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Thursday, 9 December 1976

Mr McVEIGH (Darling Downs) -At the outset, I express my personal and sincere thanks to the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) for being courteous and kind enough to allow me to be associated with the debate on this report. I was a member of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Specific Learning Difficulties which heard public evidence and received various submissions. The report which is concerned with the learning difficulties of children and adults consolidates some 4000 pages of public evidence and 400 submissions.

I suppose it is true to say that the Committee embarked upon a voyage into uncharted waters. Very little had been done not only in Australia but also in most of the world to define the problem and to establish guidelines to overcome the very serious hardships and the great personal traumas of people who are afflicted with what we term, in a general sense, learning disabilities and/or difficulties. It is interesting to recall the great sense of concern and goodwill shown by all people who came before the Committee. They were united in their task of isolating the problem and overcoming an area of great personal tragedy.

The recommendations and conclusions contained in the report are somewhat unique in a modern political era insofar as they do not of necessity advocate that more finance should be pumped into a particular stream -in this instance, the educational stream. But there must be a reallocation of resources and this is a matter which is open for debate by the Parliament, by the people of Australia and by all people interested in education. It must be admitted that some States are doing a great deal to overcome the problems of learning difficulties and in the provision of remedial and resource teachers to identify this problem. Some States are doing very little in these areas.

I express the wish that people should be associated with the efforts of governments to overcome the problems. Only today I had the privilege of meeting at lunch some people who are represented in this Parliament by the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett). It was brought to our notice that one of the local service clubs in the small Queensland country town of Cunnamulla had donated $1,000 for the provision of a remedial teacher to bring this type of education to the children of the outback. That type of community outpouring of goodwill, concern and identity should be encouraged. These matters should not of necessity be left to governments to provide the services.

I express the hope that when governments get around to doing something positive about this matter they will do something about the requirements of isolated children. I support the remarks of previous speakers who also made a plea in this regard. I hope that governments will not just think of children in the metropolitan areas but they they will also have regard for children in isolated areas and the children of the Aboriginal community. The needs of these children are very important and they are entitled to receive an adequate amount of resources to upgrade their education requirements.

One of the salient features ofthe report which came through with crystal clarity and continuous purpose was the correlation of the home, the school and the teacher. The report pointed out that each of these 3 different areas has a great part to play in helping children as well as adults to play a useful part as members of the community and to develop fluency in expression, arithmetic and all the associated arts.

Mr Martyr - The home is fundamental.

Mr McVEIGH -I am delighted to hear that remark from the honourable member for Swan. The home is vital because whatever the school achieves, however dedicated the teacher is, if the home environment to which the child returns does not place emphasis on correcting a serious problem and if no encouragement is given to the child to progress, in the final analysis very Utile progress will be made.

It is interesting to note that 25 per cent of children are in need of special assistance. It is most regrettable that 10 000 children will leave school each year without the simple skills and 20 000 children will not have the ability to do simple multiplication, subtraction and so on. I believe that these are very salient considerations. Much criticism was expressed of teachers and teaching institutions. A query was raised whether the modern teacher is motivated sufficiently and whether he or she is sufficiently accountable. The standards that are being demanded of our teachers are intolerably high. They will become higher in the future. A vast amount of public money has been expended in the area of teacher education. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that we turn out teachers who not only are educated people but also know how to teach the fundamental 3 Rs. This requirement is of vital importance.

Evidence taken by the Committee revealed that the older 'type' of teacher was better equipped to isolate the problem initially and to inculcate into the child a better understanding of the needs of education and how to achieve the desired ends.

Mr Martyr - Through discipline

Mr McVEIGH -It is possible that in the old days teachers were more disciplined. They were taught to become teachers rather than academics in the educational sense. It was found that only one teaching institution in Australia allocated a reasonable number of hours for teaching teachers the fundamentals of numeracy and literacy. What do we do in that situation when overseas standards indicate that at least 100 hours of lectures, and possibly a maximum of 150 hours, are required in this area? We have reached the intolerable situation where one college of advanced education in one of the States devotes only 2 hours to what one might call the absolute foundation of educational teaching. A chorus of witnesses drew attention, as they saw it, to the problem of the inability of teachers to teach children.

I conclude on 2 simple notes. I hope that the Australian Council of Education Research will continue its research into the problem and that it will monitor progress. It is simply not good enough to say that standards have not declined. We have to know what the actual standards are. My final comment, on a subject which has not been referred to, relates to the problem of adult education as far as literacy is concerned.

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