Education is a hot political issue in Australia at the moment. Four current articles below

Report shows students in 1960's better educated

DESPITE a much lower level of funding. Another proof that the constant teacher cry for more money is NOT the answer

SCHOOL students in the 1960s could read, write and count better than those today, according to a new report. Australian National University researchers found student literacy and numeracy had not improved since Sir Robert Menzies was prime minister and the Beatles topped the charts. Dr Andrew Leigh and Dr Chris Ryan tracked literacy and numeracy standards by comparing student results from the same tests over successive years for their report, How has school productivity changed in Australia? "Over the past three to four decades, neither literacy nor numeracy have improved, and may even have declined slightly," Dr Ryan said. "In numeracy, the typical young teenage student in 2003 was approximately a quarter of a grade level behind his or her counterpart in 1964."

The researchers said this was despite increased government spending on education over the past 40 years. Spending increased by 238 per cent from 1964-2003, they said. "It is possible the additional education spending over the past few decades was misdirected," Dr Leigh said. "This additional expenditure does not seem to have succeeded in raising literacy or numeracy."

Dr Leigh said government policy could have contributed to the declining student standards. "Decisions to reduce class sizes while allowing teacher salaries to decline relative to other professions may not have been in the best interests of students," he said. Dr Leigh said lower salaries had led to a fall in teacher quality from 1983-2003, which would have contributed to a decline in student results.

State education departments need to focus on evidence-based policy making, he said. "We need to measure different practices to see which are the best," Dr Leigh said. "Results from one class with small student numbers should be compared against another class which has a top teacher."

Victorian Education Minister Bronwyn Pike recently applauded grade 3, 5 and year 7 students for meeting, and often exceeding, national benchmarks for literacy and numeracy. Figures from the National Report on Schooling in Australia, released earlier this month, showed more than 96 per cent of grade 3 and 5 students met the writing benchmark, out-performing every state and territory in Australia. The Victorian Government has also committed $11.7 million to employ 45 literacy specialists.


'Back to basics' the key for Aboriginal schools

Recognition that trendy Left educational fads have badly harmed blacks

THE nation's most prominent Aboriginal academic, Marcia Langton, has called on federal, state and territory politicians to acknowledge the "comprehensive and systemic failure" of Aboriginal education and to implement back-to-basics reforms. Professor Langton, foundation professor of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne, said there had been inadequate recognition of the "parlous" state of Aboriginal education and the "entrenched poverty" that flows from it.

"Reading Kevin Rudd's remarks about education, you would swear the biggest problem facing the nation is digital deprivation," she said. "There's been insufficient recognition of Aboriginal education by a prime minister who pledged an education revolution for all Australians. Are we not Australians?" She said the failures, reflected in the fact that less than 48 per cent of indigenous students met national benchmarks for numeracy in Year 7, while only 27 per cent of remote Aborigines met the literacy benchmark, could be sheeted home to federal, state and territory government inaction. She called for "clear and regular testing and reporting" on the performance of Aboriginal children, and a sustained attempt to build relationships between remote Aboriginal communities and schools.

"We need a structured curriculum, an emphasis on the students' capacities and competencies as well as the gaps and weaknesses in their learning, and intervention strategies to ensure children at the end of each year have learnt the required curriculum," she said. "If that means putting them into a special class then that's what you have to do. "So many of the unionists and the politically correct folk in the cities have such a poor understanding of the extremely low levels of literacy and numeracy in black communities and the poverty that stems from it. "They throw their hands up and say this (hard-line approach) is an abuse of human rights. But it's not. It's standard practice around the world."

Professor Langton criticised Aboriginal communities for their failure to ensure children attended school. "Nothing would be achieved without regular school attendance," she said.

An anthropologist with a PhD from Macquarie University, Professor Langton said several generations of Aborigines had been the victims of "ideological experiments" that had failed to deliver literacy and numeracy in the classroom. The time had come for specialised teacher training with a back-to-basics emphasis for remote communities, she said.

"Teachers need special training for this. We need teachers trained to work in remote-areas schools where the existence of Aboriginal languages, poverty and lack of social capital are the obstacles to children learning the pedagogy developed in the cities for kids with lots of social capital. When we train teachers, it's not enough to impart some fuzzy notion of Aboriginal children's special needs. We need to know precisely what those needs are."

She praised the achievements of the earlier generation of missionary teachers who recognised the importance of English while respecting Aboriginal languages. "The Aboriginal kids of that generation learned English because it was drummed into them in structured classes," she said.

Her remarks are supported by a paper on Aboriginal literacy released last year by the Cape York Institute, which acknowledged a "literacy crisis in Cape York without historical precedent", and conceded: "Many grandparents in Cape York communities possess greater functional literacy than their grandchildren."

The paper found more than 100 indigenous students leave Cape York schools every year unable to read at or above the minimum level expected for their age. "At every year level, indigenous students are up to four years behind the non-indigenous average." In some Cape York schools, less than 21 per cent of indigenous students achieved minimum benchmarks.


Australian medical schools going back to basics

Uni answers call to boost anatomy

THE teaching of anatomy will be more than doubled for medical students at the University of Sydney, and teaching of other basic sciences will be expanded, after students complained they were graduating with gaps in their knowledge. The changes, which come into effect with the new term starting tomorrow, will bring a huge increase in the number of lectures on basic sciences, with at least 50 new hourly sessions in the first eight weeks of the graduate-entry program. Over the entire four-year course, the amount of time for anatomy lectures will rise from 500 hours to 1200 hours.

The new curriculum - compiled after a year-long review - will also restore the practice of dissection as a means of teaching anatomy. In recent years dissection, in which students cut up body parts under the guidance of a tutor, has been largely replaced by other teaching methods, including "prosection" - where students observe specimens already cut open by somebody else. The new course will give students more scope to be involved in research, and will harmonise teaching practices among the university's six different clinical schools, after they were found to vary dramatically.

Students have welcomed the changes, which follow controversy over previous cuts to basic science teaching in Australia's medical schools generally. Australian Medical Students Association president Michael Bonning said: "We applaud Sydney for the fact they have listened to their student body." Mr Bonning's deputy Tim Smith, also a final-year medical student at the University of Queensland, said AMSA surveys in the past two years had shown "the vast majority" of medical students nationwide wanted to learn the scientific fundamentals. "From our experience, it's students in medical schools across the country that are asking for more basic science teaching," Mr Smith said.

Tessa Ho, Sydney University's head of medical education, said the review was launched because the previous curriculum was 11 years old and "had not adjusted to a number of changes in the healthcare system". "A number of key issues had been raised by clinicians and students about what was being offered in the curriculum," Associate Professor Ho said. Graduates felt unprepared in areas such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and pathology, she said. [And they were right to "feel" that!]


The 'fake' school teachers

There's a lot of this is Australian schools. I know something about it myself. I was twice hired to teach High School geography despite having studied it only up to middle school level. I have always taken an interest in the subject, however and it seemed to work well enough. I just kept a chapter ahead in the textbook. And the kids got good exam results. But if I had been asked to teach some other subjects -- such as mathematics or French -- it would have been a disaster

SCHOOL teachers are taking classes in subjects they know little or nothing about, such as languages they're not fluent in - new research has shown. A report by the Australian Council for Educational Research revealed 43 per cent of high school principals asked staff to take additional classes outside their area of expertise. Primary schools are also not exempt from the problem, with 14 per cent of principals getting teachers to work outside their area.

The findings were published in the 183-page report, commissioned by the Federal Government, and canvassed the responses of more than 10,000 teachers and 2000 heads of schools.

According to unions, the figures are further proof the nationwide teacher shortage is crippling the education sector. Angelo Gavrielatos, president of the Australian Education Union, said the severity of the shortage is being masked by teachers having to take classes outside their faculty. He added that until the Rudd Government can commit an extra $2.9 billion in funding for public schools, the problem will continue to manifest itself. Jim McAlpine, president of the NSW Secondary Principals' Council agreed that "it's a general problem in all education departments''.

The matter was magnified even more in rural and remote areas. "The difference there is that they are smaller schools with smaller numbers and because there are fewer teachers, you have less chance of having a trained teacher in that area.'' Music, creative arts, languages and information technology are the subjects considered to be the hardest hit as a result of the shortage.

Anthony Sleeman, a mathematics teacher at Ariah Park Central School in the Riverina region has been taking Spanish classes since 2005, even though he isn't fluent in the language. Mr Sleeman said, due to a lack of staff, he was asked to lead a combined Year 7/8 languages class and has continued to "bluff'' his way through since. "In a sense you have to use your skills as a teacher to try and teach something you don't know much about,'' he said.


Posted by John Ray

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