Role of parents is a key factor in literacy debate

ONE issue that often dominates educational debate in Dubbo and other areas of NSW is the standard of literacy teaching and learning in schools.
Nanjing Night Net

It’s recently been stated that as many as 30 per cent of Australian students leave school functionally illiterate in their first language, English.

Of course, there have always been such students. But in recent decades, the problem has become more pronounced.

Even if the current estimate of 30 per cent is overstated, there can be no doubt that the level is far too excessive.

In fact, it could be argued that even one student leaving school devoid of adequate functional literacy is excessive.

The main reason usually put forward for this deficiency is the absence of phonics’ teaching, the explicit instruction to children on how to link sounds to the letters in the conventional English-language alphabet. One comment often made is “why don’t they teach phonics in the schools any more?” Well actually they do, at least in those around Dubbo.

A small article recently published in London’s The Times newspaper about modern affluent Norwegian society, provides vital perspectives on literacy teaching in Australia.

This opinion piece related the exodus of oil-rich Norwegians for their Easter holidays, well before most of the world started theirs. Four decades of wealthy income has apparently created a Scandinavian population that doesn’t take kindly to a long working week.

Six years ago, I lived in Norway and worked at a Norwegian independent school, and can certainly testify that a little pampering is sometimes apparent in their society.

Taking into account the fact that lucrative oil resources have been at their disposal since around 40 years ago, then today’s Norwegian parents of school-age students have had most of that period to enjoy an extremely well-off lifestyle.

And their children, today’s school students, have known no other existence than very comfortable affluence.

But these students do often have a very high standard of English literacy in read, spoken and written language.

Significantly, this considerable expertise had been achieved in their second language.

Although my Norwegian school was a fully English-speaking institution, its students’ proficiency in the language was generally consistent throughout Norway.

The students’ excellent use of English as their second language suggests that the same standard should prevail in Australia.

The fact that it apparently doesn’t, according to relevant observers such as employees, is not only a cause for great concern regarding Australia’s future, but demands a clear explanation for this deficiency.

It’s often stated that in decades past, a new way of teaching literacy, using the whole text language context approach, was instituted rather than phonics-based teaching.

This factor is seen as the major cause of the problem. But with phonics being taught today, then it’s time to look at a generational issue.

A crucial element in children’s literacy has always been the contribution of parents at home. Arguably, many of today’s parents have come out of that era when phonics received far less priority in schools.

Therefore, they may have their own literacy struggles, which impact on the ability to help their children, today’s current students.

Contemporary Norwegian parents might often be financially comfortable, but at some time, many of them became fluent in English as a second language.

This proficiency has been passed on to their children, combined with the learning of English from an early age in Norway’s schools.

It should be an example to educationalists attempting to deal with too many students’ current lack of functional literacy in Australia.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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