Former ACER researcher Molly de Lemos just emailed me her 2020 ideas for the education/productivity stream. They’re over the fold. And a regular commenter also drew my attention to the submission from the Catholic Social Service and Justice Agencies, which can be found here. And Miriam Lyons has featured 5 100-word summaries on her blog (3 of which have not previously appeared on this blog).
Submission in response to Question 1 under the Education, Skills and Productivity Agenda.
This submission relates to the question â€˜what should be our approach to the early years development of our children?’
Australia is way behind other OECD countries in their provisions for early childhood education, particularly in terms of publicly funded child care and the provision of full day early education programs for children prior to school entry.
For most families with working parents the only child care available is that provided by private companies for profit, and the costs of child care are beyond the reach of many families. At the same time, pre-school education is available only on a sessional basis, and does not meet the needs of working mothers.
Many private schools have now established early learning centres providing full day programs for three and four year olds, but these are expensive and available only to those parents that can afford the fees.
What we need is a publicly funded child care system that is affordable and accessible to all, and a system of early learning centres for three and four year olds that provides a full day program at minimal cost to parents, with parents able to choose the number of days they wish their children to attend.
There are also issues relating to transition to school that need to be considered.
The first issue relates to establishing a common age of entry to school.
There is a widespread view that later entry to school is â€˜better’, and as a result there has been a move, in both Australia and the US, to adjust cut-off dates for entry to school to increase the minimum age of entry.
There is no evidence to indicate that the age of entry to school has any long term effect on later school outcomes. Different countries have different minimum ages of entry, from four years in the UK to six years in other European countries. However, what has been noted is that school programs in the first year of school are adjusted to meet the needs of the children enrolled in the program.
The second issue relates to the widespread practice of middle class parents deferring their child’s entry to school on the mistaken assumption that this will give them some kind of long term advantage. This assumption is not supported by the evidence. In the case of NSW and Victoria, the figures indicate that about 20 to 25 per cent of children are having their entry to school deferred. In effect, bright middle class children are being held back, taking up places in preschools and child care centres that could be taken by younger children, and adding an extra year to the cost of their education.
This trend clearly has economic implications that need to be considered. Evidence from the US also indicates that this trend would have an effect in escalating the program in the first year of school, making it more academic and more structured, and thus disadvantaging the younger children in the group.
Submission in response to Question 2 under the Education, Skills and Productivity Agenda.
This submission relates to Question 2 under the Education, Skills and Productivity Agenda, that is, â€˜what can be done to reduce the wide variations in outcomes and school effectiveness’.
The simple answer to this question is â€˜teach children how to read’.
The more complex answer to this question is â€˜teach children how to read, using the most effective methods as demonstrated by the research evidence, and focusing specifically on systematic instruction in synthetic phonics in the first year of school’.
Being able to read and write is essential to further learning and critical thinking. Failure to achieve these basic skills in the early years of school has long term negative effects on school achievement and subsequent life success.
Current methods used for teaching reading in our schools are based on ideology and assumptions that are unsupported by the research evidence.
Children do not learn to read by being read to. It is a complex process that has to be learned.
Some children pick it up relatively easily, given early exposure to a rich language background, and parents who not only read to them, but understand enough about the reading process to give them the clues that they need to pick up the link between the letters and the sounds.
Most children require specific teaching, particularly those from less advantaged backgrounds, and those whose parents are, for whatever reason, unable to give them help with their reading.
Those children who are most disadvantaged by current approaches to the teaching of reading in our schools are indigenous children, as has been clearly documented in the recent report by Helen Hughes on indigenous education in the Northern Territory.
It is not the role of parents to teach their children how to read, it is the role of schools. And failure to read should not be blamed on the parent, but on the school, and the ineffective methods of teaching reading in our schools.
In the US and the UK, major reports documenting the evidence relating to effective reading instruction have led to the adoption of systematic phonics-based approaches to the teaching of reading in the early years of school. In Australia no action has been taken to implement the recommendations of the Australian National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, released in 2005. Instead, state governments have continued to support current ineffective teaching strategies based on the assumptions underlying the whole language approach to the teaching of reading.
As noted by Janet Albrechtson in an article in the Australian (9/4/08), â€˜the biggest hurdle to reform is ideology’. Similarly, Piers Akerman, in the Sunday Times (13/1/ 08) called for â€˜educationalists who cling to peculiar beliefs that cannot be supported by readily available research’ to be â€˜challenged and removed from any positions they may hold which might give them control over school curricula’.
If there is to be an education revolution, let it start with teaching children how to read, quickly and effectively, in their first year of school. The rest will follow.