I was surprised when I heard this on the news. I have found my son's education has been excellent. His school focuses not only on academic achievement, but also on social skills and sporting abilities. When I compare that to my primary school experience in Prague, Czech Republic, I would say Australia is miles ahead.
I think it depends a bit on what you consider slipping behind. I don't know about Canada but I don't think we'd want an education system like they have in Japan, with students under so much pressure they get very little time to just be kids. Look at their rates of suicide and mental illness.
That being said, I am not thrilled with the education I received in public schools in Australia. When I compared the stuff I was given to do in English classes with the texts my parents' generation were expected to read at the same age there seemed to have been a huge dumbing down. Stuff the Baby Boomers would have been expected to understand in grade five was given to us in high school, and then done painfully slowly. However, things seem to have changed a lot since I was in school so I'm not sure where they're at right now. I know when I went back to uni the teenagers just out of school had done literary theory in high school that I didn't see until university. I think that might be going a bit too far the other way since all of those "ism"s (post modernism, post colonialism, post structuralism, post-post modernism...) seem a bit much to tackle all at once.
But while they were learning about more advanced concepts these students had still missed a lot of the same basic stuff my student cohort had, like spelling and grammar. Historical knowledge was pretty lacking too and while many people don't consider it as important it troubles me that we have people reaching adulthood without the basics of art, like knowing that red and blue make purple. Maths and science seemed to fare slightly better, and there was plenty of time spent on the Almighty Sport. I think there needs to be a return to the basics in many subject areas. Also, it is kind of ridiculous that LOTE isn't taught from grade one when kids are much more receptive to learning new languages at that age.
I don't like the recent trend to push kids to do more academic work younger than before, like in prep. That's not the way to catch up with other countries. Either kids are developmentally ready to learn something or they're not. If you push them to do stuff they're not ready for they'll feel frustrated and stupid and learn to hate school.
Schools aren't able to just focus on the educational basics of reading, writing and arithmetic anymore, but are expected to pack a lot more into the curriculum in the same amount of time. In my opinion, this leads to important subjects getting rushed through more quickly so that everything that is expected of a child is taught.
Am surprised as well. My nieces go to a public school, yet their education is quite good. Although they're quite smart, it is disturbing that they can't read or spell as well as they should; nor can they recite their times tables. When I was 9 (although not bright) I got all of this down pat, and they're ages 9 and 11 respectively. Having worked on literacy tests and setting them, it is disturbing.
GREAT QUESTION!! There are a number of reasons which I believe it does start with parents. However, the education system has become very laid-back with less test and more focus on the teacher's over all view of the child's progress. Teacher's are known to be biased, with some teachers showing lack of interest in children at all. So to give them the power "of God" without testing of actually knowledge can be a direct result of why the education system is going backwards!
Teachers are expected to teach subjects that have no relevance whatsoever to being able to survive in the real world today. I'm appalled at the level of spelling nowadays from high school students!!! They have to use text spelling. God help them if they have to spell anything with more than 10 letters! Most of them don't even know what a dictionary is these days. They Google everything!!!! When I went to school (oh so long ago), I used to argue with my maths teacher that we would never use algebra etc in our life times and subsequently would be sent out of class most days. I hated Maths with a passion so I didn't really care and therefore failed it in the end. If you can add, subtract,multiply and divide confidently, then you're pretty well set I feel. My 16 year old daughter asked me a few months back when they were commemmorating the passing of JFK, who he was!! I was flabbergasted to say the least!!! Why don't they teach basic history anymore? The education system has put in with geography and something else and now calls it SOSE. History, unless studied as a separate subject is now not required it seems. What a shame! I LOVED history in high school and still love it today, reading about ancient times. I feel sorry for the kids going through school today. They miss out on so much. Mandy E.