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Teacher literacy

An article headed ‘Teacher literacy in decline’, appearing in the Australian Campus Review, Volume 16, Number 35, September 6 2006, raises an interesting issue which has implications on the literacy levels of the general population.

New research shows the academic aptitude of new teachers has decreased significantly over the past two decades. The authors of the Australian National University (ANU) report, commissioned by the Federal Government, argue the drop in teacher quality is due to the lack of pay or merit-based pay for the profession.

But an educational expert warns the research simply shows cracks in the university system.

“It rings alarm bells and it should,” University of Tasmania Education Faculty Professor Roslyn Arnold said.

“The universities should not be graduating people in teacher education who don’t have acceptable levels of literacy and numeracy. I don’ think you can keep passing the buck on this one. It has got to be addressed.”

The ANU study showed the average teacher trainee in 1983 had better literacy and numeracy standards than 74 per cent of their same-age peers, compared with only 61 per cent in 2003.

“This means the literacy and numeracy standards of those entering teacher education courses are significantly lower today than in the early 1980s,” the authors said.

… The research found one of the reasons for the drop in teacher quality was declining pay in relation to other professions.

… Arnold said more attention should be focused on what makes a good quality teacher rather than just what financial incentives they should get.

The 1996 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) found one in five adult New Zealanders have very poor literacy skills. Literacy concerns are cropping up all over the place especially in workplaces. In New Zealand we have a large number of projects underway to try and address these concerns. The driver behind these projects is the government’s Adult Literacy Strategy.

It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds. I believe we are moving towards a bigger problem. It is not just about reading, writing, and numbers. It is about all aspects of life and living. It is about understanding our place in the globe and what is out there beyond our immediate environment. I think of it as global literacy – it is all encompassing. With a movement away from reading and writing to doing something it is natural that basic skills will not be developed yet these underpin all levels of human communication, understanding, knowledge and skill transfer i.e. learning!

One more point I forgot to make. I don’t think I know any teacher that has gone into teaching because of the money. Teaching tends to be a calling – something you want to do because you believe in it passionately. You tend to want to be involved with the development of individuals and groups of people. To be a teacher you are always a learner yourself. You go the extra mile and learn to accept that you won’t be paid for it. If you want more money you move on to something else. I would love to be paid more but would I love what I was doing?

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