Interview on 3AW Breakfast with Ross Stevenson and John Burns
- Minister for Education and Training
Ross Stevenson: Simon Birmingham is the Federal Minister for Education and Training.
Minister, good morning to you.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning guys. Good to join you.
Ross Stevenson: So when you got the figures – because I mean you got them before we did – did you look at them and did you go, oh it’s alright, or no they’re no good, or meh?
Simon Birmingham: Well, they’re a bit of a mixed bag. So we can see that there’s some positive trends particularly in relation to reading and numeracy skills, and especially in the early years and primary school years, but then there are some negative trends in relation to writing skills in particular. So that highlights an area that as a nation we really need to focus in on, and really those national trends are pretty well replicated in terms of the Victorian statistics as well. The most positive news is a continued steady growth in terms of skills of year 3s in their reading capabilities. It’s a really good foundation for the future. But the most negative trend really shows up in terms of writing skills, and particularly those writing skills as you get towards the secondary school years.
John Burns: What are writing skills? The ability to be an author, or the ability to write legibly?
Simon Birmingham: It’s closer to the author category in that regard.
Simon Birmingham: [Indistinct] …if you look at it that way. So it is actually sentence construction, ability to be able to demonstrate comprehension in your writing skills and so forth. So …
Ross Stevenson: [Interrupts] Spelling?
Simon Birmingham: Sorry?
Ross Stevenson: And spelling?
Simon Birmingham: Spelling is captured across that as well. So spelling, grammar; those sorts of features are of course all critical attributes there.
Ross Stevenson: And I’ve got to assume that that is the case, because in our experience there are some who are somewhat older than years 3, 5, 7 and 9 who appear to have fallen through the cracks, who work with us, in terms of spelling. I presume at one stage did numeracy and literacy become unfashionable in education, Minister?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think there have been certain trends, I guess, that people have expressed real concern about, and some of the reforms we’ve put in place over the last couple of years have been about really getting these basics right. So in terms of our training of teachers in the future, we’re now requiring universities to guarantee that teacher graduates will meet their own personal minimum literacy and numeracy skills, so that they have to demonstrate that they are in the top 30 per cent of all Australians in terms of their personal capability. So we can have confidence those going into the classroom can do, as well as can teach. We’re also demanding now that unis require those undertaking teaching programs to have subject specialisations so that – in our primary schools in particular – we can get more English, maths, science specialists into those schools [indistinct] education generalists.
John Burns: [Talks over] But aren’t the teachers behind the eight ball, because when the kids go home they just sit in front of a screen? They don’t have to spell and they don’t have to add up.
Simon Birmingham: It is, of course, something that cannot just be heaped upon schools and teachers. And principals, teachers – when I go and visit these schools – are hardworking, passionate, really striving to do their best. It requires engagement from parents and families in the home environment as well. I’m a dad of two young girls, I know it’s challenging to minimise screen time, but I also know just how important it is when I’m home to spend as much time as I can reading with them, encouraging them in their writing, their maths. This is something that parents have to play a key role in as well, not just expect that teachers in schools can do all the hard lifting.
Ross Stevenson: Good on you, Minister. Thank you very much for your time. Simon Birmingham, Federal Minister for Education and Training. I reckon that, as Malcolm told us yesterday from the UK, that screen time is going to turn out to be one of the worst things you can expose a child to.