Why hasn’t someone taught my kids to read?


A global test of 300,000 year 4 students measured their reading proficiency and revealed that Australian year 4 students are well behind their peers in similarly developed, English speaking countries.  There was some commentary about this in the press last week, but not as much as you might think.  That commentary has attributed blame for low reading standards to the school ‘system’, State and Federal Governments, teacher training, teacher effort levels and teaching technique.  None of the commentary that I have read or seen has mentioned parents.  There seems to have been no mention at all of the importance of parents engaging in the education of their children.

On one level the omission of the responsibilities of families from the discussion of children’s education is unsurprising.  The whole notion of family level responsibility for raising children and looking are aged parents grows smaller in Australia every year.  Nobody wants to tell parents who’s kids can’t read to try a bit harder.  Many of the parents of children who have substandard reading literacy are themselves ill-equipped to teach their kids to read.  That is a genuine and large problem and it is up to the State to provide extra resources to help kids who struggle with reading and come from low literacy families.

But there are surely a lot of kids who struggle with reading because their parents, who can read perfectly well, are just too indolent and irresponsible to read to their kids and ask their kids to read to them.  I don’t know why we don’t have a public education program on this.  Government’s in Australia love to tell us what to do to be a model citizen.  Why don’t we have a program to tell people how utterly essential is the role of parents in children’s literacy.  Talk to your kids when they are babies, read to them from the earliest age, ask them to read to you when they go to school.  Why don’t governments and the press hit away at that.


10 Responses to "Why hasn’t someone taught my kids to read?"
  1. To be fair Mark Latham pushed this hard when he was ALP leader and got little thanks for his efforts.

    I also think parents are discouraged from being involved in education. At a parent-teacher evening I suggested that No. 1 daughter’s reading wasn’t up to my expectations and I was told that she was perfectly normal, at the average for her age, that I was an academic and my expectations too high. In the absence of clear benchmarking in school reports I have no way of knowing how well she (or any of the other offspring) are doing at school.

  2. Sinclair
    I agree, and its not just the education of children. Familial responsibilities are being downplayed on every level, including the care for the elderly and the care for young children during work hours. There seems to be a desire for the State and markets to replace family responsibilities of all kinds.

  3. A good start to getting parents involved in supporting their kids education would be to adopt textbooks in primary schools. This is done in other countries and it allows parents to see what kind of material their kids are doing. From this parents can get an idea where their kids sit in terms of the schools expectations.

    The reality is that Australia has the education system it wants. The answer to better schools already exists. Pay teachers more (in exchange for higher qualifications) and fund schools better, but this isn’t what Australian’s want or they would have done it already. The single biggest improvement in primary school education in the last couple of decades has been the provision of school halls to under-funded state schools, and look at the media’s rabid response to that. If school infrastructure wasn’t so important then why do the best private schools continually invest in it?

  4. Like Sinclair, I recall Mark Latham’s advocacy of reading with your kids. My uncertain recollection, though, is that he did pretty well with the issue – but that his other issues crowded out his reading ideas, and that after his demise no-one in the ALP wanted to adopt what had been the signature issue of an ultimately unsuccessful leader. It strikes me it is ripe for resurrection by someone from either party, at federal or state level.

    As well as raising the parental involvement issue, Garrett appears to be focused on teacher quality, which the literature suggests is an important lever.

    I’d also caution that very little of the media kerfuffle over this issue has taken apart the testing to see what the results really mean. My gut says that early reading matters, which is why I spent a lot of time reading with my kids in their early years. But my head says that my gut is sometimes wrong. Based on previous experience, there’s a non-trivial chance that the results are less bad than they appear. On the other hand, Geoff Masters at ACER sees them as bad news, so my reluctance to panic may be unwarranted.

  5. “Nobody wants to tell parents who’s kids can’t read to try a bit harder.”

    I think you mean “whose”. Sorry, in an article about reading, I couldn’t help myself.

  6. mjd.
    You are right. Thanks. Outstanding irony.
    And, it reminds me of a favourite knock-knock joke.
    Knock, knock
    Who’s there?
    To who?
    To whom, surely
    Which had a run on Stephen Fry’s QI the other day.

  7. Shorewalker
    I share your concern about the survey. This is the first year that Australia has been included in the survey, and you know how many things can go wrong is the collection, compilation and presentation of data. I would not be surprised if we have a considerable bump next year, once some data issues are sorted.

    • Sam, one of my concerns about education is that we teach a lot about mathematics (particularly the sort you can use to build 19th-century suspension bridges) but very little about data and data manipulation. It would be a not-so-nice irony if reporting about Australia’s education performance was being skewed by reporters whose education had simply left them ill-equipped to ask questions about data quality.

      That said, economic incentives play a pretty important role in reporting of these issues too. All the incentives are to avoid asking about data quality.

  8. Exactly Sam, it’s the lack of responsibility. Parenting culture in Australia is different to many European and Asian countries. In today’s society parents treat their child’s education as someone’s else’s responsibility or dare I say “problem”. I see this as the tyranny of an “outsource” culture. I’ve read many school newsletters where school principals inform parents that they must take more interest and responsibility for their child’s education.

    My parents could barely read English but that didn’t stop my mother from trying. While my English is imperfect I managed to get a place MBS.

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