A literacy deficit

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Radio National's Background Briefing program yesterday was an examination of adult illiteracy, particularly in Tasmania.

Click here to listen to it.

More than 40% of Australian adults have inadequate literacy skills, below the level necessary to cope with the modern world.

In Tasmania, half the population struggles with literacy. Tasmania also has high unemployment (8.6%), dismal NAPLAN scores and low Year 12 completion rates. Yet Tasmania spends a greater proportion of its budget on schools than any other state.

Half a century of poor literacy means the problem is now intergenerational. Parents who can't read are unable to read their children's school reports, or participate and engage with their children's education.

Why are so many adults illiterate?

Disappointingly, the program does not go on to examine how Tasmanians or other Australians are being taught early literacy, and whether or not the way literacy is taught is helping to cause this problem.

A small percentage of people have language and learning disorders, so understandably struggle to learn to read and spell, but they account for something like 5% of the population.

Everyone else who is illiterate for no obvious reason is an instructional casualty.  They haven't been taught adequately, but that's largely because university Education faculties fail to teach teachers how to explicitly and systematically "crack" our complex spelling code for and with children, and Education Departments fail to make up for this at teacher inservice training.

While it's great that many illiterate adults in Tasmania are attending literacy classes and learning to read and spell for the first time, most of them should have been, and could have been, taught successfully the first time around. Unless something dramatically changes in the way early literacy is taught, the high illiteracy levels reported on in this program seem likely to persist.


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  1. Pingback: I Haven’t Got My Glasses: The Adult Literacy Challenge | Spelfabet

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