Australian children should get access to more than a year of preschool education to help prevent further entrenching disadvantage at an early age, according to the OECD.
The Paris-based group has suggested the idea in a new report which lays bare the challenges facing the nation’s education system.
While Australia still stacks up well by international standards, the report shows a continuing decline in performance in reading, mathematics and science.
The share of “low-performing” students has also increased in each of those three subject areas.
Another concerning trend is equity.
The report found the rate of Australian children aged 3 to 5 attending early childhood education (82 per cent) was lower than the OECD average, with “participation gaps” apparent among disadvantaged and Indigenous children.
It recommended expanding universal preschool — known as kindergarten in WA — beyond the one-year offered to children across Australia.
The report pointed to research that showed children who spent two years in early childhood education performed far better in reading than their peers who had not.
“The foundations for a good ECEC (early childhood education and care) system exist in Australia, but need to be expanded so that those at greater need can benefit from it,” the report, to be published on Tuesday, said.
“Access to quality ECEC provides the foundation to prevent greater disadvantage as students move throughout their education pathways.”
In another finding, the report blames COVID-related disruptions and “climate-related shocks” for contributing to a “growing disengagement” from education for high school students.
The 67-page report also puts forward options to help tackle the teacher workforce shortages which are crippling school systems across the country.
It suggests revising workloads to prevent staff burnout and allow them to focus on the quality of teaching.
Australia is facing a shortage of 4,100 high school teachers through 2025 as a result of a mass exodus of staff and fewer school graduates moving into the profession.
The report shows that teachers work longer hours and are paid slightly less than other similarly educated professionals.
The broader findings of the OECD study will add impetus to the Albanese Government’s attempts to reform the education sector and tackle the teacher shortage crisis.
“This report confirms the equity issues and teacher workforce challenges we face, particularly in early childhood education and school classrooms,” Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said.
“While the report shows we have a good education system by international standards, we know that it should be a lot better and a lot fairer.”
Mr Clare wants to use the next national schools’ agreement with the States and Territories to tie education funding to reforms that deliver a “real, practical difference”.
“If you’re a child today from a poor family, or from the bush, or you’re an Indigenous child, then you’re three times more likely to fall behind at school.
“We must turn this around.”