Australian policymakers have strived to enhance Australia’s status as a ‘clever country’. Yet, international testing points to a two-decade decline in Australian student achievement – the steepest and most consistent decline in the world, other than in Finland. And national reports, including analysis by the Productivity Commission, confirm the disappointing track record in outcomes over recent decades, despite some of the world’s highest levels, and fastest growing, resources put into schooling. The result is that Australian students are not only performing less well against the rest of the world, but also less well than Australian students of the early 2000s. Unsurprisingly, Australia’s productivity growth is now at the lowest level in 60 years.
How did this happen, what are the consequences, and how can Australian schooling return to among the world’s best? Will younger Australians be poorer than previous generations if results from the education system aren’t improved? Is Australia’s ambition to be a ‘clever country’ now at risk? Can sound education reform be successfully motivated by economics, rather than career educationalists alone? How can reform that maximises the effectiveness of the nation’s teachers raise outcomes? What can Australian policymakers learn from the world’s smartest countries?