Most teachers and parents in Australia feel demoralised by the “generally negative” news coverage of the country’s education system, a new study has found.
Researchers from Curtin University surveyed a national representative sample of 268 teachers and 206 parents and found that 85% of teachers and almost three-quarters of parents thought the portrayal of the education sector by various news media outlets was mostly negative.
Of these respondents, eight of 10 teachers said that this kind of coverage was demoralising, with half of parents sharing the sentiment.
Kathryn Shine, journalism discipline lead at Curtin University and one of the report’s authors, said that the predominantly negative reporting of education has led many teachers to feel “constant anxiety [that] our education system is going downhill and needs urgent improvement.”
In an article published in The Conversation, Shine discussed how this negative portrayal has impacted teachers’ mental wellbeing and ability to perform at their best.
“For many teachers, news coverage of education seems to be unrelentingly negative,” Shine wrote. “They say this is particularly noticeable in the reporting of results of standardised tests such as NAPLAN [National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy] and the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which seems to place most of the blame for perceived problems on them.”
“Australian students have reportedly been falling behind many other countries in literacy and numeracy in the PISA tests, for years,” she added. “The results are nuanced, but the reporting often isn’t.”
Shine cited the nation’s performance in PISA 2015 as an example. Australian students scored 510 in science, which was significantly above OECD average of 493. But instead of focusing on areas where the country may have done well, she noted how news reports focused on subjects where Australia had fallen behind compared to other nations.
According to Shine, most teachers felt that “the mostly negative portrayal presented in major metropolitan news outlets was unfair and inaccurate… and the positive elements tended to be overlooked.”
“When the NAPLAN data was published, our federal minister had quite a lot of material published about how we were slipping down the league tables, but when our 15-year-olds were rated the fifth top all-rounders [in the PISA tests] […] that barely got a squeak,” one participant commented.
Several respondents also lamented the prevalence of news coverage that portrayed teachers as low achievers, with some saying that teachers were treated differently than other professionals and were subjected to greater scrutiny and pressure.
Shine added that one Australian research has found that this kind of portrayal was a major factor in the decision of many education professionals to quit teaching.
The impact of positive news
By contrast, Curtin researchers found that survey participants felt positive news to be uplifting, with about two-thirds of teachers and parents saying they felt inspired when encountering a positive story about teachers, schools, or the educational system.
“All of this points to a need for more balanced, contextualised, and fair news coverage of schools and teachers,” Shine wrote.
“While it is not the role of reporters to appease teachers, the evidence about the predominantly negative nature of education news and teachers’ concerns about superficial and inaccurate coverage should be taken into account. And it can just be a matter of shifting the angle.”