rate at 85.9%, up from 82.8% in 2006.
Bill Fogarty, a research associate at The National Centre for Indigenous Studies’ at ANU, said the good news on attainment extended to Indigenous students. “The reports show more Indigenous young people are attaining Year 12 or equivalent. This rise is a trend that we’ve seen for over a decade,” Dr Fogarty said.
Moreover, the reports found that more than half of working age Australians now have higher level qualifications but that there was a disconnect between vocational training and getting a job. From 2008 to 2012, the proportion of vocational education graduates who reported improved employment status after training fell by almost five percentage points.
Stewart Riddle, a lecturer in literacies education at the University of Southern Queensland, said that the results show an important generational shift when it came to the results on adult literacy skills.
“Despite ongoing claims that we urgently need to return to the basics in schools, young people are more literate than older Australians. In fact, people in their 30s have the highest literacy and numeracy levels. It seems that the good old days of schooling did not actually provide people with better literacy skills at all,” he said.