Outcomes-based education has become dominant in Australia and other Western nations. Why is that so?

Following WWII education became more readily available as compulsory school ages were raised and later tertiary education was more accessible. The government began meeting the economic needs of our country by educating and training tomorrow’s workforce through funding to education (Killen, 2000). But in order for schools to be effective in society they needed to stay current with changes in technology, culture and economy (Brady & Kennedy, 2013). The “emergence of an information age, the birth of a global economy and the cyber world” (Hurd, 1998, p.409, cited in Smith, 2011, p. 1275) meant industries and business had to stay globally competitive, so education driven by economic policy and demands became the means to make this happen (McCulla, 2009). Economic rationalism affected the perception that outcomes-based education (OBE) was a preferred model for compulsory education within Australia (Berlach, 2004).

“The question was being asked, to what extent were schools preparing students for future life-roles?”

OBE provided opportunities for skills shortages to be addressed, enabling governments to support specific learning programs aimed at boosting economic position (Smith, 2011). In the USA it was the response to the Sputnik crisis which prompted education initiatives to best prepare and train new generations, enabling them as a nation to “regain technological superiority” (Alderson & Martin, 2007, p. 163). The differences between education and training were being defined and outcomes provided a focus on the bigger picture. The question was being asked, to what extent were schools preparing students for future life-roles? Specific skillset training was persuaded by the particular view of economic development, where decisions of what to include arose from cultural, historical and political influences (Killen, 2000; Smith, 2011).

Intellectual quality was no longer for the few and models like OBE made education achievable rather than exclusive (Killen, 2000). Statements like that of the Victorian government where each student should receive an education which enables them to fully participate in society, supported the principle that education was no longer for the elite (Smith, 2011).

OBE was a system in which governments could evaluate return on investment and had already been adopted by vocational education (Killen, 2000). Government initiatives produced 8 statements to enhance compulsory education with outcomes promoting necessary skills for educational and economic competitiveness (Killen, 2000).

“Educators support the purpose of assessment to enhance learning yet also acknowledge the purpose of reporting achievement, but as Alderson and Martin point out it was naïve to assume the two could comfortably coexist.”

Schools had became subservient to an environment of accountability which was orientated to a neo-liberal agenda where schools competed for students through outcomes-based curriculum (McCulla, 2009). Whether Australia and similar Western nations embraced OBE for learning or accountability is subjective from various viewpoints. Killen (2000) declared educational accountability was a driving reason for the introduction of OBE, however Alderson and Martin (2007) weigh up both sides of the argument. Outcomes are measured through assessment, which is then used for reporting on student achievement. Educators support the purpose of assessment to enhance learning yet also acknowledge the purpose of reporting achievement, but as Alderson and Martin (2007) point out it was naïve to assume the two could comfortably coexist. Many argue testing becomes the driving force in the OBE models even though results can indicate all that has been achieved during a course (Alderson & Martin, 2007).

By: Julia Cuthbertson

References within this article:
Alderson, A., & Martin, M. (2007). Outcomes Based Education: Where Has It Come from and Where Is It Going? Issues in Educational Research, 17(2), 161-182.
Berlach, R. G. (2004). Outcomes-based education and the death of knowledge. Paper presented at the Australian Association for Research in Education 2004 Conference., Melbourne. http://researchonline.nd.edu.au/edu_conference/1/
Brady, L., & Kennedy, K. (2013). Curriculum construction (5th ed.). Frenchs Forest, Sydney: Pearson Higher Education AU.
Killen, R. (2000). Outcomes-based education: Principles and possibilities. Unpublished manuscript. University of newcastle, Faculty of Education.
McCulla, N. (2009). Now is the time for educational change. Professional Educator, 8(2), 44-47.
Smith, D. V. (2011). One Brief, Shining Moment? The Impact of Neo-Liberalism on Science Curriculum in the Compulsory Years of Schooling. International Journal of Science Education, 33(9), 1273-1288. doi:10.1080/09500693.2010.512368