The state of education is going down the drain in NSW. The Government keeps creating panels and task forces to tackle the growing issue of Australia falling behind in the PISA rankings with our children's abilities declining every single year in the global rankings. The outcome after spending our precious tax money on paying these so called experts... makes me shake my head in despair.
Kids struggling with mathematics and poor performance...their solution is to delay teaching them key concepts like multiplication. If kids are struggling with mathematics and times table, don't delay it, bring it forward, intensify the education on the areas of concern. They won't improve by merely delaying the concepts and letting the kids grow older before they are taught. If kids in other countries can learn math concepts at a young age, why can't Australian children be expected to learn the same concepts at the same age? Language isn't the barrier. It is our lack of expectations and educational support that is the barrier.
Currently the maths curriculum has been under debate between the national curriculum authority and the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute(AMSI). AMSI(an organisation of 30 universities and government agencies) in its submission, objected to changes that delayed the teaching of key maths concept until later years. Examples of delays include delaying clock and time concept from year 1 to year 2, pushing back learning times tables and multiplication from year 3 to year 4, learning to solve linear equations in year 8 instead of year 7, removing quadratic equations from year 10 just because some of the concept has been covered in year 9. The proposed draft curriculum emphasised problem solving and inquiry based learning.
The other issue was English and reading abilities. The outcome of these so called experts(and NSW Education Department) and their conclusion was that kids were having trouble learning how to read and because we are falling behind in English compared to our overseas counterparts, then we should focus on teaching kids more synthetic phonics and testing them on their ability to read FAKE words just to determine their phonics ability. That this suggestion was taken seriously means our seniors and 'experts' have all gone insane. There are so many REAL words to learn and test children on, and yet they need to go and create FAKE words for kids to read just in order to test their phonics ability?!! This is why I felt that I must write.
These proponents of synthetic phonics believe students need to learn relationships between letters and sounds, which is fine because phonics is very essential to being able to decode words for reading. However the synthetic phonics proponents created a 20 fake word list(such as 'plood' and 'pove') in order to test children's phonics ability and rule out the words that kids have memorised. If they really wanted to test children whilst also teaching them, there are rarer, less frequently used but REAL English words that could be used for testing instead of using fake words and filling children's head up with irrelevant and fake words.
The whole point of learning how to read is a mix of memorising words by sight (as many words in English fail to follow the phonic sounds) and also applying phonics- this falls under the 'balanced literacy' approach which has historically been the approach taken by educators historically to date. What the proponents of synthetic phonics have failed to tackle is the question of why the historical approach is not as effective anymore.
It's not the teaching style. It's the modern environment and how children are increasingly reading less books. They are exposed to significantly more screen time just like adults. More digital devices. Instead of kids bringing books to read in restaurants and in cars on the way to destinations, parents give their kids the mobile phone, the iPad or play movies in cars that have screens inbuilt into the car seats already. Screen time is up significantly for children. YouTubing, Netflixing and playing digital games. It's all so portable now and easier to calm and pacify children with digital devices when they are out and about as opposed to making them read actual books.
In 2018 the NSW Department of Education offered $50 per kindergarten child for schools to buy decodable readers however many schools declined the offer. Now the NSW Department of Education is forcing these decodable readers onto schools by not giving them a choice and will buy these books and force them onto schools instead. The decodable texts were thought of as "clumsy and contrived". It would have been significantly better if schools were just given these funds to use however they wish on educational materials.
There haven't been any long term studies or results on how effective these decodable readers are but the main beneficiaries for sure are the two publishers who will be receiving approximately $4.3million worth of government money, Little Learners and Decodable Texts Australia. Mem Fox wrote before that school books teaching kids to read were rather nonsensical and boring which is why kids didn't enjoy reading them and didn't seek out those books. I haven't seen these decodable texts but if they're anything like the learn to read PM readers that are already in classrooms, many of the stories have no story behind them, just a bunch of simple words strung together just because they meet simple letter sounds.
According to Damon Thomas, a senior lecturer in English Education at the University of Tasmania, he believes that if children are not interested in reading then it will impact literacy and ultimately the ability to write. He is quoted, "I don't think you can talk about this without touching on the impact of digital technology, and how easy it is for children these days to do other things with their time than sit down and read a book or write a story. This is not a writing in a silo problem. This is a literacy engagement problem. NAPLAN is a bit of a warning sign, but it has far reaching consequences if we have generations coming through who potentially don't have the skills." His comment refers to NAPLAN comparison results of boys and girls in year 3 and year 9 in relation to their performance against the national minimum standard. Over the years, both sexes have deteriorated below the national minimum standard by the time they reach year 9, the boys(20.6%) even more so than the girls(9%).
The director of strategy for reading at Multilit, Jennifer Buckingham says that boys read less frequently than girls and quantity and quality of reading correlated with writing quality. Books that children read influenced their writing ideas. She believes that kids having trouble with spelling will choose to use simpler words in their writing and that spelling impacted on accuracy, fluency and was a factor in determining the extent to which students enjoyed writing.
According to Jenny Atkinson(chief executive of Littlescribe and founder of Co-author program), "The Thematic Review of Writing, commissioned by the NSW Education Standards Authority highlights a lack of teacher knowledge, skill and confidence in the teaching of writing as the key challenge. There are three clear problems: the overuse and misplaced use of technology, a lack of purpose and relevance for students and teachers around support for writing and a lack of skills and resources for teachers. There is an over reliance on technology for teachers to collect data to prove the delivery of what has been taught rather than what has been learnt. Students respond digitally to writing tasks. We have created a copy and paste, auto-correct and regurgitation behaviours rather than students learning how to craft original concepts and draft, edit and rewrite-by hand".
Atkinson also writes that, "...technology is part
of the problem. Drawing and writing with a pen taps all parts of the
learning brain at once: visual, kinesthetics(the act of doing) and
linguistics. This activate more neural pathways as all learning systems
are in play. Handwriting layers new knowledge on existing muscle memory,
increasing our recall and the ability to glue new concepts together.
The overuse of technology has turned off a powerful learning system."
Dr Anabela Malpique from Murdoch University concluded that "handwriting fluency can be used to predict writing quality a year later".
The quality of the students writing was determined by their ability to recognise and use distinct, appropriate writing styles when required in relation to the various subjects such as science, history, health, technology and music for example. As students learn specialised subjects, the writing used in each subject employs different terminology and words, in English, writing tends to evaluate and analyse texts whereas in other subjects it is more factual or persuasive or informative.
These so called experts who are influential in what children learn should have higher expectations for children and not dumb down materials or delay teaching key concepts. If children overseas can learn concepts from a young age, why can't Australian children? If delivery of these concepts and teaching style were fine in the last few decades, then what is the reason for the decline? That should be the first port of call when looking for a reason. I have seen children use laptops and iPads more frequently in their 'studies' and learning program and when the parents aren't around for even a few minutes, the kids are watching YouTube and chatting away on messengers and chatting programs. You can't be distracted like that when you have books and a pen in hand with no connection to the internet. I've seen parents just watching and cruising social media while their kids are reading next to them, half distracted by the sounds.
There should be studies done instead on how digital devices have impacted and detracted from children's learning instead of just concluding that it's the teaching material that is the issue and dumbing down the materials. How is Australia going to produce cutting edge designers and inventors of the future if we dumb down materials and lower expectations on what they are to learn?
On conclusion, I am not sponsored by Reading Eggs but I highly recommend that app for teaching kids how to read. I have seen many kids use that app and can read fluently before Kindergarten even starts. Educators should look at that app. It is amazing.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Schools on board with phonics check' by Jordan Baker, 1-2/08/2020
The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Boys can't keep up with girls in writing results' by Jordan Baker
The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Beyond grammar, context is king' by Yaegan Doran and Sally Humphrey, 18/9/2020
The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Parents should put down phones, help solve writing crisis' by Jenny Atkinson, 16/09/2019
The SMH, 'Teachers to ignore phonics test' by Pallavi Singhal, 18/06/2019
The SMH, 'War over plan to change how maths is taught' by Lisa Visentin and Anna Pyrtz, 9/7/21
SMH, 'NSW asks for revision of reading and maths' by Lisa Visentin, 20/8/21