Experts back  equity over tests for kids
Advice: Pasi Sahlberg. Picture: Ian Munro/The West Australian

Australia should place less emphasis on testing children and more on wiping out disadvantage, an international education expert told WA principals yesterday.

Pasi Sahlberg, from Finland, and Pak Tee Ng, from Singapore - two of the world's highest- performing countries based on international tests of 15-year-olds in maths, reading and science - spoke at the WA Primary Principals Association State conference in Perth.

Dr Sahlberg, a former Finnish education official now based at Harvard University's graduate school of education, told principals they needed to respect the right of children to have time to play.

Finnish schools devote more time than Australian schools to play and teachers spend fewer hours fronting classrooms.

He said Australia should rethink its approach to national numeracy and literacy testing, instead of allowing accountability to drive its education system.

"I'm not anti-testing, I think we need to have data and information about how students are learning and how the system is doing," he said.

"But I think Australia is probably overdoing that, in other words, giving too central a role to assessments."

Dr Sahlberg said the evidence was clear that improving equity as well as quality was the key to boosting student achievement.

"Equity of outcomes in this country is probably the best thing that you can invest in," Dr Sahlberg said. "In other words, making the schools serve all types of children, including the Aboriginal population, is better."

He said WA had been more successful at achieving equity than Australia overall. The Gonski review was the best system-wide analysis he had read.

Dr Ng, head of policy and leadership studies at Nanyang Technological University, said Australia should not try to import other countries' education practices.

He said while other countries were copying Singapore, it was trying to move away from standardised testing.

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