Home' Teacher : October 2009 Contents AT THE CHALKFACE 31
ment of Education and Early Childhood
Development)'s efforts have not resulted in a
marked improvement in average literacy and
numeracy achievement across age groups.'
In 2007, the Business Council of Aus-
tralia also published an alarming report on
Australian education, prepared by Austral-
ian Council for Educational Research chief
executive Geoff Masters. The report, Restor-
ing our Edge in Education: Making Aus-
tralia's education system its next competitive
advantage, highlighted several very disturb-
ing trends in Australian literacy education.
Masters noted, for example, that by Year 5,
the top 10 per cent of children in reading are
at least five years ahead of the bottom 10 per
cent of readers. He also reported that, 'In the
basic skills of literacy and numeracy, up to 10
per cent of students only achieve minimal lev-
els by Year 7. . . . Perhaps a further 20 per cent
have levels below those required for effective
functioning in adult society.'
If a significant number of students in ou r
schools seem to be having difficulty acquir-
ing basic literacy and numeracy skills, at the
same time the majority, both primary and
secondary students, have technology skills
well in advance of many of their teachers.
The technological devices that they oper-
ate with such ease and confidence are incredi-
bly complex, requiring high levels of cognitive
ability and finely-honed motor skills in order
to operate them efficiently, and the majority
of young people seem to have little or no dif-
ficulty in doing so. This may be because they
are highly motivated to learn because there
are so many aspects of the technology they
enjoy using, but the fact remains that they
have an incredible capacity for learning. Why
is it the case, then, that so many struggle to
learn basic literacy and numeracy skills?
One of the points Pearson makes in the
Victorian Auditor-General's Report is
that, 'in order to make a difference, both
the nature and the scale of the literacy and
numeracy strategies currently being applied
need to be thoroughly re-assessed.'
Maybe one aspect of this thorough re-
assessment could be a closer examination
and understanding of why it is that students
display such ready confidence and compe-
tence with rapidly-emerging technologies.
I was recently at St Brendan's Primary
School in Shepparton, where all of the Years
5 and 6 students have been given 1:1 access to
laptop computers. As Emma Payne-Crosten,
one of the teachers who was very involved in
getting this program operational observed,
'From the very beginning the children have
been involved in the preparation and plan-
ning process. I strongly believe that giving
the children ownership throughout the prep-
aration process enabled 1:1 to be a smooth
transition. We spent endless hours, prior to
getting the laptops, discussing what 21st-
century learning involved and what this
would look like in each of our classrooms.
The most evident change,' she said, 'is the
engagement and enthusiasm of all the chil-
dren, in particular those children who were
reluctant learners and often experienced
behavioural issues. Those children who were
reluctant writers are far more motivated to
complete written tasks when required.'
There are many studies readily available
on the internet that clearly indicate significant
improvements in student learning when they
are given appropriate access to technology.
According to the National School Boards
Association in the United States, for example,
a Department of Education-funded study of
nine technology-rich schools concluded that,
'the use of technology resulted in educational
gains for all students regardless of age, race,
parental income or other characteristics.'
We now need to identify the specific fac-
tors associated with this improved learning.
Certainly, the novelty of new technologies
and the development of highly interactive
software programs are important. Perhaps
those educational gains have to do with the
possibility that students' brains are being
rewired as they grow up in technology-rich
environments. Most important, however, is
the fact that technology has an incredible
capacity to put students in control of their
own learning. Technology provides flexible
and adaptable ways of learning that really
can cater for the learning needs of each indi-
Perhaps as we re-assess the effectiveness,
or otherwise, of so many well-intentioned,
well-researched and well-resourced literacy
and numeracy programs, we should look
closely at why it is that students learn so
well with technology. One of the keys to
successful learning is enabling students to
take control of and become responsible
for their own learning. When students are
encouraged and enabled to take control of
their own learning, significantly increased
levels of meaningful learning occurs.
Brian Brennan is a Senior Education
Officer at the Sandhurst Catholic
Education Office and a regular contribu -
tor to Teacher. Em ail bbre nnan@ceosand.
Masters, G. (2007). Restoring our Edge
in Educ ation: Making Australia's educ a-
tion syste m its next competitive advan-
tage. Melbourne: Business Council of
Australia. Available at w ww.bc a .com.au/
National School Boards Association
(n .d.) Technology's Impact on Learning.
Available at w ww.nsba.org/sbot/toolkit/
Pearson, D. (2009). Victorian Auditor-
General's Report on Lite racy and
Numeracy Achie vement. Melbourne:
Victorian Auditor- General's Office.
Available at http://download. audit.vic.
gov.au/files/Full_ Report_ Literacy_ and_
To find out more on this, take a look
at four short videos by Denis Higgins,
Director of the Sandhurst Catholic
Education Office, at: ww w.youtube.com/
watch?v= 4ge1W9WT_ ng
w ww.youtube.com/watch?v =zGO1Zto_
w ww.youtube.com/watch?v = SY9Re3QO
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