The school education system is not a complete failure of course, but its failure to ensure 100% of literacy is significant. Did you know that a staggering 47% of Australians are functionally illiterate and innumerate? (i)
In 2018, the Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham described Australia’s educational decline ‘a real worry’ when responding to a report in The Guardian:
Australian children are lagging behind when it comes to developing basic skills in primary school but they are staying in school for longer.
The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth’s five-year snapshot, released on Sunday, shows Australia ranks 35th out of 40 OECD countries on preschool attendance, although the number of four- and five year-olds who attend has dropped in recent years.
It also shows three in 10 year 4 students aren’t meeting minimum numeracy standards while one in four are below standard in science and one in five are not at the required reading level. (ii)
Blame for these low literacy levels has generally been assigned to the fluctuating nature of early childhood and government funding. But might the literacy toolset being provided to Australian teachers be the real culprit? Are teachers inadequately trained to teach literacy?
Research into reading acquisition shows that, irrespective of the instructional methods used by teachers, some 60% of children will learn how to read. So that means, that irrespective of the teaching methods utilised by their teacher, around 60% of students work out for themselves the nature of the alphabetic principle, how to access phonemes, how to process a sequence of phonemes into co-articulated utterances, and more.
This 60% statistic enables schools to claim a majority success in teaching children to read, with the remaining 40% noted as having some kind of learning difficulty, or, as teachers frequently tell parents, he/she will come good later. This is not true, and the failure rate of children learning to read can be attributed to the instructional inadequacy of the teaching.
This is not the fault of the teachers, but of the way in which they are being trained themselves.
Mary Ruth Mendel, Chair of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy foundation, blames insufficient funding. She expresses concern that, of all the OECD nations, Australia is ranked third from the bottom of the list. Ms Mendel said Australia was ‘distressingly behind’ in its funding for literacy, ranking third last of all OECD Nations. (iii) She claims that even if children are taught phonics, they may still adopt a sight recognition strategy for reading, which can put them far behind their peers in reading and spelling. When teaching methods explicitly encourage sight memorisation, more children will head down that wrong path. At I Can Read, Australian parents continue to tell us that their child has been learning sight word lists at school, which is proven to be an ineffective method of literacy learning.
The Australian Council for Educational Research note that Australian children’s average score had improved by 17 points since 2011, putting them ahead of kids in 24 countries, but behind 13 countries. Australia was equal 12th in the world for reading, but its students’ performance declined by 12 points between 2009 and 2015, a significant change. Only 61% of Australian students achieved the National Proficient Standard in reading.
Scientific research has shown how children learn to read, and how they should be taught. However, many educators are not made aware of the process and are not taught how to teach reading during their studies to become teachers. As a result, many children are being set up to fail.
So, as parents, what can you do to help?
Unfortunately, it is difficult for parents to have a significant effect on the education system.
What you can do is:
- Do some research and contact a reputable alternative provider outside of the school system.
- Ensure the provider you choose employs a system based on research by qualified professionals and has a proven track record.
- Ask to see evidence of actual results, not just anecdotal reviews.
- Find out if you can arrange a free assessment for your child.
- If your child is pre-school age, (readiness varies, but generally, we find around 3.5 years) now is the perfect time to start their literacy journey and give them an advantage before starting school. You may have heard that deferral of education until kindergarten is the way to go, but this is not supported by research. Giving your child the tools and skills to learn to read correctly will help avoid any potential damage to their ability to learn as a result of memory-based school reading techniques.
If you would like more information, or a free assessment, please contact the I Can Read head office at Dee Why on 9972 1419.
Co-Creator of the I Can Read system, education psychologist and author.
The I Can Read System is a proven system, based on research.
It was created by qualified professionals (educational psychologists) from the bottom up, and has copious amounts of evidential support. The I Can Read System has a 100% success record, and has enabled over 200,000 children to read through 8 countries.
Every teacher at all Australian I Can Read literacy centres has been fully trained in the I Can Read System methodology.
(i) Graham Whittaker (the Guardian 2013)