The PISA results were released on Tuesday, and Australians having been losing their minds over them. Which is admirably consistent: the country has worked so hard at losing minds over the last 20+ years, it seems entirely reasonable to keep on going.

We’ve never paid much attention to PISA. We’ve always had the sense that the tests were tainted in a NAPLANesque manner, and in any case we can’t imagine the results would ever indicate anything about Australian maths education that isn’t already blindingly obvious. As Bob Dylan (almost) sang, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.

And so it is with PISA 2018. Australia’s mathematical decline is undeniable, astonishing and entirely predictable. Indeed, for the NAPLANesque reasons suggested above, the decline in mathematics standards is probably significantly greater than is suggested by PISA. Greg Ashman raises the issue in this post.

So, how did this happen, and what are we to do? Unsurprisingly, there has been no reluctance from our glorious educational leaders to proffer warnings and solutions. AMSI, of course, is worrying their bone, whining for about the thirtieth time about unqualified teachers. The Lord of ACER thinks that Australia is focusing too much on “the basics”, at the expense of “deep understandings”. If only the dear Lord’s understanding was a little deeper.

Others suggest we should “focus systematically on student and teacher wellbeing“, whatever that means. Or, we should reduce teachers’ “audit anxiety“. Or, the problem is “teachers [tend] to focus on content rather than student learning“. Or, the problem is a “behaviour crisis“. Or, we should have “increased scrutiny of university education degrees” and “support [students’] schooling at home”. And, we could introduce “master teachers”. But apparently “more testing is not the answer“. In any case, “The time for talk is over“, according to a speech by Minister Tehan.

Some of these suggestions are, of course, simply ludicrous. Others, and others we haven’t mentioned, have at least a kernel of truth, and a couple we can strongly endorse.

No institution we can see, however, no person we have read, seems ready to face up to the systemic corruption, to see the PISA results in the light of the fundamental perversion of mathematics education in Australia. Not a word we could see questioning the role of calculators and the fetishisation of their progeny. Not a note of doubt about the effect of computers. Not a single suggestion that STEM may not be an antidote but, rather, a poison. Barely a word on the “inquiry” swampland that most primary schools have become. And, barely a word on the loss of discipline, on the valuable and essential meanings of that word. What possible hope is there, then, for meaningful change?

We await PISA 2021 with unbated breath.

10 Replies to “A PISA Crap”

  1. Meaningful change will probably occur, but it won’t be toward the improvement of the learning of the children of Australia.

  2. Love the title of this one!

    Do you (or anyone) know where I can find a copy of the actual test questions? Genuinely curious to see what is actually being tested.

    1. Yeah, I give good title.

      I think there are sample questions, and I plan to write on some of PISA’s weirdness in the next day or so. Stay tuned.

  3. The elephant in the room is OOFT – almost 75% of year 7-10 maths teachers are out of field teachers. And too many primary teachers are maths phobic.

    1. Thanks, David. OOFT is clearly an issue, and many, including AMSI, appear to regard it as the issue. Myself, I think there are larger elephants stampeding around.

  4. Wow !! As a Canadian High School Mathematics Teacher and Department Head for 34 years, I thought that the issues causing havoc in our system were somewhat unique to our jurisdiction ( inquiry based math, non-math trained teachers, etc ) It is sad but not surprising that your system is as crippled as ours by idiotic jargon spouting “Experts” who’s credentials are predicated upon how to talk in edu-speak rather than proficiency in mathematics.

    1. Thanks, Brad. I’m aware in an uninformed way that Canada (and pretty much the whole fucking planet) is being swamped with the same kind of nonsense. Feel free to send me specific information/links in a comment or an email. It’s impossible to write about all the World’s maths-ed awfulness, but I do what I can.

  5. Hi Marty. My research reveals the larger elephant stampeding around is the fact we’re still basing elementary pedagogies on Ancient Greek foundations. The cold hard fact is the Arabic world NEVER understood India’s definition of zero as a number. Thus, Europe also got the wrong idea, which we remain stuck with today.

    Put simply, numbers count or measure quantities and in science there are no quantities that have less matter or energy than zero. Hence, negative numbers are simply the equal and opposite twins to positive numbers, as per Newton’s third law.

    I’m just back from my third lecture tour of India and my latest PPT presentation converted to PDF is available at http://www.j.mp/2020Maths

    Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2020!


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