No improvement in literacy and numeracy over 40 years

By 10 February 2008 34

Research by the ANU has shown no improvement in Australian literacy and numeracy standards since the 1960s.

The researchers say “”I feel Australian society has come a long way in that time we’re a lot richer our education attainment is a lot higher. I think we should have expected a lot more out of our schools in that time given the extra resources we’ve poured in.”

Isn’t it possible that our education has improved, but in areas other than basic literacy and numeracy? Perhaps literacy and numeracy has always been relatively high in Australia, but now we also have higher standards of critical thinking, awareness of social issues, IT skills, scientific inquiry, music, art and PE.

Just another way to think about it.

Please login to post your comments
34 Responses to
No improvement in literacy and numeracy over 40 years
VicePope 6:48 pm
10 Feb 08

Without the building blocks (people who can read and write and perform some arithmetic functions), most other education is wasted. It has nowhere to go and no way for the student to grow. They cannot read further, and they cannot understand and apply what they learn. Unless they have picked up these skills at school or at home, students cannot express themselves with clarity or make a reasoned argument.

We have spent a lot of time loading schools up to substitute for what parents and society more generally used to provide, and we can hardly complain that, as a result, students cannot gain in the important core areas.

A hypothetical. If schools ran hard for the first few years on establishing what was needed and only expanded the range of what was taught when people acquired the basic skills, school for those years might be duller (as I am told it is in France). But it might also be more useful, because the minds that will receive information from the other subjects when they become available will be sharper and more ready for it. Any teachers out there?

simbo 7:49 pm
10 Feb 08

Alternatively, the non-movement in the stats may actually say something very simple – some kids GET literacy and numeracy, and some kids don’t. And no matter how many resources you throw at them… they still won’t get it.

Of course, that suggests that some kids may simply be unteachable. Which… well, isn’t the most positive way of thinking.

Felix the Cat 9:08 pm
10 Feb 08

Education has been “dumbed down” IMO. Too many non-core subjects are being taught in school instead of or at the expense of the 3 Rs. Damn, I’ve turned into my parents!

Society in general has been dumbed down. How many spelling mistakes and grammatical errors do you see in newspapers and the media in general? Heaps. I don’t know how because aren’t all these publications compiled using a computer which have spell checkers as part of their software (this forum even has spell check though it is American – as is nearly everything else these days).

Mobile phones and the texting craze where words are abbreviated and spelt phonetically. Email also should share the blame, it seems to be politically incorrect to spell properly or use correct punctuation or grammer, even in the workplace.

nyssa76 7:58 am
11 Feb 08

I will reiterate again that last year I was ‘told off’ for teaching grammar and spelling. You should have seen some of the looks I got when I said I was teaching a novel to all my students….

Anyway, I am still being ‘forced’ to teach units of work which are primary school units, instead of what is taught in at least 85% of Canberra high schools. Classic example, my 8yo son saw my PowerPoint on one unit and said “We did that last year” – he was in Yr 2 last year.

I’ll be bringing up a need to ‘change the guard’ during a meeting I have today.

Felix, you are right about it being “dumbed down”. I see it first hand.

VicePope 8:26 am
11 Feb 08

By sheer coincidence, I was speaking yesterday with a former infants (K-2) teacher last night. She said that, during the 1960s and 1970s, a whole stream of “brilliant ideas” had come, mostly from America, and teachers had been directed to follow them. One required children to learn a range of colours which could be associated with sounds, when many of them had pretty much reached the primary colours stage of distinction.

She happily ignored the directives, continued to teach the phonics approach and some grammar, and produced better results than the newbies who followed the program. (America is, of course, hardly an unqualified success story in overall educational outcomes which is why we get so many of our ideas from them).

Since then, of course, there have been many kites flown. Some of the experiments have probably worked, but mandating approaches in mainstream schools is hardly the way to experiment.

Fight the fight, Nyssa,

Snahons_scv6_berlina 9:23 am
11 Feb 08

you go girl :)

Mælinar 9:28 am
11 Feb 08

There is no such thing as a ‘brilliant idea’ from America, its an oxymoron, or americamoron as it were. The true morons in this debate are the superiors who instigated this policy, without due reference to the superior quality of teaching that was already in place.

VYBerlinaV8 9:40 am
11 Feb 08

Go for it, Nyssa. Education has clearly been dumbed down, and as a society I believe we are worse for it. ‘Expressing yourself’ and ‘feeling’ seem more important than results. Which is fine on a micro level, but when these people are running the world, it spells trouble.

I’m a bit fan of going back to proper English, Maths, Science, etc, and helping kids to actually train their minds. Then, when they get into later highschool, let them choose subjects that interest them and lead somewhere after school finishes.

Although, it must be said, plenty of people are just plain stupid.

Ralph 10:08 am
11 Feb 08

Blame the socialists for this.

Mælinar 10:14 am
11 Feb 08

TAGLINE – Although, it must be said, plenty of people are just plain stupid.

Comment by VYBerlinaV8 — February, 2008

VYBerlinaV8 10:36 am
11 Feb 08

When are the taglines going to get updated?

And Ralph, I agree.

neanderthalsis 10:49 am
11 Feb 08

I personally blame Derrida, Foucault and Freire. Pedogogical concept in literacy development has been under constant bombardment from the Marxist idealogues that focus on the sociocultural contextualisation of the pedogogical approach instead of concentrating on the development of social and human capital.

Whole of word epistemology has dominated instead of the more traditional phonic approach that deconstructs the word form and teaches individual sounds and letter combinations (called phonemes and have such interesting sub categories as the diphthong and the shwa). Whole of word lit is underpinned by the construcivist idealogy that emphasises interpretation and contextualisation of text and the free form expression in reading and writing.

My own experience as a teach of adult literacy in the TAFE system many moons ago exposed me to the by-products of the school system that were let down by the idealogues in teaching and curriculum development.

Ralph 11:31 am
11 Feb 08


JD114 1:17 pm
11 Feb 08

Eighty percent or so of a child’s education comes from the home, the schools can at best hope to provide the other 20%. If the 80% hasn’t been taught at home, the schools unfortunately cannot make up the difference.

Society (via the medai largely) seems to be hung up on the mantra of responsibility on the part of schools at the expense of home education. A clever government would attempt to reverse that with a plan to educate parents as to their absolutely critical role in giving their kids the basics that will allow them to make use of the 20% that the schools can provide.

Ingeegoodbee 1:41 pm
11 Feb 08

A couple of years ago I met lady who’d worked for many years as a teacher. In the course of our varied conversation she asked me what year of a kids schooling I thought was the most important. I responded with Year 12 / HSC, with my reasoning being that the results of that year would have the greatest effect on the future of that child and the education or professional choices that they could make. She responded with, “what about Prep and Year 1?” She went on to point out that if a child leaves Year 1 without being able to read well then that will directly impact upon every aspect of their learning in future years.

I took her advice and ensured that both my kids could read before they started school.

nyssa76 4:33 pm
11 Feb 08

The meeting went the way I ‘knew’ it would.

Basically the same crap is repeating itself.

Assessment is basic and repetitive. The people running it have less than 2 years teaching experience between them and FFS, have no concept of what should be taught at that year level.

Rant over.

Mælinar 4:39 pm
11 Feb 08

Nyssa – where/who can we direct the letters of complaint ?

nyssa76 5:28 pm
11 Feb 08

You can send them to the CEO or to the Minister.

I just think that you should have at least 3-5 yrs experience before you start dictating the course work.

But don’t worry, I’m going to keep on keepin’ on (to quote Joe Dirt) and do what I, as a parent of a Yr 8, would expect and as a teacher, what I have taught before.

VicePope 9:35 am
12 Feb 08

I’m not sure I understand Neanderthalsis’ post, eloquent as it is, although the strucuralist spin is certainly interesting. It seems to me that a whole word approach may work when it comes to teaching whole words, but be less effective when the student has to attack unfamiliar whole words from first principles. (In other words, I’m not so sure about the weight properly given to context in whole word teaching).

What matters is what works, and what is being done appears not to work terribly well. If the education system expected children to identify and comment on different types of vehicle or plant or animal, one would assume that it should first teach them to recognise things such as wheels, leaves and eyes.

GnT 11:05 am
12 Feb 08

Spot on VicePope. Whole of word is the best way to teach words like ‘one’ and even ‘the’, which don’t follow phonemic rules. (Whole of word is how most of us actually read). But phonics must be used to give kids confidence to tackle new and longer words.

‘Teaching kids to read’ is more than just teaching them to sound out words on a page. You want them to understand what they’re reading. Early childhood teachers would rather see kids come to kindergarten who don’t know their alphabet, but can tell a story (sequencing) and know that you turn the pages of a book on the right, than kids who can sound out plenty of words but have no context for them.

Snahons_scv6_berlina 11:07 am
12 Feb 08

On what JD said -
We read a book (or more) to our children every night, we have since they were about 6 months old. Our eldest finished kindergarten last year reading about 6 levels above expectation. I would like to think its a combination of things :-
- make reading books fun.
- Although we are not teachers, we use the phonic approach to our children when it comes to reading and sounding words out.
- We read to our other, younger children, but we make sure our eldest reads to us every night.

In terms of numeracy, our eldest could count to 100 before kindergarten, count backwards and he is pretty good with basic maths already. Again, we sit down and teach him over and above what he gets from school.

Schools can only do so much and it shi*ts me that:
- It would appear many parents leave everything up to the school to ‘babysit’ their children.
- The education system can’t come up a conclusive ‘best practice’(s) approach but instead continue to dilute fundamental basics.
- There is no performance based system (incestive) for teachers.

VYBerlinaV8 11:12 am
12 Feb 08

I like the idea of incestive based performance (watch out, sis!).

We also read to our young son (2 years old), and have done since he was a baby. He loves books, and speaks very well for his age. I think anything a parent can do to usefully stimulate the mind of a child will pay off in terms of intellectual ability and mental discipline. Counting is great, especially when you make it fun by counting things he loves (eg red trucks when out in the car).

Sitting your kid in front of the telly all day and ignoring them is probably the best way to grow a future retard.

neanderthalsis 11:25 am
12 Feb 08

VP, I got a wee bit technical during my rant; the phonics v. whole of word is much broader than simple word recognition and individual sounds. Phonics was the accepted norm in teaching reading and comprehension up until the late 70′s and early 80′s. Whole of word is considered the more middle of the road. it is the all inclusive method that promotes mediocrity, those with poor skills can sort of get the basics, but advanced learners can’t forge ahead because they don’t have the foundational understanding of language structure.

Phonics is now being used widely to teach kids with learning difficulies and those well behind their ideal reading level. There is a phonics based program called MULITLIT (Making Up for Lost Time In Literacy) currently being used very successfully in a number of Aborigial communities in north queensland. Indigenous Yr7 students who previously had reading levels equal to a yr2 student in a metropolitan school have improved to the point where they are at their ideal reading level after only 12 months on the program.

I personally was taught reading and comprehension using the “Irish Nun” approach; but sadly it is now out of fashion.

James-T-Kirk 2:02 pm
12 Feb 08

VY: “Sitting your kid in front of the telly all day and ignoring them is probably the best way to grow a future retard.”

Yep – That’s why I read to my kids and encourage them to think. That way, they will accelerate past all of the retards who are educated by “The Biggest Looser” and “Neighbours”. With luck, they will *never* have to resort to government employment…

Wo Hoo!

VYBerlinaV8 2:39 pm
12 Feb 08

James-T-Kirk, you are an inspiration to me.

nyssa76 7:34 am
14 Feb 08

encourage them to think

I’ve had to teach my students how to think for themselves and not be afraid to do so. They can’t form their own opinions and when they finally do, it’s like a light bulb has turned on above their heads.

Having just tested their comprehension and grammar, I can honestly say that my ‘new’ students (Yr 7′s) are very low in the literacy stakes.

So that will be the focus of my work this year – bugger what the boss wants. I sure as hell don’t want these kids leaving my classroom at the end of the year with the same levels they had at the start.

Neanderthalsis, I might even look into the MULTILIT program to use in my classroom. Thanks for that.

Mælinar 8:17 am
14 Feb 08

You only need to buy parsnips at Woolworths to find out how intellectually retarded people are nowdays. Nearly every young checkout child has to ask me what it is.

Using this as a basis, they have never had it in a roast – a crying shame, as caremalised roast parsnip is making my mouth water as I type this.

Which would probably mean they have not had a lot of roasts in their lives, reduced dietary intake – lets just look to the fast food generation for answers to where they are gaining their major sustenance.

These kids are the ones that are holding down jobs and would be considered as being amoung the respectable end of the social scale, responsible parents and all that jazz.

Yet they can’t identify a parsnip. Sad indictment on society, education, the family unit, and a whole lot of other stuff I can’t be bothered to mention.

Thumper 8:36 am
14 Feb 08

There is a train of scientific thought that suggests that the eating of red meat, ie protein, many, many years ago, lets say 100K, helped increase of brain capacity and therefore reasoning skills.

Therefore, if pure lean red meat is now removed from a diet and not supplemented by something else, ie tofu for vegos, is there a possibility that kids could not develop completely?

Let’s take a kid that eats Macdonalds, pizza, and chips, washed down by a coke. Surely this cannot help his/her development.

Just an idea.

caf 8:59 am
14 Feb 08

The “phonics vs whole-of-word” debate is interesting, but I don’t think it can explain the stagnation reported in the article – the timescales are wrong. Apparently literacy outcomes have stayed the same since the 60s (not retreated mind you; just stayed the same), and yet the teaching methods didn’t change until the 80s.

pierce 9:27 am
14 Feb 08

Hey James-T-Kirk – I enjoy fat show and Neighbours (but on a meta-textual level) :)

Follow The RiotACT
Get Premium Membership
Advertisement Newsletter Sign Up

Should school bus travel be free?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Images of Canberra

RiotACT Proudly Supports
Copyright © 2014 Riot ACT Holdings Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.