In 2008, the Melbourne Declaration set out a range of educational goals for young Australians.

Many believe it now needs an update. The Council of Australian Governments Education Council has agreed to undertake a review.

The Melbourne Declaration

The 2008 declaration had two goals: first that Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence and second that all young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals and active and informed citizens. It noted then that:

“Skilled jobs now dominate jobs growth and people with university or vocational education and training qualifications fare much better in the employment market than early school leavers. To maximise their opportunities for healthy, productive and rewarding futures, Australia’s young people must be encouraged not only to complete secondary education, but also to proceed into further training or education.”

This, the declaration suggested, requires “effective partnerships with other education and training providers, employers and communities.”

But the 2008 declaration is not without its critics

An article in The Conversation, authored by Don Carter, a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Technology, Sydney, and published late last year, raised number of criticisms of the declaration and suggested some improvements. One problem, he says, is the promotion of education as a commodity. “As a result, other important aims related to the development of students’ personal attributes as communicative, respectful and thoughtful individuals are not fully targeted in the document.”

Another concern is that it advocates a type of education promoted by the OECD, which requires creative thinking, the ability to work flexibly and the ability to adapt to changes in the workplace and wider society. Thus, he argues that the document is couched in language that promotes the economic aims of education and the economic prosperity of the nation over other aims, including student well-being.

He suggests improvements need to be driven by a proper focus on the development of ‘soft skills’ such as critical thinking, literacy and numeracy, problem solving (especially in the workplace), effective communicate and being able to develop and maintain positive relationships within and beyond the family unit. It also requires, he says, that we rethink how we assess learning.

The review of the declaration

The Council of Australian Governments Education Council has commissioned a review of the 2008 declaration.

A special forum in Melbourne held in late February kicked off the review and consultation process. It suggested that improvements to the declaration be considered, covering the changing nature of education, the economy and work and the increasing need for lifelong learning. This requires both a renewed focus on equity and a renewed emphasis on vocational education and training. The forum also acknowledged the importance of both early learning and smooth and carefully planned transitions.

In a joint press release the Minister for Education Dan Tehan said Australia needs  “an education system that meets the needs of every Australian, no matter where they live and no matter where they learn.” And, to update these education goals he wants “to hear from the students in the classroom, the teachers and principals on the frontline and the parents supporting their school communities.”

Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education, believes that updating our goals for education provides “an opportunity to shape an education system that reflected a modern Australia and prepared our children for the future economy.” She says:

“The Liberal National Government is committed to ensuring that a Vocational education is seen as equal to a University education in terms of meeting the needs of our future workforce”.

Interested in participation in the review of the declaration?

The Ministers’ joint press release suggested that there would be “wide-ranging consultation”. To stay informed and participate in the review, register your interest here