13/10/2021 - 08:00

Australia slips on key OECD metrics

13/10/2021 - 08:00

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The union movement and a high-profile not for profit have called for change to address what they say are Australia’s comparative educational weaknesses.

Jay Weatherill says urgent government intervention is needed in Australia. Photo: David Henry

The union movement and a high-profile not for profit have called for change to address what they say are Australia’s comparative educational weaknesses, as outlined in a new Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report.

Those findings, contained in the organisation’s latest ‘Education at a Glance’ report, portray Australia as falling behind on several key metrics.

Among these is preschool attendance, for which Australia reported the fourth lowest attendance among OECD nations.

Jay Weatherill, chief executive of Minderoo Foundation’s Thrive by Five initiative, said the report was the latest of many showing Australia ought to do more to provide children access to high-quality early learning experiences.

He called on national cabinet to adopt a five-point plan for reform of early childhood education, including universal preschool access for threeyear-old children, lifting the childcare subsidy to 95 per cent, and making it available to all children regardless of their parents’ income or work status.

“Australia is falling behind the rest of the world and there is an urgent need for government action to ensure we catch up,” Mr Weatherill said.

“There are significant barriers for families in enrolling their children in preschool. “They include high out-of-pocket costs, inconsistent provision of preschool, and a complex system that is difficult to navigate.”

While the report also shows Australia’s primary school teachers are among some of the best-paid in the 44-member-nation bloc, Australian Education Union president Correna Haythorpe raised concerns with Australia’s comparatively low teacher salaries and excessive workloads.

That included primary school teachers spending 878 hours per year in the classroom, which was 11 per cent higher than the OECD average of 791 hours.

“We have a responsibility to ensure every Australian child has the opportunity to thrive and achieve to their full potential,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“This data shows we are lagging on fulfilling that responsibility in comparison with other OECD nations.

“There is a vast gap in public expenditure on education between Australia and comparable nations and economies, which must be urgently addressed with increased federal government funding for public schools.

“[The report] shows that Australian teachers are working harder without the appropriate salary remuneration and recognition of their work.”

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