The Courier-Mail


Keep NAPLAN tests but boost parents’ capacity and teacher-led learning,

- writes Paul Williams Dr Paul Williams is a senior lecturer at Griffith University’s School of Humanities.

AUSTRALIAN schools are in an existentia­l crisis.

Parents might think they know where their children are going in their schooling, but are they prepared to come with them on the journey from birth?

NAPLAN test results, where Australian school kids in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 are tested on numeracy, reading, writing, spelling, punctuatio­n and grammar, show the vast majority of students – usually over 90 per cent – meet “minimum” standards. But is “minimum” really enough? Are we setting the bar too low?

A couple of states, such as Queensland, have shown real improvemen­t, probably as a result of the now mandatory Prep year. But even now we are only in the middle of the Australian pack.

The bad news is Australian student performanc­e overall has hardly improved since NAPLAN was introduced in 2008. Worse still, internatio­nal comparison­s show Australia is rapidly slipping behind other countries, especially in maths and science.

Many an employer, university teacher and parent has long complained that Year 12 school leavers simply do not possess the practical and academic skills necessary to meet post-school challenges. Whether it’s paying a bill or the ability to collate, contextual­ise and critique new informatio­n, we’ve seen too many school leavers unprepared for the rigours their parents faced just a generation ago. From relatively unstructur­ed senior high school programs we’re producing generation­s of school leavers without adequate core knowledge of the natural and human worlds, or of written language, or of metacognit­ion – the power to think about “thinking”. The last skill is imperative for a drive to self-improve – an essential quality for the genuine lifelong learner. But let’s not shoot the messenger and dump NAPLAN altogether. Yes, the results might not be totally accurate, given that many parents keep their kids away in protest and, yes, NAPLAN tests have created undue anxiety in children and parents. But they needn’t. The tests are only benchmark instrument­s to help government­s spend money where it’s most needed. They’re not an indictment of individual children. Besides, a little healthy reminder for kids to perform cognitivel­y doesn’t hurt. If kids are pressured to win at sport, surely they can sit a few basic scholarly tests to help paint a national picture.

Perhaps NAPLAN’s greatest sin is some teachers’ propensity to “teach to the test”. Spending weeks or months preparing for such a narrow event robs children of a rich learning experience. The fact NAPLAN doesn’t assess creativity, such as art, is also a drawback.

Some also say NAPLAN is expensive and the millions spent on administer­ing tests could be spent on more classroom computers. I agree, to a point.

Technology is a wonderful thing in the hands of a skilled teacher and for students who come from a “learning culture” at home. But without instilled motivation, computers are worth less than a whiteboard and marker. If students have neither a core knowledge of the world, nor basic learning momentum – the desire to


inquire, take risks, make errors, accept criticism and improve – the only useful tablet in the classroom will be an aspirin.

So who can teach motivation? I’m looking at you, parents. Teachers can encourage kids to open a book (or is that now a web browser?) but if a child enters Prep at age five without an awareness of written text, or of colours or body part names, that child – between birth and five years – is unlikely to have been taught the value of “knowing”, or have been given the necessary motivation to self-improve.

So rather than spending yet another billion dollars on school laptops, why not spend a quarter of that educating parents on how to teach their preschool children to recognise words, count, describe events and take turns.

Then spend the rest on school support officers so disruptive and potentiall­y dangerous pupils can be withdrawn from classrooms to allow genuine learners to progress. Lastly, government­s must allow teachers to retake control of their classes, to engage in teacher-led learning and not be forced into a “faddism” where children fritter away valuable school hours in unproducti­ve groups.

The key to deep learning is tight control – of teacher, learner, content and process.

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 ??  ?? HANDS UP: Teachers must be allowed to retake control of their classrooms and parents must learn how to motivate.
HANDS UP: Teachers must be allowed to retake control of their classrooms and parents must learn how to motivate.

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