As schools around the country mull how to improve digital literacy among students, new figures have found that traditional literacy – such as basic vocabulary – is on the decline.
A soon to be released report by the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) found that one in five children start school without adequate literacy skills, putting them at an instant disadvantage.
The alarming figures revealed that 20% of students – and 30% from disadvantaged areas – do not understand enough words when they enter school to be able to learn how to read or follow other subjects properly.
CIS research fellow, Dr Jennifer Buckingham, called the slide a “slow motion disaster rolling on” – but she has been developing a potential solution.
In March, Buckingham will launch what is called a ‘Five from Five’ of reading resources for parents, schools and governments. The program will help children identify and improve basic vocabulary concepts early in their education.
“They have built up this store of knowledge so that then when they learn to read,” Buckingham told the Courier Mail, adding children need to “unlock the codes to words they already know”.
Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, said the state of the nation’s child literacy was at “a critical point” and that teachers couldn’t be expected to shoulder the burden alone.
“We need to ensure that Australian parents recognise that they all have responsibilities that sit alongside what happens in an early learning context and in a school environment,” Birmingham said in a statement.
“There is no one, single silver bullet that can manage to turn around some of our challenges in literacy outcomes.”
Australian Education Union (AEU) federal president, Correna Haythorpe, said the figures showed the importance of needs-based Gonski funding to help struggling children catch up.
“These children need support and early intervention from the moment they start school, otherwise they risk remaining behind right through their school years,” Haythorpe said in a statement.
“Things like intensive one-to-one support, literacy programs or in some cases speech therapy are important for helping children catch up, but these take time and money which many schools don’t have.
She added that in the states where Gonski funding was being delivered directly to schools, improved results were being seen.
“Gonski funding delivers increased resources to all schools, but delivers extra targeted funding to the schools which educate the most disadvantaged children,” she said.