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Give Pyne a chance

By Chris Nugent - posted Monday, 3 February 2014

Chris Pyne took control of the reins of a gargantuan national crisis in education when he assumed office only six months ago. He has scarcely had sufficient time to even survey the crisis he inherited let alone initiate substantial moves to start fixing it. For the meantime, some of his critics would do well to back off and spend a little more time watching. In justifying these statements I speak exclusively from the standpoint of my narrow area of expertise. This area can be summarized simply as basic literacy teaching in Australia.

Though narrow in scope, the subject of only basic literacy teaching in Australia can be used, better than anything else, to exemplify the persistent bureaucratic destruction that has permeated all avenues within Australian education for the last 3 decades. This is not an exaggeration. It's an axiom: when a nation fails in its basic literacy teaching, then it consequently fails also in most of the rest of its education. And this at all levels despite any additional billions that might be splurged.

Regardless of bunkum to the contrary, the teaching of basic spelling and reading skills in Australian schools and workplaces is close enough to the worst in the English speaking world. This said, I present below a list of the 8 main failures of Australia's bureaucratically impelled primary English curricula to help our teachers to teach basic reading and spelling in schools. It is impossible to ignore evidence like the following:


1. There is a national literacy crisis in Australia. In April of 2011, Australia's eleven Industry Skills Councils publicly announced that we have up to 8 million workerswith serious reading problems in our workforce. In 1996 and 2004 Dr Kemp and Dr Nelson, each in his time the Federal Minister for Education, announced that 1 in 3 secondary students had serious reading problems. Only last year, the ABC featured an ABS report to the effect that a stunning half of all Tasmanian adults were functionally illiterate. And so on. The crisis has truly enormous dimensions.

2. To make matters worse, Australia's current (December 2012) national primary English curriculum is ludicrous to the point of being a profound embarrassment: it strategically avoids even mentioning the 3 core literacy basics of alphabetic (or phonicskills, spelling skills and read-aloud skills. Proof of this incredible absurdity is on my website.

3. Going from worse to worse still, primary English literacy curricula in all our statesand territories levels are scarcely any better: they simply follow the example of the national leaders. And since at least the early 1980s none of  the government sponsored literacy curriculum documents in Australian major educational jurisdictionshas contained guidelines to direct teachers at any level to the systematic testing or teaching of any of these 3 core skills.

4. As an obvious consequence of this neglect, Australian government education systems at all levels between and including our kindergartens and workplaces have now not systematically tested or taught the3 core literacy basics for some 30 years.

5. Some 9.5 million students and workers with problems in both spelling and reading did not accidentally arise out of merely intermittent errors in our literacy curricula. They had to have arisen out of persistent errors that had to have been systematically maintained over a 30 year period by our education authorities nationally.

6. Turning the crisis into a catastrophe, since the early 1980s, primary English literacy curricula throughout Australia have been aimed at actually eradicating spelling from the testing and teaching of basic English at all levels. Absolutely no other conclusion is possible. My website again provides all the necessary details.


7. The spelling-for-age level performance of our school students was last nationally tested all the way back in1936. Despite official denials,Australia's yearly NAPLAN tests do not conventionally test accurate spelling skill.

8. And the culminating disgrace comes last. In December of 2012 a very public global survey of basic spelling skill revealed that the scores of Australian students in year 4 were the lowest of some 27 countries in the English speaking world.

The now 30 year old bureaucratically mandated teaching methods that have so clearly sunk Australian literacy levels to the bottom of the international barrel, have got to be scrapped.

It's probably well for the nation to be warned with a tiny bit of simple old fashioned wisdom: rot that starts at the roots effects the entire tree for life. Minister Pyne and his new appointees will need to be tough indeed if they are going to root out the offending bureaucratic system with its educationally destructive ideologies. Pyne's recent appointment of reportedly 'right' leaning investigators into Australian education may also turn out to be correct.

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About the Author

Chris Nugent is a retired specialist teacher. He is the author of Planned Illiteracy in Australia : The Very Clear Evidence.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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