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Thursday, 9 December 1976

Mr SHIPTON (Higgins) -I rise with great pleasure to speak on the report entitled Learning Difficulties in Children and Adults', which is the report of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Specific Learning Difficulties. May I say at the outset that I think the report reflects the bipartisan approach of Opposition members and Government supporters. It was a great pleasure to work on that Committee with people such as the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes), who has just spoken. However, I did find myself disagreeing with some of the things that he said tonight. I do not refer to the things that he said about the report, but I think he was completely unfair, with great respect to the honourable member, in indicating that this Government denied people the right to read. I think that to use those terms is completely unforgivable. To be fair, he quoted only one case and the report was tabled m this place only in October. I agree with the honourable member for Melbourne, that it is a most humane and compassionate report. It contains a number of recommendations upon which governments, both State and Federal, have to act. I suggest that I have as much interest in getting things done as does the honourable member for Melbourne.

Mr Hyde - A great deal more.

Mr SHIPTON -I thank the honourable member for Moore for bis interjection. We on this side of the House say that there is important work to be done. But let us give the Government a go and let it get programs into action. I can say to the honourable member for Melbourne that I for one on this side of the House will be using the influence that I have to see that things are done as a result of this report.

Mr Stewart - I said that when I was in Parliament for 1 1 months, too.

Mr SHIPTON -If I might say so, I think the honourable member who interjected has his eyes closed. I think that this report adds to the state of knowledge on the problems of literacy and numeracy in Australia. The Committee collected evidence and made its inquiry all over Australia. It has done good work. It commissioned the Australian Council of Educational Research survey to which the honourable member for Melbourne referred. I shall refer to certain of the results of that survey, firstly, those concerning reading. I shall quote from the report as it relates to the school room. Paragraph 2.32 states:

In terms relevant to the schoolroom, the survey indicates that one child per classroom in 10 year olds is virtually unable to read and one child in every three or four classrooms of 14 year olds is still unable to read in any independent manner.

That is quite frightening. With regard to numbers paragraph 2.37 states:

The most disturbing finding was that 4 per cent of 14 year olds did not substract 9 from 17 correctly, 4 per cent did not multiply 7 by 6 correctly and 8 per cent did not divide 56 by 7 correctly.

With regard to learning problems the survey reported:

Fifteen to 20 per cent of students in normal schooling were seen by their teachers at both 10 and 14 year old levels to be in need of remedial instruction in reading and number.

This information was supplied from a teacher questionnaire in the report. All the information in the report is quite frightening. I think that the community at large as well as educatorsparents, school teachers and the total communityneeds to study and debate this report. I might comment on the word 'dyslexic' because it was raised by the honourable member for Melbourne. I do not know whether he would agree, but I started my work on the report thinking that dyslexia was the real problem. I came away with the conclusion that the word 'dyslexia' did not mean anything. In fact, it is a word that is likely to mislead if it is used in this area. There are problems of learning difficulties, but if the word dyslexia' is used to describe a supposed medical problem or supposed learning problem, that is dangerous in itself because it will lead parents and teachers to think that a particular child is dyslexic, and, therefore, something is different about that child, whereas the child may merely have one of the many criteria of learning difficulties that we discovered.

For instance, migrant children have problems, as do non-migrant children. But I think that the problems of migrant children are perhaps more magnified than the problems of many Australian children because when children of migrant families go home at night, they probably converse in the native tongue of their parents. That is a right and proper thing to do but it means that they do not practise the language that they learn at school. Perhaps their parents are unable to help them with their homework and are also unable to read them a bedtime story. I am old-fashioned enough to believe that this is fairly important in the process of teaching children to read.

Mr McVeigh - You are a good father.

Mr SHIPTON -I thank the honourable gentleman for that compliment; I might reciprocate. I think there is perhaps a shyness involved as well with members ofthe migrant community.

In relation to migrant children, the Committee recommended:

The Committee would like to be sure that departments of education make great efforts to recruit teachers, preferably from the relevant ethnic groups, who were proficient in minority and migrant languages, who could converse with schoolchildren from ethnic minorities in their own languages and with understanding of their backgrounds.

The Committee drew the analogy of customers of banks who can talk with tellers and interpreters in Greek, Italian and Yugoslav at many banks because these languages are spoken by bank officers.

I recommend to the Government that more courses should be established to re-train migrant teachers in Australia. There are many migrants in this country who are, in fact, trained teachers in their countries of origin and who come here and take up other vocations. I have found from my own experience that it is better to re-train these people in Australia rather than to go overseas and specifically recruit teachers. In my electorate, at the State College of Victoria in Toorak known as Stonnington College, there is a course for re-training migrant teachers. It is a special bridging course to train migrants with overseas qualifications in Victoria. One of the upsetting aspects of even that course is that it only re-trains teachers by giving them a conversion course in the English language for 6 months and then a 12-month education period of study. The course qualifies them to be primary teachers only. I think there is a great deal more to be done in this area. I commend the work of this particular State college to the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) and to the Government.

I have referred to the problems of migrant children and migrant education by way of teacher training. I now turn to the problems of migrant adults because they have perhaps more problems than many other people. I suggest that migrant adults, like all adults, need to read and write for some of the most basic forms of employment in society today. To drive a truck one needs to be able to read a street sign and a street directory. I think that we must all ensure that there are more courses and that migrants are motivated and encouraged to train and teach themselves to learn to read and write and understand English.

The problems of all adults are quite severe. The Committee visited a course at Footscray Technical College. To me this was quite a remarkable experience because I saw there adults who could not read or write, learning for the first time. I think that more needs to be done in this area also. I remember one man who told me that he had worked in a store and that he had got on very well until metrication was introduced. Before metrication his mates helped him with the invoices and the paper work; but metrication completely beat him. I found that rather sad. Fortunately he found this course.

Another man on that course said to me: 'I have been waiting 20 years for this course. I cannot read or write. I am a paper hanger and painter and I have my own business'. I said to him: 'How did you do that? How did you give a quote?' He said: 'I just walked into a room and made it up in my head'. I think there are perhaps more people than we realise in this situation in society. There was another man from an Italian family who had not learned to read and write and who was being restrained. All parliamentarians in all parliaments in Australia, who have responsibility for education, should look at this report and at the work that needs to be done as a result of it. In conclusion, I trust that this report precipitates a debate amongst educators and teachers. With regard to teachers, the report states:

The classroom teacher is the person to be encouraged. In fact many more problems can be solved in the classroom than we think. The classroom teacher admittedly needs to have support by way of remedial teachers and other aids. But more and more problems can be solved in the classroom.

To do that we need to change the syllabus of existing teachers' colleges all over Australia and we need to make sure that existing teachers in the teaching work force are retrained so that they can better understand the nature of the problems mentioned in this report. The concludes all that I wish to say on the report.

I crave your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, for one minute to refer to the imminent retirement of the Clerk of the House, Mr Norman Parkes. In the year that I have been here as one of the 1975 crop of new members, Mr Parkes has been of personal help to me and I know to others. He has a wry smile and a charming wit. I am reminded of one occasion when I was sitting next to Mr Parkes at lunch. I thought I would perhaps be impertinent enought to ask him how we were getting on.

Mr Martyr -He should have given you a backhander.

Mr SHIPTON -He did not give me a backhander. I will tell the honourable member what he said. He said: 'You are a pretty good lot but perhaps in your direction the honourable members for La Trobe and Higgins do interject a little more than they ought '.

Mr Baillieu - I have been misrepresented!

Mr SHIPTON -The honourable member for La Trobe says that he has been misrepresented. I think perhaps it might have been fair comment. It was greatly appreciated. I feel a personal link somewhat with Mr Parkes. Whilst his father was the Clerk in this place before him, his son was wise enough to venture south to the electorate of Higgins. Perhaps in his retirement we might see Mr Parkes on the streets of Armadale when he visits his son and his family.

Mr Baillieu - Is that 'Spanner' Parkes, the notable Melbourne golfer?

Mr SHIPTON -The honourable member for La Trobe interrupts and asks whether it is Spanner' Parkes. In fact it is Graham Parkes, the son of Mr Norman Parkes.

Mr BAILLIEU (LA TROBE, VICTORIA) - A first rate fellow.

Mr SHIPTON -Yes. We look forward to seeing Mr Norman Parkes in Melbourne.

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