Peter Richardson.
Peter Richardson.

Déjà vu over the sorry state of our children's literacy

"FOR years, parents and employers have been expressing concern about the quality of our education system, only to be met with bland, dismissive assurances from the bureaucracy that all is well.

"Well, all is not well and now we all know it. It's a national disgrace that 10 percent of school leavers are ill equipped to cope with tasks requiring simple reading and writing skills - which is  just a fancy way of saying  they are illiterate for all practical purposes.

 "Sadder still is the fact that 50 per cent of school leavers surveyed feel they have gained little from their education.  Clearly we have failed all those kids."

Why the quotation marks? Because that is what I wrote 24 years ago  ( Daily, January 25, 1989.)

Fast forward to January 5, 2013, when I read of Australia's appalling results in international reading tests which showed that 25 per cent of Year 4 children in Australia failed to meet the standard in reading for their age.

These results were followed by an open letter to federal and state government MPs.

Written by a group of eminent literary researchers who had in 2004 promoted a national inquiry into the poor teaching of reading, it deplored almost a decade without action as a national disgrace, and called for a vast shake-up of teacher training to ensure that children are taught to read properly.

For over a year now, the commonwealth and state governments have been bickering and politicking over the Gonski report.

This review of funding for schooling, commissioned by Julia Gillard in 2010, found that with the performance of Australian students having declined at all levels over the last 10 years, school funding should be increased by about $5 billion a year, with a third of this coming from the Commonwealth, and the additional costs to be discussed and negotiated between all governments.

Has déjà vu set in yet, dear reader?

Discussions and negotiations - surely we've had enough of them. At this rate, another quarter of a century will pass before Australia can claim that its children are being properly taught to read properly.

This week, though, there has been a glimmer of light at the end of this very long tunnel. The federal government has announced a plan for tough new teacher training benchmarks, to be introduced over the next six years

Under the plan, trainee teachers will have to pass literacy and numeracy tests before graduation, and universities will have to tighten course admission guidelines to ensure that students have the "emotional intelligence" i.e. passion,  needed for the profession.

And wonder of wonders, the Opposition has welcomed the plan, albeit with the predictable claim that it is part of the Coalition's policies.

Six years, eh? Maybe after all I'll still be around when teachers are well chosen and are provided with the training, the time and the resources they need to give all our children they start they deserve.
 


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