It is a scandal that Australian education is being held to ransom by a few hundred academics and mid-ranking bureaucrats who prioritise their own careers over the literacy of our children.
The public is rightfully perplexed as to how Australia can pour so much money into education and yet keep hearing that our general literacy is declining.
The anecdotal evidence from employers and universities about poor literacy levels is verified by research. The result of the latest Progress in International Literacy Study showed Australians have the lowest literacy levels of the English-speaking nations surveyed.
And we had more than twice the percentage of students performing "below low" than Canada and the US. What is going wrong?
Quite simply, the academic institutions and state educational departments are largely controlled or influenced by those with career attachments to the "whole language" methodology.
It focuses on reading being acquired naturally, as with speech, rather than being taught systematically as a code to unlock sounds and structures. Phonics is not given the central focus and children are encouraged to guess words based on the context or pictorial clues.
While there are students who can learn to read in this way, many do not. It is an approach that particularly fails kids from lower socio-economic and Aboriginal backgrounds. It also appears to disadvantage boys.
There is overwhelming scientific support for the alternative approach of highly structured direct instructions of skills associated with decoding writing. This is the method that most Australians older than 45 would understand, as it was how they were taught to read.
For the past eight years, I have been deeply involved with Challis Primary School Cluster in Armadale, an outer suburb of Perth, and I have personally witnessed the transformation that can take place when courageous teachers take on departmental orthodoxy and embrace the science.
The big percentage of children in the Challis catchment were assessed in the very first round of Australian Early Development Index I 2005 as having an "above-average level of development vulnerability".
The reading achievement for children at Challis had remained steadfastly well below the state average.
Committed teachers tried every approved method to improve the educational achievements but not only did the kids start school disadvantaged, every year the gap between their attainment and the state average widened.
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