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Thursday, 9 December 1976
Page: 3650

Mr HYDE (Moore) - I also am a signatory to the report of the Select Committee on Specific Learning Difficulties and therefore I will not speak to the subject matter of the report. Obviously I agree with it. I can do no better than recommend to anyone who wishes to take up the subject a reading of that report. It was a type of inquiry that probably was not particularly suited to the parliamentary forum in that it was technical rather than political in nature. Nonetheless, the Committee dealt with a very serious problem. In some cases the results of the problem were nothing short of heart-rending and the problem of learning difficulty undoubtedly has deprived many people of an opportunity to enjoy our Australian society.

The attitude of the Committee was bipartisan. I can give a ready example of that. The previous speaker, the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley), described the problem of the definition of elitism. I envy him. I had that word written in my notes at one stage and, frankly, I crossed it out. I thought there was no way that I could explain to the House the problems of the definition of elitism without painting myself into a corner as a hopeless right-winger in the view of those who did not listen carefully to what I said. Sometimes there is an advantage in speaking from the Opposition benches and from the side of the Labor Party. I will overcome the problem simply by saying that I agree with every word said by the honourable member for Fremantle.

There is a problem in deciding how resources will be allocated. A society allocates resources to some people in disproportionate amounts because they can provide things that society needs. There is no better example than the doctor about whom the honourable member for Fremantle spoke. The group of people with which we were concerned consisted of people at the other end of the scale, those who had difficulty in reaching a basic minimum standard that I think society should believe is the right of everyone. I refer to that minimum standard that will let people compete in society at a level where they can live reasonably happy lives, where they can have a sense of fulfilment, and where they will not feel that their lives have been pointless, fruitless and in vain. Obviously, competing in today's society is very difficult if you cannot learn simple arithmetic, simple reading, simple literacy and simple numeracy. How much of society's resources ought to be provided to bring children and adults with the more difficult learning problem up to that level where society will see them live reasonably full lives?

That is the subject matter of this report. We have tried to decide how those resources can be better applied to fill these very minimum needs of individuals so that not only will they find employment but also they will find mates and some appreciation of the things that are around them. Many things are not understood- it might even be true to say that most things are not understoodabout the difficult problem of learning. We know the problem is widespread. We have no criteria against which to measure our success. It is essential that anything that is done- many things ought to be done- is evaluated carefully so that not only will we help some children in the immediate future but also we will build up knowledge with which we can help children in the more distant future. It is absolutely essential that populations be tested, that progress be carefully monitored and that the techniques by which this is done are studied. The process and technique of evaluation are inadequately understood.

There is a problem of bad teaching and, I am afraid, bad teachers. I am glad that the report by Dr Fitzgerald also mentions that problem. We had one or two harsh things to say about some teachers. That is not to say that other teachers do not give to their profession in a manner and a degree that can bring only credit to themselves. It is a problem of bad parents, of bad environment and of bad luck.

One question I have had asked of me since the report came down is: 'Where do we go from here?' In the first instance, the report is advice to the Parliament. It is advice to the Australian public. I went through the recommendations. I found that it was advice to no fewer than 23 different organisations involved with education-the 3 arms of government, the research institutions, the Schools Commission and many other organisations which have responsibility for the education of our children- including obviously, the State Education Departments. The advice m the report, if it is taken up- I hope and believe that it will be, as I did not sign the report idly - will be taken up piecemeal by many organisations. It will also be taken up over an extended period. It is my hope that the next Schools Commission report, for instance, will be influenced by the things that we said. It is my hope that we will be able to measure, when we look back at this time from 10 years hence, the progress that we have made. I thank the House.

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