Australian Teens Aren't Happy With Their High School Education

A UNICEF Australia survey of over 1000 secondary students found they want to learn practical skills, like budgeting and finding a job.

To commemorate World Children's Day, students aged between 14 and 16 years old were quizzed on key areas including teachers, curriculum, assessment and home support to "better understand the factors that may be contributing to Australia’s declining educational outcomes."

The study found over half the respondents wanted to learn more "practical skills" to benefit them in life once their schooling had finished.

A number of students thought the education system was "lacking" and specifically trained them to pass exams, rather than retain useful knowledge.

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Schools and governments need to investigate ways they can develop the infrastructure and support mechanisms that would allow for educators to make their curriculum more relevant, St. Edwards College's Teaching and Learning Coordinator Carolina Murdoch told 10 daily.

"There's definitely space in current syllabi for this to happen but as teachers we don’t always take the opportunity to explain the ‘why’ to students," Murdoch said.

"Increasingly it's important to articulate the purpose and relevance of what we are teaching to our students. Taking time to explicitly address the purpose of what we teach makes the link to ‘life skill’ and 'financial literacy’ visible and increases student engagement," she said.

Recent Hunters Hill High School graduate Lexus Joubert, 18, told 10 daily teachers would constantly remind her doing well in exams showed how she would ultimately perform in the workforce.

"For me this was always hard to understand, as I have parents, family and friends who didn’t complete school and are successful," she said.

She added when schools place more emphasis on marks rather than a holistic approach they miss out on nurturing a student's "real potential".

"This causes unnecessary stress and students lose interest, give up or leave school completely. It further emphasises why schools should focus on individuality and what we will have to face in society [after graduation]."

The survey found achievement and having a good teacher are highly related, with students wanting teachers who inspire them and are driven themselves.

Achievement and having a good teacher are highly related, the UNICEF Australia survey found. Image: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty.

"When teachers love working with young people their enthusiasm and passion come through in the commitment they make to their students," Murdoch said.

She added the best teachers are committed to their own journey of developing subject knowledge and understanding the needs of their students.

"There are obviously other attributes and qualities teachers can develop --- like strong organisational skills and leadership capacity -- but these are secondary to finding a teacher who has both a passion for their subject and finds joy in communicating and engendering interest in their students."

Lexus said her PDHPE and Community and Family Studies teacher (who was also her Year 12 adviser) "changed my high school experience".

She said he built a personal, family-oriented relationship with his students and made his classroom youthful by having couches and bean bags.

"His willingness to put our feelings and emotions first pushed us to want to learn, be focused and get good grades," she said.

"These little things really made a huge difference and allowed me -- who wasn’t and probably still isn't interested in any part of school -- to push and want to achieve the best I could."

Australia was ranked 30 out of 41 high and middle income countries in achieving quality education this year by UNICEF. The country placed in the bottom third in all three categories: preschool, primary school and secondary education.

UNICEF Australia’s Director of Policy, Amy Lamoin, said the difference between Australia and other countries performing well in education came down to "two key questions".

"First, what kind of society do we want? And second, what kind of citizens do we want? Australia needs to consider the big purpose and project of education -- and this is a conversation for the whole community, not just our decision makers," she stated.

The recent Gonski review of the country's education system also found academic performance in Australia has been in a decline since 2000 that is “widespread and equivalent to a generation of Australian school children falling short of their full learning potential”.

Featured image: Getty.

Contact the author: samelia@networkten.com.au.