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Tuesday, 30 November 1976

Mr SAINSBURY (Eden) (Monaro) - The Australian people are becoming increasingly perturbed about some aspects of our education system. The Australian Council for Educational Research publication, entitled Literacy and Numeracy in Australian Schools, points to an alarming rate of deterioration in the literacy and numeracy of our school children. Just a few examples of their findings will suffice to highlight the problem: Children who were required to write a simple narrative describing in words a picture sequence they viewed produced a 59 per cent failure rate; 9 per cent of children could not correctly add 9 and 6; 13 per cent could not subtract 9 from 17; and 27 per cent could not divide 56 by 7.

Not surprisingly, concerned parents and interested educationalists are seeking explanations for this predicament. Part of the problem may be found, I suspect, in the degree of educational indoctrination in some teacher training colleges. The tutors of student teachers while playing down the instruction of basic teaching methods such as reading and basic numeracy, spend a questionable amount of time in teaching student teachers in repetitious courses in educational theory and philosophy, with instant courses in psychology and sociology. I am not setting myself up as an expert but I do not think I can be blamed for questioning this. The courses are not practical except for the small part of the course involved in the school situation. On the occasions when permitted to enter the schools, students often are encouraged to entertain the children in their care rather than actually to teach. That word 'entertain' is an esoteric term used by critics. That part of the student's experience amounts to a simple child minding exercise. Understandably, student teachers are frustrated under these conditions. They desperately want to learn how to teach but they are powerless to change the content and structure of their courses. Therefore, they become disappointed and apathetic.

After completion of their courses new teachers realise that they are often ill prepared for the school situation and that their time at the college was only party effective. They must begin to relearn educational techniques and methods afresh. That is, I admit, a situation in common with some other courses. The difference is that in those courses there is always a grounding in first principles. Many teachers get out of the profession as soon as possible. The annual resignation rate has recently been as high as 30 per cent to 40 per cent. The end result unfortunately is that we are not keeping enough teachers implacably committed to the reduction of illiteracy in graduates of schools. Furthermore, another factor- confrontation- has found its way into education. Within some universities, colleges and schools, students are encouraged mostly through the study of social science subjects, to be critical of the workings of society. This is not a bad thing in itself, if pursued with a degree of genuine questioning. But there is often little thought given by those responsible to the consequences of this instruction on the minds of the impressionable students.

Australians, unfortunately are becoming accustomed to more confrontation within our society, often in the form of violent demonstrations. What they are not generally aware of is that participation by students in some demonstrations is not limited only to university and college students. In the Australian Capital Territory, at least, students of an alternative school are actively encouraged to participate in demonstrations during school time. An example of this occurred on 1 7 August outside this very building. The point is that such demonstrations are frequently manipulated by dubious political organisations seeking to disrupt society. Innocent-minded students, who are for the most part under the impression that they are participating in a worthwhile cause, remain ignorant of the fact that they are being used. The real pity is that they themselves might become the victims of the strife others have sown.

I have presented some of the perturbing facts with regard to education in Australia at the moment. There are more and more parents who are concerned about the direction of education, about the fact that some of the basic skills which we in Australia for many years have taken for granted as part of the education system are not being taught and that some of the other factors to which I have referred tonight are being stressed to the detriment of the welfare of the students of Australia.

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