1. Not failing students is failing business (by Tony Featherstone, Sydney Morning Herald)

2. Are my kids much better off growing up in Australia? (by Denny Liew, Migrating to Melbourne)

3. Choosing a School in Australia (by Bob of Bobinoz.com)

4. More Tips on Choosing an Australian School (by Bob of Bobinoz.com)








Not failing students is failing business

(written by Tony Featherstone)

Published on The Sydney Morning Herald

March 7, 2011

I remember my first university lecture as though it was yesterday. A crusty academic told students to look at the person two seats down from them, because they might not be there next semester. True to his word, many failed and had to repeat the course before proceeding in the degree.

Fast forward 23 years and I lunched with an academic last week who said he rarely fails people in his business Master’s subjects. “We have high entry standards and most students work hard in the course,” he said. “If someone’s not up to scratch, I’ll let them know they need to improve. But I don’t see the need to fail anybody who does the work ... it does more long-term harm than good.”

I suspect some universities are sending an awful message to a generation of young business students: 'If you hand in the work, you’ll pass.' 

This academic is hardly alone. Many who responded to my blog “Does University Education Still Pay” complained about falling university marking standards and too many business schools devaluing their degrees by making them easier to pass.

This reader comment reflected the mood: “Any business model involving paying fees for entry dilutes the quality of students and encourages both the dumbing down of the material and the passing of undeserving and underperforming students.”


What’s your view?

Are university marking standards slipping? Is it too easy to pass? If so, why?

Is there an expectation these days that nobody will fail their university degree if they submit the work?

This blog is not just another tirade about business schools. If some want to devalue their brand by passing undeserving students, that’s their choice. Their “piece of paper” will eventually become worthless when Australian business realises it is being badly let down by so many business schools that have poor research standings and outsource too much teaching.

My concern is about Australia developing more innovators and entrepreneurs who take risks and have the resilience to stick out the tough times, and start again if their venture fails.

I suspect some universities are sending an awful message to a generation of young business students: “If you hand in the work, you’ll pass.”

Since when was just “doing the work” good enough? Surely those who do the work, try hard, give it all they have but still aren’t up to the standard, should fail.

When did we become so complacent?

Universities who pass undeserving business students are not building future innovators or entrepreneurs. All they are building is a false sense of entitlement and self-belief among students. They are not giving students life skills to overcome inevitable failures and setbacks that emerge in business.

KPMG demographer and social commentator Bernard Salt told me last year in an interview for a BRW feature: “Many Gen-Ys think ‘Planet Normal’ is being pampered by their employer and told almost daily how talented and wonderful they are. But the oldest Gen-Ys will wake up one day in the next five to 10 years and realise not everybody can be the boss, and not everybody gets a prize in the workforce. They will realise middle-age is turning out not nearly as prosperous as they expected.”

It’s an excellent point. Too much of this “pampering” starts are university, where younger business students expect everybody to get a distinction or credit. That was my experience while lecturing. It was unthinkable to fail a student who submitted all assessment; only those who dropped out or went missing failed.

Where’s the reward for top business students who work hard and have more skill, if everybody gets a reasonable mark? Where’s the competition? Where’s the message that just “doing the work” and turning up is not good enough?

Critics might have three objections to this blog.

First, that I’m making generalisations about all universities and all courses having low failure rates. My comments are based on dozens of reader comments and emails this year about generally falling research standards at Australian business schools only.

I would love to be wrong on this one. If anyone has evidence that disproves this anecdotal view that university business courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels are becoming easier to pass, send it through. (My definition of failure is students who submit all the work, or take all the tests, and still fail. I don’t refer to failure as “attrition” where students drop out, although I accept many do so because they cannot keep up.)

Alternatively, if you have a strong view that some Australian university business courses have been “dumbed down” – with Master’s degrees resembling undergraduate degrees, and undergraduate degrees resembling TAFE courses, send that to me too.

Second, critics may argue, with justification, that the system is at fault, rather than universities. By forcing universities to become more “customer-centric”, the Federal Government has made them like any other commercial enterprise, where the customer is always right. How can you treat students like “customers”, fail them if their work is not good enough, and still take their money and expect them to come back for more?

Other theories for falling marking standards include: too much university focus on “churning” students through courses to get fees; too many international students; lower fail rates attract more students, especially those from overseas who need the qualification; and too much outsourcing of teaching to consultants and other poorly paid “sessionals” expected to mark dozens of assignments for a pittance. As a sessional lecturer told me: “I don’t get paid enough to mark assignments in detail, let alone fail students.”

My theory is this “customer-centric” focus is forcing too many university business schools to become more like training organisations, when they should be learning organisations. We risk turning university business education into vocational training by outsourcing more lecturing to lower-paid “consultants” with modest academic qualifications and no grounding in latest academic thinking.

Australia desperately needs more learned business academics who can inspire students to think differently and become lifelong learners. We need academics with the freedom to research issues that might not always be “customer centric”, give students the benefit of their research, and get support from well-run business schools that respect academic principles and rigour. Higher, globally competitive, pay for the best Australian business academics is the place to start.

The third objection may be that I’m too harsh on students. I don’t expect any university to fail students for the sake of it – arguments about “bell-curve” marking are silly if the entire class does well. I just want every business student to earn their degree fairly – not through lax university standards or lecturers under so much pressure they don’t have time to fail people.

I want Australian businesses, big and small, to know that when they recruit a student on the basis of credits or distinctions, those marks are real and that university standards remain high.

Most of all, I don’t want universities to add to the Gen-Y trend where everybody expects to do well and nobody fails, or has little experience in recovering from setbacks and disappointments.

Real innovation and entrepreneurship starts with resilience. Real resilience starts with education at home, school and university.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/small-business/the-venture/not-failing-students-is-failing-business-20110306-1bk1u#ixzz40ZtFtNmc
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Are my kids much better off growing up in Australia?

Last night it was my son Kevin's award ceremony held at the Grand Stand in Flenmington Racecourse. While waiting for the ceremony to begin I can feel a sense of joy and growth in confidence that moving my kids to Melbourne is worth all our efforts despite having to leave our comfort zone and giving up our careers in Malaysia.

I was really impressed by the opening speech delivered by Christopher Stock, the Principal of Emmanuel College especially with his following remarks:

1. Our aim is to help the young women and men of the College to be their best and become highly functioning, resilient and successful adults in a world characterized by change - adults who can think independently and make a meaningful contribution in society.

2. Our focus with students is on their development as a whole person, their growth in strong values and in care and consideration for others, particularly those who need our help.

3. Academic achievement is an important part of students being their best. Learning how to learn, gaining feedback on learning progress, and setting new learning goals are important components of students achieving excellence, their personal best.

4. We are what we repeatedly do - excellence is not an art but a habit. Working in partnership with parents, we aim to develop the habit of excellence in the young men and women of the College in helping them live life to the full.

He has pointed out that success is not about individual achievement in gaining high position and makes tons of money, but make meaningful contributions to the community extending a helping hand to those who are less fortunate. That's the true meaning to live life to the full.

This is totally in contrast to what I have been taught as a kid in the 80s as I remembered growing up in a culture that emphasizes on personal achievement and secure a job that pays tons of money. Caring for society is noble, but definitely not a priority because we are too poor to give living in the third world country. May be the previous generations before me have been deprived from all the good stuff we are enjoying today or they have been affected by years of living as an underprivileged second class citizen in Malaysia. I presumed living as a marginalized minority means extra efforts are needed to make ends meet so this has created a culture of less caring for those who are less fortunate or perhaps the majority of them are Bumiputras who has access to special rights in Malaysia so why should we bother to help. 

But my point is, has Malaysia changed since I was a kid? I think the country has been blessed with an abundance of natural resources and benefited from the economic prosperity of the 90s, therefore we can afford to be a more caring. But instead of instilling our kids with strong values and in care and consideration for others, they are splitting them because of racial and religious difference. You hear non-Muslim students were forced to take their lunch in the toilet instead of at the canteen. Recently it was alleged that some national school officials took matters into their hands by dividing non-Muslim and Muslim kids  in different classes instead of integrating students from various backgrounds to study together. Are they teaching our kids strong values and in care and consideration for others? I think the answer is obvious and my kids are far better off growing up in the school that is free of racial hatred and not subject to influence by those who are trapped by backward thinking and easily manipulated by BN political propaganda.

The post by YB Lim Kit Siang challenging the government by asking this question "Are your kids abroad because our education system ‘sucks’?" which I have shared on my Facebook page has garnered reading interest of 1,418 people.  It is so unreal to have our Education Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, to claim that the Malaysian education system was better than that of the United States, Britain and Germany, but in reality all top BN leaders are lacking faith in the national education system. Lim said it was an open secret that Cabinet ministers have for a long time sent their children to private and international schools where English is the teaching medium. The DAP veteran asked if it was because “Malaysia’s education system sucks” and that Malaysian schools have continued to trail behind in the bottom third of countries surveyed in a number of international assessments. “I have been informed that one of the first things a minister in the Najib Cabinet did on his appointment was to transfer one of his children to an international school,” Lim claimed in a statement. 

It is also a known fact that Malaysia's poor education system is far more worrying than household debt. This is because the country's substandard education system would affect the pool of skilled talent it needs to grow its economy to become a high income nation, while high household debt is not necessarily a problem if the economy continues to grow and citizens are gainfully employed as pointed out by Dr Frederico Gil Sander, the Wolrd Bank economist. He said Malaysians should be "alarmed" that their children were doing worse in school than children in Vietnam, a country that is poorer than Malaysia. Malaysia's poor PISA results spotlighted the weakness of Malaysia's school system, despite the fact that education gets the largest share of funds every year from the national budget. Critics have also questioned the real worth of the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) which produces many students who scored As, but who can't compete with their peers from Singapore, China and Taiwan.

It was also reported by OECD that Malaysia had more than half of the share of low achievers, which means the students tested lacked the skills needed in a modern workplace. In contrast, Singapore only had 8% share of low achievers. This showed that only one out of 100 Malaysian students, aged 15, is able to solve the most complex problems, compared with one in five in Singapore, Korea and Japan. Asian countries like Korea, Japan, Macau-China, Hong Kong-China, Shanghai-China and Chinese Taipei make up the top seven of the list. Students from Canada, Australia, Finland, England, Estonia, France, the Netherlands, Italy, the Czech Republic, Germany, the United States and Belgium all scored above the average. "Today’s 15-year-olds with poor problem-solving skills will become tomorrow’s adults struggling to find or keep a good job,” said Andreas Schleicher, acting Director of Education and Skills at OECD. 

The Times Higher Education (THE) top 200 global rankings show Malaysian universities again failed to make the cut to this year, while our southern neighbor Singapore's National University leapt into the top 25 schools list. The latest index shows a significant drop from last year’s ranking where Malaysia’s second-oldest tertiary school Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) at least made it to Asia’s top 100 list at 87th spot. During my time in the 80s only the top notch students from my school are able to secure a precious space in the local universities and an average performer like me being fortunate enough to receive higher education overseas in the UK. After 25 years instead of growing from strength to strength our local universities have not only lost their shine in the international arena but scored bottom in the global ranking. What a shame. The more I read about the stuff appearing in the media the more I felt sorry for the next generation having to bear with the leaders without foresight and do not take their interest at heart. 

I have also witnessed the contrasting difference between the Australian politicians and Malaysian politicians. Jill Hennessy, who is the State Member for Altona District in the Victorian Parliament, has also delivered her speech as the guest speaker of the night. One notable difference is, unlike her Malaysian counterparts who just read from the scripct and half the time do not even realize what they are talking about whereas her speech was very inspiring and she spoke freely with an open mind. She was able to connect with the students by sharing her past experience in school and how she has overcome her challenges turning to a successful lawyer. So what is my point? Well, this proves a point that the students here are trained to develop their lateral thinking so that they can communicate more effectively. Obviously, without a doubt that you can see a huge difference judging from how the Aussie authorities handled MH370 incident compared to their Malaysian counterparts .

We were told that some of the Year 12 award recipients are absent tonight because they are in Cambodia doing community works to help out the poor and needy in Phonm Penh. At such a young age the kids here are exposed to strong values with care and consideration for others, particularly those who needed help. I am deeply touched by their good deed and strongly believed that this is the right path to build credible and caring future leaders. 

I believe my kids now are in good hands and glad that they are also given the opportunity of learning a new culture. I truly believe that if my kids still remain in Malaysia they will never have the opportunity to pick up the experience of living life to the fullest. So this reaffirms that we have made the right choice, bringing our kids here in Australia.




Which school?

For most parents, this is a big decision at the best of times. But when you have just moved halfway across the world to a completely different country, how do you choose?

And that’s not the only problem, here in Australia we have state schools, (which, confusingly, can also be referred to as public schools) Catholic schools and private schools. I’ll give you a link to a post with more information about that shortly, but for now, here’s what I think.

State vs Private

Many people, when they come to Australia,  feel that the best option for their child or children would be a private school. We were the same, we’d even put our name on the waiting list of a private school, even though our daughter was only 3 1/2 when we got here.

But then, once we had settled into the community, we discovered that the locals all loved the nearby state school. And when I say nearby, I mean 5 minutes walk. The private school, on the other hand, would have required a (minimum of) 45 minute round trip by car.

Oh, and we would have had to pay the fees. Again, more about those later.

Our daughter is now seven (well, as at July 2011) and she (and we) love the local state school. She comes out of there smiling everyday and looks forward to going in the morning. And when she does have to go to high school, the reputation of the one nearest to us is also really good.

So don’t feel you have to do go the private, state schools here in Australia are pretty good.

But how good?

The government set up a website where you can check the performance of all schools in Australia. I made a video about it….



Elizabeth, my young daughter, breaks up from school at the end of the week for the winter break.

Elizabeth has had three full years at school now, although the first one was her “prep” year, which is voluntary. So she has completed year two and is now halfway through year three.

And what starts in year three? NAPLAN!

If you don’t know what NAPLAN is, then check out my post called Schools in Australia and NAPLAN.

Anyway, the NAPLAN tests are taken quite seriously here and they take place on the same days across all of Australia. If any student is not able to attend on those days, there is a “catch up” day where the children are given another opportunity to take the tests.

It can even be arranged for your child to take the test in a different school in a different state if, during the week of the tests, you are away from home for any reason.

Elizabeth’s track record for school attendance is almost exemplary, but as Murphy’s Law dictated, on the week of the NAPLAN tests, she had managed to pick up some kind of viral infection that left her with water on the hip.

Poor Elizabeth could hardly walk.

So she missed the first day of the tests, went in for day two and day three, but only specifically for the tests, and then caught up with the tests that she missed, on catch up day.

At the end of this week, we will be getting her first report since those tests; it’ll be interesting to see how they go. Elizabeth will be just as keen as we are to see good results; she is on a small financial incentive to get as many A’s as possible.

Anyway, enough about Elizabeth, what’s this post really about?

Researching the best schools in Australia.

There is a newish website, or rather a page on the Courier Mail site, that helps you research information about schools in Queensland.

What you will find there is staff information, student information and financial information about schools gathered from various public websites and put all into one simple system.

Update January 2016: Unfortunately, for some reason the Courier Mail have taken down that page which is why I no longer have a link to it, but I have found another page on The Australian that may help, it’s called Your School.

Prominently displayed next to the details of each school is the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA, pronounced ‘ikseeya’) score, as it is quite important. It’s what the Myschool website uses to compare like schools together. There is a four page PDF that explains ICSEA scores, but you may prefer a one sentence explanation:

The higher the ICSEA score, the better the school is likely to do in the NAPLAN tests.

ICSEA scores, NAPLAN tests! Quite complex isn’t it? I’m sure schools were not like this in my day.

Anyway, the average ICSEA score is 1000, the highest score in Queensland is about 1200.

If you are looking for a school anywhere in Australia you may well find my page aboutschools of interest.

State school or private school?

That’s a question many parents face, should I pay out for private education or are the state schools just as good?

This is by no means a thorough investigation, more of a cursory glance. Here’s what I did. Using my house as a central point in all of Australia, I took the two closest state run primary schools and compared them to the nearest private school that also caters for primary students.

Those three schools are:

  • Moggill State School
  • Pullenvale State School
  • Ipswich Girls Grammar School

You can get all sorts of information comparing these three schools from the Courier Mail website; you can compare between years 3, 5 and 7; see results for years 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011; and compare each different category in the NAPLAN tests, which are:

  • Grammar and Punctuation
  • Numeracy
  • Reading
  • Spelling
  • Writing

But I am going to show you just one screenshot from all the comparisons I looked at, and that is for “Overall Student Performance” 2011 for students in Years 3, 5 and 7. You can click the image to enlarge it…



Please note: only the Ipswich school caters for year 9 (secondary school) students, hence no data for the other two schools.

As you can see for yourselves, there’s really not much between the three schools is there?

The two state schools are free, apart from a few small contributions towards books and sports equipment, for example, whereas the private school will cost you, at today’s rates:

  • Prep – Yr 5 = $7,420 Per Annum
  • Years 6 & 7 = $7,738 Per Annum

I’m not going to make any irrational conclusions from this tiny experiment. If anything can be taken from it though, it’s surely ‘do your research,’ rather than automatically assume that private schools must be much better than state schools.

But maybe I’m missing something. Am I?