Interesting article recently by Peter Holmes a Court on the positive changes taking place in the far north Queensland town of Aurukun. At the heart of reform measures is a focus on improving education participation and retention.
At the beginning of 2010, not one student in the township was reading ‘at their normal grade level, and more than half of the children in grades 3-7 were still at kindergarten level reading, or below.’
In response, the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy was established and direct instruction was introduced to improve literacy levels. Holmes a Court describes direct instruction as built on on ‘a belief that all students can learn and any failure is a reflection on the teaching system.’
Kids are now engaged and are excited by their progress as learners. Just being able to read aloud has become a powerful motivator for students and teachers.
As Holmes a Court says ‘if we start to add the cost to Australia of releasing functionally illiterate teenagers into the world, the true costs of the old system, are much, much higher.’
It is the birthright of every Australian child to be able to read and write. And yes, there are children in large cities and regional towns who are also reading below their grade level. This is not simply a challenge for educators in Aurukun but educators everywhere.
If anything, the foundation for life-long learning is literacy and teaching literacy must be a core competency of every teacher. The old model of schooling attempts to treat the symptoms by pouring more money into programmatic solutions. The decline in the recently published OECD report of our 15 year olds’ literacy levels is a statement on the quality of teaching than the ability of students.
In January this year, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Department of Education and Training increased funding for its literacy and numeracy programs from $54 million to $174 million.
These programs are what Michael Fullan calls ‘try me’ ideas that end up distracting teachers from their core work. Too often time is spent deliberating what is taught rather than how effective it is. Any initiative to improve literacy in our schools must be directly linked to increasing the knowledge and skills of teachers.
Improving the literacy levels of students in remote townships like Aurukun is our collective responsibility. Next year, our national goal should be improving the literacy results of every Australian student.