Education reform: here’s one idea for the way forward

This year has seen a slew of reports on what’s wrong with Australia’s education system. From disappointing PISA and NAPLAN results to multiple reviews by education thought-leaders, it’s clear there’s a lot to fix. Research we commissioned points to why business can play a crucial role in solving this complex puzzle.ACER Report

Educators recognise that the world of work is changing rapidly and that applied learning outside the classroom is vital. Which is why a national survey conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) showed that more than 90 per cent of educators would welcome a much deeper relationship with business than in the past.

The top benefits respondents to the ‘What Do Schools Want from Engagement with Business’ survey identified were: increasing students’ career aspirations, boosting their engagement in learning, and developing their ‘future of work’ capabilities.

As one educator said: ‘It broadens students’ perspectives outside of the classroom and the normal teacher-student relationship … Students have a better idea of further work and study before embarking on expensive tertiary courses. Teachers stay current, which enhances their teaching in the classroom. Business loves to contribute.’

The survey found that the most common ways schools currently engage with business is through work experience programs and career talks. When asked how they would like to enhance that engagement in future, schools nominated face-to-face mentoring, work experience and workplace visits as the top three items. These rated far more highly than sponsorship.

The ACER report points to the enormous potential for schools to pursue a much deeper relationship with business in the future. ‘Schools with limited engagement do not realise what can be achieved,’ the report says, noting that work experience often focuses on the ‘hard’ skills associated with short-term jobs, rather than ‘soft’ skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and teamwork vital for a long-term career. ‘All schools need to understand that a school-business engagement is more than the provision of work experience or vocational placements; it is an opportunity for students to learn about the world after school.’

Many of the respondents wrote about the positive impact one-on-one interaction with businesspeople can have on students, citing skills development, confidence in speaking with professionals, experiencing the real world and a renewed focus on their school studies.

‘Students have difficulty becoming what they don’t see,’ said Cabramatta High School Principal Beth Godwin, who launched the ACER report at ABCN’s end-of-year event in Sydney last month. ‘Working with business mentors is so important – they help students see the future.’

We’d like to thank the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for their generosity in partially funding the ACER research with a grant.

Read our CEO Allegra Spender’s opinion piece in The Australian (note: subscriber-only access).

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