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No improvement in literacy and numeracy over 40 years

By GnT 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.


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34 Responses to
No improvement in literacy and numeracy over 40 years
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nyssa76 5:01 pm 14 Feb 08

Neanderthalsis, thanks for the link.

VicePope 11:03 am 14 Feb 08

Caf – I disagree with you on the timeline. There were (in NSW at least) phonics-cleansing purges back in the 1960s. (I think “Words in Colour” was no later than, say, 1975). Clever ideas, mostly dreamt up by people with little experience and forced on schools by people who preferred being bureaucrats to teaching. Worth thinking about, but not as a mass experiment.

A relative’s teaching career survived into the 1980s by going underground and misdescribing lesson plans and registers. This was done with the connivance of the boss nun and the uninformed assent of the parents who were simply pleased that their children were learning to read and write better and more quickly). We did not see her as a freedom fighter, but she probably was.

neanderthalsis 9:50 am 14 Feb 08

oops, seemed to have dropped a “have” out of my last sentence.

neanderthalsis 9:48 am 14 Feb 08

Nyssa, it was developed by Kevin Wheelan at Maquarie university. They details and some resources on their website:

pierce 9:27 am 14 Feb 08

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

VYBerlinaV8 2:39 pm 12 Feb 08

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

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!

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.

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.

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.

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