In my entire teacher education degree, there was just one subject dedicated to learning how to teach literacy and numeracy. And ironically that subject included very little literacy and no numeracy.
It is unsurprising therefore — but nonetheless concerning — that it’s necessary for the federal government to require students doing teacher education degrees to pass a literacy and numeracy test before they can be accredited to teach.
The test requires students to achieve the literacy and numeracy level equivalent to the top 30% of Australian adults (not the loftiest of goals). This week we learnt that over 5% of teacher education students didn’t achieve the required level on the test in 2016 and another 3% had to re-sit the test, despite having already been admitted to a teacher education degree.
Students are charged $185 to sit the compulsory test — and are then charged the same amount again if they have to re-sit it. They are entitled to wonder why they were admitted to an expensive teaching degree in the first place if their literacy and numeracy skills were not necessarily up to scratch.
This raises many questions. How has the quality of graduate intake in teaching degrees fallen so low that the ATAR cut-offs don’t eliminate applicants who lack the literacy and numeracy levels required? What are universities actually covering in teaching degrees if an external test for literacy and numeracy is still needed? And are there teachers already in schools who don’t have adequate literacy and numeracy skills themselves — and so have no hope of passing on these basic skills to school students?
The absurdity of having to test the literacy and numeracy levels of teacher education students, who will soon be responsible for teaching literacy and numeracy, shows how from primary school through to university the Australian education system is failing to consistently get the basics right. No wonder Australia’s school results have been declining in the international rankings.
It is a crucial problem that literacy and numeracy are not being taught as well as they could. They are the foundations of a proper education.
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