On December 11th last year, Australia’s results on the International Progress in Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) were publicly released.
This study compared the reading skills of 300,000 Year Four schoolchildren from 48 countries.
This study has been going for a decade, but Australia joined in for the first time in 2011.
A summary of Australia’s results on the PIRLS 2011 (and also results from a maths study called the TIMSS) is published on the ACER website.
25% of year 4 students not reading well
The research indicated that Australian children’s reading skills were lower than those of children in the other English-speaking countries studied, and that a quarter of Australian Year 4 students did not meet the expected standard.
Our literacy-teaching methods need a shake-up
This came as no surprise to members of the Developmental Disorders of Language and Literacy Network, and we responded with a open letter to all Education Ministers, saying that Australia needs a shake-up of the way literacy is taught.
The letter reminded Education Ministers that 2005’s National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy recommendations have still not been implemented. Neither have the recommendations of the 2010 Helping People with Dyslexia report.
You can read the 22 December front-page article from The Australian about our letter here.
Since I’m one of the signatories (though I didn’t personally write it), I’ve also put the full text of the letter here.
And here’s a readable, recent opinion piece from one of the signatories, Dr Kerry Hempenstall of RMIT, explaining what’s happening and what needs to change in literacy education.
Change will come when parents and teachers demand it
The reality is that academics, researchers and clinicians are a minority group, whereas there are many more teachers, and many, many more parents of school children.
Politicians will be most willing to listen, understand and require positive change in education systems when informed and determined teachers, and in particular informed and determined parents, start demanding it.
It’s actually not fair that graduates of primary teaching courses currently emerge from universities without really knowing how to teach children to read and spell in a theoretically sound and evidence-based way. Talk to anyone with a shiny new Dip Ed and they’ll tell you they were taught very little at university about sounds and letters.
One of my best friends was so appalled by this as a mature-age teaching graduate that she decided to go straight into music teaching (at which she is of course fabulous), even though she would have dearly loved to have had her own grade for a while first.
Not fair and not good enough, for teachers or for kids.