We start the school year knowing that Australia’s educational standards are dropping and yet Australians, on a median basis, are the wealthiest people group in the world.1
Is more money spent on education the answer or is something else the missing part of the educational puzzle?
Educational experts in Australia have argued in favour of billions of dollars of extra government funding to be spent on education to help Australia return to its previous high educational standards.2
Ten years ago Australia was in the top ten in the world for maths, science and reading, but has now fallen in rank to 19th place in maths, 16th in science and 13th in reading.
These statistics are all the more embarrassing when it is considered that China, who is number one in maths, science and reading in the world, spends less than Australia does on education as a percentage of GDP.
Australia spends 4.5 percent on education whereas China has only just reached its goal of 4 percent of GDP on education and yet it now tops the world in maths, science and reading.
Australia is spending more money than ever before on education but is falling further behind: “Australian teenagers reading and maths skills have fallen so far in a decade that nearly half of them lack basic maths skills and a third are practically illiterate.”3
Could it be that the increased levels of fatherlessness and family breakdown are major contributors to our declining educational standard?
More than 40 percent of Australian students reported that ‘family demands’ interfered with their school work.
Could it be that these ‘family demands’ relate to the fact that over a million Australian children will go to sleep tonight without their biological father in the home?
For many other children Dad is in the home but the lights aren’t on. Work demands may preclude his proper involvement or maybe he is unable to connect because of his own inadequacies as a father.
Fatherlessness in Australia is expressed in many different ways.
The ever increasing rates of family breakup are hidden in the normal statistical reports because of the massive rise of cohabitation in Australia.
Cohabiting couples with children are three times as likely to breakup as married couples with children.4An increased level of fatherlessness is always an unintended consequence.
The high rate of fatherlessness in Australia closely correlates with the high rate of divorce, currently sitting at 43 percent of the number of marriages.
Australia has twice the number of divorces that China is experiencing, with the rate of family breakup among the Chinese sitting at only 22 percent.
Having visited China I know that family is very important to Chinese mothers and fathers. Chinese fathers in particular are very supportive and involved in their children’s academic achievement.
In contrast, rates of fatherlessness in the USA are observably higher than Australia, which in turn is reflected in even lower academic achievement levels of its students.
However studies have shown that children with involved fathers will achieve higher grades and have better linguistic and cognitive capacities as well as higher IQs.
In 2001 a U.S. Department of Education study found that children with highly involved biological fathers were 43 percent more likely than other children to earn mostly A-grades and 33 percent less likely than other children to repeat a year.
A study of 1,330 children from the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics5showed that fathers who are involved on a personal level with their child’s schooling increase the likelihood that their child will achieve better results.
When fathers assume a positive role in their child’s education, students feel a positive impact.
A Melbourne University study of 212 children found that fathers, even more than mothers, had a major beneficial influence on children in their first year of school. The study found that kids with regular father involvement were more cooperative and self-reliant in school than kids who did not have father involvement. The more regular involvement the father has with the child, the study’s author said, the better the child does in his or her first year of school.6
One study of school-aged children7found that children with good relationships with their fathers were less likely to experience depression, exhibit disruptive behaviour or lie and were more likely to exhibit pro-social behaviour.
This same study found that boys with involved fathers had fewer behavioural problems at school and that girls possessed stronger self-esteem.
In addition, numerous studies have found that children living with their fathers are more likely to have good physical and emotional health, to achieve academically, and to avoid drugs, violence, and delinquent behaviour.
So perhaps we need to learn from the experience of the mothers and fathers of China, that family and fatherhood are the missing piece of the educational jigsaw.
If we are to solve the problem of falling educational standards we must also invest in the restoration of fatherhood.
All the money in the world cannot replace the benefits of committed and involved mothers and fathers, equipped to raise the next generation.
As psychologist Steve Biddulph said, “Love grows the brain.”
1. The Australian, October 9, 2013
2. The Australian, December 4, 2013
3. The Australian, December 4, 2013
4. Australian Spectator, June 22, 2013
5. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Vol.
26, Issue 2, March-April 2005
6. “Fathers key to success”, The Age, 5 October 2002
7. “The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children”, Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Children’s Bureau, 2006
Warwick Marsh and his wife, Alison, founded the Dads4Kids and the Fatherhood Foundation www.fatherhood.org.au in 2002 . They have five adult children and five grandchildren.