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The education elephant in the room: school illiteracy

By Jo Rogers - posted Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Australia has a major problem. UNIFEC rates Australia's Literacy standards as 39th in the world out of 41 countries. 2016 International PIRLS literacy results of Year 4 children found 21% cannot read and there was a 'significantly long tail of under-achievement' of other Year 4 children.

There is an unacceptable illiteracy problem in Australia and its resolution is available.

At any time, there are 400,000 children in schools who cannot read because their teachers have not taught them. Schools blame the parents for not reading enough to their children and blame older children for 'not wanting to learn'. Tension is high and rising.


Teacher training courses do not include How to Teach Reading using scientifically proven best practice. And primary class teachers follow English curricula that have little relevance to how F-2 children need to be taught to learn to read.

Before 1980's it was unheard of that any child would go to Year 3 without knowing the foundation literacy and mathematics skills. But from the 1980's the child discovery/ whole language idea was adopted in Australia. It was based on a false idea that children could learn to read by being read books and learn to write by being given pencils and paper. Oral language is inherent; reading is not.

In 2005 The National Inquiry into Teaching Reading found that Australia's low literacy standards were unacceptable and that 'scientific evidence for best practice for the teaching of reading was to teach the systematic, direct and explicit phonics instruction so that children can master the essential alphabet code-breaking skills required for foundational reading proficiency."

This report was accepted by Federal Parliament and COAG in December 2006 and then expected to be implemented into all primary schools by Education departments. But this reform was blocked and continues to be blocked by teacher unions and English organization who still advocate the de-bunked ideas that create this illiteracy.

Both Liberal and Labor Governments have tried to make schools more accountable and give parents independent indications of their child's progress, via AIMS/NAPLAN, which is still fought by unions.

If the NITL scientifically proven teaching practices were taught to trainee teachers and all F – 2 Primary classroom teachers, the illiteracy rate would drop to a small percentage and Australia's Literacy rate in the world would be in the top 10 within a few years.


Teachers like me have been teaching failing children privately and we see the devastating effects of illiteracy on young innocent children and the damage to their self esteem and mental health. Most illiterate children don't get effective teaching so they can catch up and be able to get their education.

Many parents have lost respect for teachers if they don't know how to teach their children to read, when they should know. And Secondary teachers should not have to struggle to teach their subjects to semi-illiterate classes, where illiterate students muck up because they can't engage with the curriculum.

The Federal Government have in place an excellent option for each state to implement a scientifically evidence based Year 1 Literacy and Numeracy Check, which would find those children BEFORE THEY FAIL, let their parents know early and then implement an appropriate teaching intervention, so they can progress with their peer group as they should.

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This article is based on a report by Jo Rodgers entitled "The Education Elephant in the Room and Illiteracy"

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About the Author

Jo Rogers is an experienced primary and special education teacher who has been teaching synthetic phonics since 1968.

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