If you are reading this piece you’re probably not among the close to half of the population with literacy and numeracy skills below the required levels to meet the demands of everyday life and work.

Half these kids could be struggling to read the exam paper

This figure comes from the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills survey undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2006 and while not up-to-the-minute, is worth reflecting on in light of last week’s National Literacy and Numeracy Week.

Specifically the survey revealed that between 46% and 70% of adults in Australia had poor or very poor skills across one or more of the five skill domains of prose literacy, document literacy, numeracy, problem-solving and health literacy.

It’s hard to believe that in a well-off country like Australia such a large proportion of the community could be struggling with everyday tasks because of an inability to read properly. We are not just talking about residents for whom English is a second language either, but an endemic societal problem which the education system is not adequately addressing.

The theme for this year’s Literacy and Numeracy Week was ‘Getting the basics right’. It speaks to the need for a solid foundation for literacy and numeracy development among young people so that they may grow up with the best possible opportunity to reach their potential.

Perhaps it’s easier to comprehend the rate of poor literacy when we see that Australian students spend just nine hours of classroom time a week on reading, writing and literature – as reported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) last year. This is well below the OECD average of 15 hours.

Aside from the debilitating effects of poor literacy at the individual level, where reading public notices or interpreting a bus timetable can become a challenge, the effect on the broader economy is also significant. In fact, it has been estimated that a one per cent increase in a country’s literacy scores is associated with an eventual 2.5 per cent increase in labour productivity and a 1.5 per cent increase in GDP.

So how can we improve this situation, given that it has persisted for so long as an ‘invisible’ issue perpetuated by the social stigma of illiteracy and the broader lack of recognition around the extent to which it affects people in our community?

Last week the Australian Industry Group announced the launch of a national program to tackle the impact of poor literacy and numeracy among those in the workplace. It will be funded by the Federal Government and is a step in the right direction towards both boosting employee prospects and workplace safety.

After all, an employee charged with operating machinery who can’t properly read operating instructions, is a liability to him or herself as well as the organisation.

This is a good initiative, but tackling illiteracy in adults is not enough. To prevent illiteracy from becoming such a problem in the workplace, it must be addressed at the earliest possible opportunity so that the next generation doesn’t enter the workplace with sub-standard skills in this area.

Research shows that the building blocks of literacy are developed long before a child starts school, with parents playing a crucial role in helping their children develop a love of language and books through the shared enjoyment of reading together.

But as technology and television continue to dominate our home environments, the written word is being squeezed out. In 2006, 19 per cent of Australian children (almost one in five) reported having less than 11 books in their home. Worryingly, this percentage has doubled in the three years since 2003, and with many parents themselves struggling with low levels of reading and writing, are we surprised that the cycle of poor literacy continues from one generation to the next?

At The Smith Family we have long believed in the value of working with the family unit to support the learning of both parents and their children from a very early age. Already, 100,000 children across the country have benefited from involvement in the early literacy program we facilitate called Let’s Read.*

Not only does this program help to prepare children for primary school through development of their emergent literacy skills (the ability to identify and manipulate sounds), but it also works with parents and carers to ensure they are equipped with the skills to share in reading with their children in the home.

For older children struggling at school with poor literacy skills, the fear, shame and embarrassment this can provoke in them can be a huge burden to bear, and they are often reluctant to get help because they don’t want to feel any more different than they already do.

To try to address this problem sensitively, The Smith Family developed a mentoring program called student2student, which anonymously pairs primary students struggling with poor literacy skills with older student mentors who regularly help them with their reading over the phone.

Comfortable in their home environment, these students are also better able to focus on their learning without the added emotional pressure of a face to face situation. Not only does the program help improve reading skills but also the young students involved said the program gave them more confidence with their school work.

If we can bring this issue out into the sunlight, we can work together towards instilling a new generation with a love of words, and when they grow up and become parents themselves, they too can pass on that joy of reading to their own kids.

*Let’s Read is an initiative of the Centre for Community Child Health, one of Australia’s leading early childhood research organisations. It is research-based and is being developed and implemented across Australia in partnership with The Smith Family and with the support of its inaugural supporter Shell.

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    • Liz says:

      08:07am | 10/09/09

      Why surprise when the teaching of literacy skills that work was abandonned some decades ago?Now we see the results.
      Parents no longer make time to read to children or worry if they have books they will be up themselves and too smart! Yes, true story.
      On the plus side Harry Potter brought reading to a generation or two and extended their horizons.

    • Gavin says:

      08:23am | 10/09/09

      I reckon exactly half of Australia has lower than average literacy. Or pretty close to.

    • Roy says:

      08:37am | 10/09/09

      The number of people in all walks of life who use “brought” for “bought” and vice versa is incredible. And those errant apostrophes are everywhere!
      Thank goodness someone is doing something about it.

    • Margaret Gray says:

      08:39am | 10/09/09

      “...Almost half of Australians have problems with literacy…”

      And they’re the ones responsible for installing the incumbent incompetent government.

      Products of the union-dominated State school system no less.

      What a pity home-schooling isn’t legal in Australia.

    • Dianne says:

      08:50am | 10/09/09

      @Margaret Gray, what are you talking about? Home schooling is legal in Australia, you just need to apply for it with the dept. of Education. You need to be approved that is all. (http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/manuals/pdf_doc/home_edu_info_package_06.pdf)

      Many parents these days homeschool their children. Specifically children with special needs. I run an organisation which, amongst other things, assists parents and their children with Autism or other disorders in homeschooling by providing materials, resources and tutors.

    • Reader says:

      09:15am | 10/09/09

      It does not surprise me one bit that literacy is so low in this country. I worked a few years ago in a very literacy-rich profession that often had to take statements from clients and what was received from these clients, was at most chicken scratchings (for example, poor grammatical construction, apostrophe abuse and poor spelling just to names some things).

      The problem is that as others have mentioned, parents should be involved in literacy development; just reading a book to a child and letting them look at it and feel it is better than nothing.

      Another enormous problem in this country at the level of more developed literacy is the lack of grammar being taught at school. I was part of the first generation not taught to be taught grammar and I wish I was. I would think that I would be fairly literate (in all categories listed above in the article) but I have been criticised for poor grammar and am still in a mist as to the grammatical rules of English. It also does not help that I come from a non-English speaking background. I have made some attempts to improve this by undertaking extensive reading of literature and writing which has improved me somewhat. Maybe it’s time all adult Australians to put down the beer, stop watching TV and pick up some good quality literature (not the latest magazine even) and in particular, let your children observe that you read so they can emulate you. It’s time Australia drop the “anti-intellectual” stance.

    • pc says:

      09:19am | 10/09/09

      If you need to blame the present government for everything, you are placed in a position, like Margaret Gray, where you have to make some pretty wacky connections. eg. unionism and literacy. Kind of like the way Sophie Mirabella made the connection between members of her own party, those who didnt think boat people deserved gaol time and terrorists, I think it was “domestic insurgent.” Anyway just to play along - Cuba, which must have a few unionists here and there, has an almost 100% literacy rate. (I’m sure it could be googled if your worried about that number.)

    • SCOTT says:

      09:21am | 10/09/09


    • Margaret Gray says:

      09:27am | 10/09/09

      “...Home schooling is legal in Australia, you just need to apply for it with the dept. of Education…”

      Excellent.  I stand corrected.

      I note with lament some of the onerous and prescribed conditions to receiving approval to home-school one’s own children:

      *I/We undertake that *my/our children will receive regular and efficient instruction that:
      ...will be consistent with the principles underlying the Act, being the principles and practice of Australian democracy, including a commitment to:
      • elected government
      • the rule of law
      • equal rights for all before the law
      • freedom of religion
      • freedom of speech and association
      • the values of openness and tolerance.

      All very noble but what a pity ALL educators aren’t made to sign such a declaration.

      It might encourage less of the cultish indoctrination that is all pervasive in the present school system.

    • Don Clark says:

      09:31am | 10/09/09

      Margaret Gray says:08:39am | 10/09/09

      “...Almost half of Australians have problems with literacy…”
      And they’re the ones responsible for installing the incumbent incompetent government.  Products of the union-dominated State school system no less.
      What a pity home-schooling isn’t legal in Australia.

      Sneering, patronising, inaccurate, and plain wrong by turns. School-yard standard, really.

      But will it win votes over to support conservative candidates?  Far more likely to help increase the swing away, this sort of abuse. Seriously.

    • Margaret Gray says:

      09:47am | 10/09/09

      “...Cuba, which must have a few unionists here and there, has an almost 100% literacy rate. (I’m sure it could be googled if your (sic) worried about that number.)

      Moving to Cuba then?

      I’ll have irony for three points please.

    • Jolanda Challita says:

      09:48am | 10/09/09

      Until our Education system starts treating our children as individuals this problem will not go away as children grow into adults.  Children are expected to progress through the grades based on their chronological age regardless of their ability, interest, social situation or intelligence.  Some children are bored stiff out of their brains because the level is too slow and low, others cannot keep up because they are disadvantaged from the start.  Our Education system needs to stop asking our children their age and start asking them what level they are at, what speed do they prefer, what they need, what they wish to achieve and where they believe they would best achieve it.  We need to stop holding back kids who are advanced and stop letting kids progress to the next level if they cannot perform at that level to an acceptable standard.  WE need to teach our kids that they are all different and they will all develop in their own good time and support them whatever speed and pace that they work best.  Most of all we need to have better complaint handling procedures because parents are scared to complain for fear of their children being victimised. They have justifiable good reason to be concerned.  Education - Keeping them Honest   http://jolandachallita.typepad.com/education/

    • rufus says:

      10:19am | 10/09/09

      Margaret Gray 9:47 am - great comeback - not.  Do you have a set of political cliches that you read from or something? You should just quit while you’re behind.

    • Fred says:

      10:22am | 10/09/09

      Thankyou Jolanda Challita for posting my observations and thoughts on this topic. Gavin 8:23: What is ‘average’? Scott 9:21: ‘their/there’ I’m sure I learned the difference well before sixth class!

    • pc says:

      10:29am | 10/09/09

      Sorry Rufus, but I must respectfully disagree. Touche Margaret Gray. The Punch would be a poorer place without you.

    • Lexi says:

      10:44am | 10/09/09

      @Dianne is right - home schooling is legal and undertaken by a large number (but not large proportion) of parents.  Particularly those who feel mainstream education doesn’t meet their religious requirements.

      I don’t think the poor literacy has anything to do with teachers or their federation membership status - especially because it is teachers who fought for (to their personal financial loss) class size reduction in NSW public schools.  This initiative is one of the things that is definitely beneficial in literacy and numeracy education. And only one thing achieved for students by teachers working collectively.

      I think the article outlines the greater changes to literacy across the community - literacy being undervalued by families.  Not all families; nor unvalued.  Just undervalued.

      There is a good reason for this - we are time poor.  We are trying to juggle all the things experts tell us we should do - healthy eating, exercise, structured after school activities, unstructured play.  Then add supervising homework, going to paid work, housework, grocery shopping, cooking, meeting broader family commitments from both sides of the couple’s families.

      I understand WHY literacy is slipping as a priority.  Instead of another Federal government mandate on what we should be doing, how about some government initiatives that lift some of the pressure on working parents?  You could make family homes that are lived in by the owners for the entire time they have owned them exempt from stamp duty - same with the mortgage for the property.  You could forget the middle class welfare and family tax benefit this and that, just make the main breadwinner’s income tax-free when they have dependents.  Provide initiatives for families that want both parents working, families that want one parent to stay at home, and single parent families.

    • Reader says:

      10:55am | 10/09/09

      I am “Reader” from above and Jolanda Challita, I’m dead-set against Outcomes-based Education (OBE), or that which you have put down which equates to this. There is simply not enough funding to achieve what you say and the school systems around Australia have been trying to implement this system with not much results. A teacher cannot teach at different rates for each student, that means 25 or so loads of work that the teacher has to undertake. This system only perfectly works in one-to-one situations, and when are you going to get that? Honestly, wrote learning and hard schooling may be the way, which is what should be done with grammar in large class numbers. A lot of it is that kids have to be taught discipline to get somewhere. Sure, the extremely intelligent can be accelerated or maybe there should be streaming in school like when I was there.

      The other things was given the way things are now with technology, things like texting, emailing etc, communication devices that rely on speed teach kids to short cut in communicating. I really don’t know what solution there is to this.

    • Michael says:

      11:01am | 10/09/09

      I wouldn’t be too gunho about getting parents involved in education, some parents do far more harm then good, mine only ever managed to reduce me to tears.

    • Old Clive says:

      11:09am | 10/09/09

      What do expect, when old people are treated like fools and all our pollies have degrees, there is no discipline anywhere and kids go home and complain they are being treated harshly if a teacher lifts their voice half an octave, mobile phones are used for cheating a trick they have learnt from our pollies, the main trouble with uni’s is bull sh*t in bull sh*t out and unfortunately that is the standard in our parliament and it would seem that half or more of the population don’t know it.

    • COF says:

      11:17am | 10/09/09

      It is often the case that people who have a problem with indoctrination in education have this problem because they would much rather see children follow their doctrine rather than someone else’s - they can’t bear to have another person on earth that might disagree with them.
      Education by its nature is indoctrination regardless of the opinion of the educator - teach children to have a critical and open mind and they won’t need a doctrine to survive in the world.
      Literacy and numeracy skills need to be emphasised, but there also needs to be learning techniques in place for people of learning difficulties. I have a couple of friends who are dyslexic and they both have brilliant minds that have been put to use in society without requirements of literacy. A dyslexic mind can still be a brilliant mind.

    • Jane says:

      11:21am | 10/09/09

      Your sentiment on Teacher Unions linked to the demise of education via the STATE ( I refuse to term it as ‘public’ which was the term introduced to replace the word ‘State’ in order to confuse which tier of government has responsibility for government provided education) is completely correct Margaret.

      See how they ( Teacher Unions) went into an uproar when the Coalition introduced National LAP testing - because they feared it would show up and reveal just how poorly children were performing and how useless our STATE teachers really are.

      They ( school teachers at the coal face) have been poorly/inadequately trained for decades thanks to indoctrination through all education levels by leftoid Teacher’s Unions who ‘own’ the direction of education and this flows on to those they train teach. The results of this ALLS study reflects that. It’s getting worse as more generations are effected. Schools stuffed with rubbish PCisms and lefty ‘warm and fuzzy’ cop outs like ‘no fails’ and not hurting their feelings blah blah. Pushing them through the levels/grades/years even though basic benchmarks were not attained. It’s purported a culture of ‘anything is good enough’, ‘anything is ok’ and acceptance of low standards. You’re also correct that these ‘dumbed down’ products go on to vote.
      Teacher Unions = enemies of education.

    • Jane says:

      11:29am | 10/09/09

      Absolute RUBBISH ‘Reader’. They were able to ‘teach at different levels’ and cope with childrens differing requirements before the Lefties and Teacher Unions hi-jacked education in the 70’s and took ownership of education ever since. Class sizes were much greater back then too.
      We are witnessing the failures of education from the last 3 decades. The leftoid education ‘experiment’ has failed.

    • Margaret Gray says:

      11:28am | 10/09/09

      @Don Clark

      Only a State Education Department dominated by Labor Government stooges and union flunkies could dream up whacked out ‘initiatives’ such as:

      *Don’t mark in red pen (which can be seen as aggressive) – use a different colour
      *Apologise to students when necessary
      *A time-out bean bag

      Then there’s a couple of personal favourites:

      *Mind dump
      At the start of a lesson (especially after a break) ask students to record on a piece of paper
      anything that is ‘on your mind’. Tell students not to add their name. Then students screw it up and throw it in the bin or hand it to the teacher.


      *Group skills
      In groups, students construct a tall tower using a variety of recycled materials, for example: boxes, toothpicks, string, hard-boiled eggs. Analyse effectiveness of group processes and translate these to any group task in class.

      Know wonder literacy rate are so appalling.

      No-one is doing any work.

      Mind you don’t drop those eggs now (LOL).


    • David says:

      11:32am | 10/09/09

      This is no surprise to me whatsoever. For me, all of high school was spent being taught useless English Literature. Like I totally needed to know how to analyze poetry for my future career in IT….

      Grammar & spelling were almost totally ignored by the teachers/curriculum, save for the token spelling test once a semester, which had no bearing on anything. In fact, there were not even penalties for bad spelling & grammar in exams or assignments.

      Have fun Mr. Education guy, you’ve just let yet another cohort of literacy nubs into university.

    • Jane says:

      11:38am | 10/09/09

      BINGO Margaret!!

    • Jillian Spring says:

      11:42am | 10/09/09

      Margaret Gray, You are so right!  It is a pity ALL educators are not made to sign a declaration as do home-schoolers.  Home-schooling & private schools happened because of lack of disipline, lack of correct study of english(not the ‘feelings’/opinions re book content of so many ‘novels’),pride ..in their school..pride in themselves.  The adoption of the ánything goes’/children can decide for themselves mentality promoted by ‘the progressive’‘modern’education by SIECUS etc) Sex Information Education Council of the United States….which covers ALL TOPICS ..they are the modern-day PIED PIPERS!!  Their ‘stuff’‘pits child against parents, family privacy is invaded by very personal questions, either by group discussion &/or ‘surveys’! 
          There are very good teaching methods available via parents,schools,TAFE,business, to fix the problen of low self-esteem because of not being able to read.  This then helps to stop the bullying as these children have the tools to progress & not be left behind,thus then most of them becoming a very big disclipe problem.
          Delete the çhild can decide for themselves’  agenda of the SIECUS crew.
          I am not sure if I can print the name of the reading group, so I will not.

    • Ben says:

      12:14pm | 10/09/09

      Great article Margaret.
      I think the Great Time Crunch is a major part of the problem. My parents both worked when I was at primary and secondary school but they were still able to read to my brother and I. A bed time story sounds hopelessly quaint in 2009 compared to 1979 but it was amazingly good for our reading, writing and comprehension.
      I suspect, that Reader and I may be of a similar age and like her I wish I had been taught grammar as I’m hopeless with punctuation to this day.
      Books are one of my favourite things but they would not have been had I not been placed in a remedial reading class in grade 3. Many parents see such things as derogatory of their children and bad for their self esteem etc but it was a turning point for me and I’ve been an enthusiastic addict of reading ever since.

    • Lexi says:

      12:16pm | 10/09/09

      @Jane, the mere fact that you don’t know the difference between “effected” and “affected” doesn’t actually lend credence to your argument… Same goes for those who can’t use proper nouns and punctuation, those who make up spelling and those who make up words. Not to mention those who fail any sense of syntax, context and general grammar.

      Teachers are accountable for what they teach - their program must meet curriculum standards, they must articulate the syllabus outcomes being targeted by lessons (and whether they are met or not met by each student).  Each teacher must provide their program for review, amendment and sign-off by the principal or another executive teacher at the beginning of the academic year. 

      Literacy and numeracy have nothing to do with sex education.  They are different Key Learning Areas.  Teachers must teach a minimum weekly time for specific KLAs.  Many schools have school-wide literacy programs.

      If you want to criticise pedagogy, I’d suggest you study it first.  If you want to criticise literacy programs, perhaps you should be literate yourself first.

    • Dingo_aus says:

      12:32pm | 10/09/09

      The problem is caused by letting the threshold to pass each grade of school, or at University, to slip.

      Set some objective, nation-wide minimum standards to pass primary school, without any wriggle room for teachers to lower the pass mark etc.

      If we did this, then the percentage of people able to read and write appropriately in society would dramatically increase.

    • Jane says:

      12:43pm | 10/09/09

      Lexi, soooooooooo products of a failed education system…or those who just make plain typos, don’t deserve an opinion, or their argument is somehow diminished because of it?
      Pfft Puhlease. ( psst That’s actually a play on the enunciation of ‘please’ for the quasi pedantic )
      I notice you failed to address said ‘argument’, preferring to divert with sanctimony. Teacher by any chance?

    • Jolanda Challita says:

      12:54pm | 10/09/09

      Reader - all they need to do is put students in classes in the different subject areas on the basis of their ability, interest and need in the different subject areas.  That way they will have all students at different ages but at the same level and with similar needs.  Sure it might be easier to just ask kids their age and put them in classes on that basis but what it does is fail our children because our children are all different even if they are the same age. 

      There is no outcome based set up in what I am suggesting, it is child led education and schools and classes should be set up to suit the students not to suit the administrators.  There is no need to spend any more money, just to put more effort and thought into the set up of classes giving students an opportunity to have a say in the pace and level of what they prefer to learn.  Flexibility in learning should be the order of the day.

    • ej says:

      12:56pm | 10/09/09

      I do volunteer ‘reading recovery’ sessions at my kids state primary school, along with a bunch of other mums. Basically, it’s a couple of sessions per week working with kids with literacy problems. Some are not too bad and just need minor help. But one girl I’ve been working with is pretty much illiterate, in my opinion. She cannot read more than a few words of the most basic text. She spells phonetically, ‘roola’ for ‘ruler’, ‘chokit’ for ‘chocolate, etc. She writes numbers backwards. She’s in Grade 3! I’m just a volunteer, I have no qualifications, but I’m starting to wonder if she has a more serious issue like dyslexia that’s been overlooked. I cannot understand how it is that this child has been promoted to Grade 3 when she can barely read or spell. And the only help kids like this are getting is an hour per week with an unqualified volunteer like me? From what I’ve been told by the other volunteers there is no government help for kids struggling with literacy issues unless they have a diagnosed disability., and even then there’s very little. These kids need intensive help by qualified people. Maybe some of the ‘stimulas’ package should have been directed at helping our kids learn to read and write instead of fancy gyms and school halls.

    • Mike says:

      01:09pm | 10/09/09


      Some people struggle with the appropriate use of the word “their” and the caps lock key it seems.

    • Mr Pastry says:

      01:09pm | 10/09/09

      Stir up some fear about literacy and then put your hand out for some of those delicious tax payer dollars.  Promoting a perceived problem and then getting money for a dubious solution is nest feathering. 
      Steve Fielding seems to have done quite well without much literacy.

    • Jolanda Challita says:

      01:12pm | 10/09/09

      ej.  I did volunteer reading recovery too at a public school some years ago for Year 2 and, like you, I came across a student that had some obvious serious difficulties and deficiencies.  I informed the teacher. The parents in reading recovery told me that they had told the teacher too and were told that there was nothing that the school could do.  In the end I brought the matter up at a P & C meeting because the reading recovery being provided for students was not always appropriate or suitable and this child was going to have serious difficulties in his life if his learning difficulties were not addressed.  Do you know what I was told? I was told by a parent that it was the mothers fault because she was ‘Aboriginal’ and she mustn’t read to her kid and not to concern ourselves with the outcomes for this child as he was from Aboriginal background.  I was looked down upon for having brought the matter up and it made us no friends.  Nothing was done.

      You really have to wonder at what point the school has to take some responsibility when there are obvious issues with student learning being brought to their attention and they choose to ignore.  Should they be able to just blame the parents - no matter what.

    • pc says:

      01:32pm | 10/09/09

      So guys, its getting pretty full under THE BED. I dont think there is enough room for all the terrorists, reds, peodophiles - and now trade unionists too. All I think needs to be said is, I am a PROUD TRADE UNIONIST. Trade Unions have been, are, will be, a fundamental part of our democracy. Apart from the most tiring bit of day to day life - work - in which UNIONs have achieved working conditions, that could be improved but are nevertheless envied by much of the world. Trade unions give workers and employees a voice in macroeconomic policy. Business and employers have a say. Why shouldnt we?

      (And Marg, sorry I cant play more today - I always enjoy your presence and Im disappointed when I have to miss it. Or give you the attention you so thoroughly deserve.)

    • Margaret Gray says:

      01:43pm | 10/09/09

      “...I cannot understand how it is that this child has been promoted to Grade 3 when she can barely read or spell…”

      That is an unmitigated and deplorable tragedy.

      The only loser here is the child.

      Sadly, this child and other members of Generation Text have suffered under outcomes -based education standards where there is no wrong answer.

      The ability to speak logically and coherently has also degenerated.

      You’ve gotta weep for the future when every third word out of teenagers’ mouths is “like” done in a faux Valley Girl accent.

      Perhaps if they wrote their conversations down verbatim they’d see how stupid they sound?

    • Old Clive says:

      02:20pm | 10/09/09

      There there, their english ain’t to, too,two, brilliant, isn’t it, they would be better orf, off, if they should have dad a circulum!!!! were,,where they had to learn syntax, sintax like we had to do do back in the 40’s, but dey are or is reall edified now ain’t they???????

    • sue says:

      02:38pm | 10/09/09

      Margaret, I agree, a very sad state .

      I am of the “old school” trained in the late seventies in a Teachers College/CAE and sent out to teach children using an integrated phonic based approach. My first Kindergarten class was in the outer western suburbs of Sydney and I had 35 in the class. We spent all morning, every morning on phonics, reading, writing and spelling and the classroom was a visually stimulating place to be for the written and spoken word. There was not one child in that class that moved on into Year 1 at the end of the year that could not read and write, and at a minimum of 18 months - 2 years above their chronological age.
      Sadly, and I find it very sad, that they would have been further advanced than our young Year 3 student mentioned above.
      We now have schools with much smaller class sizes, 4 terms, RFF, technology, and of course, University trained teachers like Lexi , that were all supposed to make the job easier and give students better results…... but are we ( teachers and students) any better off?

      It would appear not.

      My youngest child is now in Year 12 and I have over the last 18 years have spent at lot of time in classrooms.
      I have been through the “whole of language approach” to reading and seen the failures. I have seen the politically correct changes to school reports where teachers are now heavily censored and can no longer tell parents the truth. Then of course there is the equally ridiculous “red pen” directive that Margaret spoke about above. I have sat with students over the last five years in Year 12 during their Trial and HSC exams as an aid, and have wondered how on earth they can attain an HSC when they have to have someone else read/ or write their paper/answers for them.

      As someone involved in teaching and mentoring both Primary and Year 11 students I find it very sad .

      There will have to be a mighty change to turn things around, and sadly, I don’t think the Education Revolution will do anything to help. The halls and the buildings and computers may be wonderful visual symbols come election time, however, if you can’t read are they really important?
      After all, a wonderfully inspiring and motivated teacher can teach and enthuse their students sitting in a field under a tree.

      Many of us were taught by teachers like this!

    • sue says:

      02:42pm | 10/09/09

      Old Clive,

      You have just given me my biggest laugh of the day!

      You left out “like” though.

      It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

    • fehowarth says:

      03:10pm | 10/09/09

      I am in my late 60’s.  I cannot remember a time when everyone was literate.  There are in the community, people of all ages that cannot read.  Before the 70’s most of these left school at a very early age, not showing up in the later school years.  This gave a false picture of the literary standards of the time.

    • Old Clive says:

      03:18pm | 10/09/09

      THANK EWESUE, I were taut dat u can maik a subjet inderesting or dull, I find arf de population dull, and spending a grater part of my life lecturing mature age people trying to stop themselveds from killing themselves or another person, I had to make Occupational Safety interesting, that was nowhere near the challenge that teachers have in this day and age, dere aren’t any pruf readers anymoer jus too maik it werse. Of course we could always use spell check but like labor they can’t spell labour correctly, not like ewes wemen.

    • Turtle says:

      05:47pm | 10/09/09

      Thank you fehowarth. As a 23 year old I don’t have personal experience in literacy standards over the last 100 years but this is my understanding too. Illiteracy is hardly a new phenomenon.

    • sue says:

      06:42pm | 10/09/09


      Things have changed a great deal in the last 100 years and there are few reasons why any child should leave school today unable to read.

      If you think of your own family ............
      ( and I will assume that your family is like mine as I have a 23 year old)

      As a 23 yr old, the figures would show that around 7/10 of your peers would have finished school at Year 12.
      When your parents went to school the figure would have been closer to 5/10
      Very few of your grandparents, probably 2 or 3 and certainly very few women, would have been able to finish school as they grew up during WW2 and as an example my mother was forced to leave school at 15 to go to work.
      Of course the generation before that had even lower levels of schooling and education and many children barely made it out of Primary school.

      Today we take for granted the access to printed material to actually read.
      My parents talk about growing up during the Depression and WW2 and having no books to read as they could not afford them. No TV, newspapers scarce,libraries few and far between and radio the only contact to news and the world. I have my grandfather’s Primary school workbook and it covers 2 years of work with all subjects in the same book.

      Migration to our country has also affected our Literacy levels….... Many children that I have taught, with ESL, have parents who are unable to speak English and who are illiterate in their native language. These children fall behind as they have no-one at home who can read to them, or help them with homework and basic skills. Even something as simple as filling out and signing a permission note for a school activity becomes a major task. At our school the Community languages teacher had the task of phoning all these parents to speak to them in Arabic and to get verbal permissions.

    • Ash Simmonds says:

      04:00pm | 11/09/09

      “Almost half of Australians have problems with literacy”

      The other half of us can’t reed or right properly.


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