Sunday, February 24, 2013

Reading Blitz Proposal Needs Update for Gen WiFi

The Prime Minister and the Minister for School Education today announced a "National 'Reading Blitz' for All Young Australians". From 2014, the Federal Government will ask  schools to sign up to a three-year program for Foundation to Year 3 students, to help with the basics of reading. The program would emphasize teaching methods with a  reading plan for each school, specialist teacher skills and records of student progress. These elements also appear in US President George W. Bush's "US No Child Left Behind Act" (NCLB) and it appears the Australian announcement is based on the US policy from a decade ago. Unfortunately, the Australian government proposals do not appear to take into account recent research and experience on what makes for effective education. More training for teachers has been found to be effective, as is student centered learning with on-line and classroom support.

The RAND Corporation has carried out several studies of the US NCLB, with the latest commentary stating: "While NCLB has produced some positive effects, the bill has not produced enough improvement to reach its goal of all students meeting proficiency standards by 2014 and has numerous flaws that policymakers should address." (Brian M. Stecher, January 14, 2013). A study of implementation of NCLB in Florida (Zeig J. L., 2007) found that the Act was implemented, with changed teaching practice and reporting of results. However, that study did not determine if NCLB improved student outcomes.

Before implementing the US policy, it would be prudent for the Australian Government to assess the US experience and correct any flaws found. The cost of the policy implementation for Australia and the estimated benefits would then need to be detailed, before a decision was made.

In "Educating Gen Wi-Fi: How We Can Make Schools Relevant for 21st Century Learners" (ABC Books, 2013) Australian educator Greg Whitby  provides a practical prescription for better education. Whitby suggests teachers need to be "... supported in the ongoing professional learning by close and regular collaboration with their colleagues". His proposals are based on practical experience in the Australian school system.

James Barber Vice-Chancellor of the University of New England
In "E-learning: Supplementary or disruptive?" (Telecommunications Journal of Australia, February 2013), James Barber Vice-Chancellor of the University of New England, reviews progress with electronic learning over the last two decades and its effectiveness. He concludes that blended learning, combining the classroom and on-line is most effective and that mobile devices will have a large impact. It seem likely this will not be confided to the tertiary sector and the Australian Government need to take this into account in its reading policy.

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