Interview on Channel 7 Sunrise
Topics: NAPLAN and Civics/Citizenship test results
David Koch: Now, the latest national NAPLAN test results are out this morning. They show student results have stagnated with the proportion of pupils achieving the national minimum standard actually declining. There have been pockets of improvement but maths, spelling, grammar and punctuation continue to be areas of concern across a range of year levels. High school students are also struggling when it comes to understanding our system of government.
Samantha Armytage: And joining us now to discuss this is our Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Minister, good morning to you. Now, hundreds …
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Sam.
Samantha Armytage: … Hundreds of year three students were not able to spell words like: bell, grow, noise. That’s terrible, what’s been done to improve their spelling in schools?
Simon Birmingham: Look, we really are concerned about the literacy and numeracy achievements. There are signs of improvement across the country but for our record and growing levels of investment we ought to be concerned and that’s why there are a few things happening there. The Turnbull Government has already implemented measures to lift the training of teachers at university. We’ve made changes to the national curriculum to ensure that there’s more time for the basics of literacy and numeracy at school. But importantly we’re also doing more, we’re asking the states and territories to look at earlier screening for children in school to make sure that problems in terms of literacy skills are identified at the earliest stage, ideally by year one. As well as asking David Gonski and a panel of education experts to really have a look at how the record funding they’re deploying is being used to make sure that it’s being used on practical evidence based measures in schools to lift that performance.
David Koch: Okay, it’s not just the three Rs, year 10 students’ knowledge of national civics and citizenship has been described as: ‘woeful’ and ‘serious concern’. These are sort of life skills to prepare young Australians for adulthood. That’s a problem too.
Simon Birmingham: Kochie, I think this is a real worry and is a standout of these results. That the citizenship and civics areas, we’re seeing less than 40 per cent of high school students showing proficiency in terms of their understanding of the way our system of government works, our courts work, the basics of being successful participants. And that really sends a signal that I’m taking to state and territory ministers, that our school systems need to make sure they spend more time in the classroom focussing on understanding the civics of Australia, what it is that makes our democracy work, why it is that we enjoy, of course, one of the greatest ways of life in the world, great freedoms, high standards of living. All of that, of course, is based on the type of country we are.
David Koch: Yeah. Maybe you need to sexy up politics.
Samantha Armytage: [Laughs]
David Koch: For kids.
Simon Birmingham: Sorry about that?
David Koch: Maybe you need to sexy up politics for kids to get their interest.
Samantha Armytage: I don’t think that’s the problem.
David Koch: Have an app?
Samantha Armytage: But honestly, in year 10 you’re 16, you’re two years off voting and you don’t understand government – basic government – that’s a worry.
Simon Birmingham: That is a real worry, exactly. And yes, look as politicians I understand we need to try to find a way to connect better with younger Australians all the time, but there’s always been a level of cynicism about politics. What we’re showing here – and these tests have shown up – is that there is a real failure to understand the basics of our democracy and how it works. And that’s just not good enough.
Samantha Armytage: What about- what really worries me is these basic skills: spelling, grammar, punctuation. Can we blame a bit of that on the fact that most kids have a phone these days, that they are texting with predictive text, that spelling seems to have gone out the window? I mean, even my brother who’s in his early 30s, appalling spelling because it’s all done by phone now.
David Koch: Morning, Charlie.
Samantha Armytage: Morning, Charlie. Love you. [Laughs]
Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] Yes, hello Sam’s brother.
Samantha Armytage: Yes. But this is a problem now for younger people that they don’t seem to put as much emphasis on spelling as us oldies do.
Simon Birmingham: Look, I think there are elements there, Sam, that we have to be ever mindful of. And it goes back to the home environment there too. More time needs to be spent by parents, by grandparents, by carers with children; reading with them from the absolute earliest ages, ensuring that there is an engagement with literacy, that there are rules around the engagement with technology and how much time kids spend on the iPad or other devices. Because otherwise it does get to a point where there are problems, as we can see, in terms of learning skills and the application of those skills.
David Koch: Yeah. Simon Birmingham, thanks for joining us, appreciate it.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you guys.