By Darin Ritchie
The latest VECCI poll shows that, overwhelmingly, employers believe that school leavers have poor literacy skills, while a majority believe that numeracy skills are poor as well. Of further concern is that one in five do not believe the Australian Government’s National Curriculum will make any difference.
These figures correspond to an Australian Bureau of Statistics Report in 2006 which found that 7 million Australians aged 15 to 74 (46%) had literacy skills below the “minimum required for individuals to meet the complex demands of everyday life and work in the emerging knowledge-based economy”.
The Group of Eight Universities last week stated that the decline in mathematics in schools meant that these skills were now having to be taught in universities, and “the state of the mathematical sciences and related quantitative disciplines in Australia has deteriorated to a dangerous level, and continues to deteriorate.”
Literacy and numeracy skills are crucial for all school leavers, regardless of whether they continue on into further education and training, or choose to join the workforce. Without these fundamental skills, young people are locked out of social and economic security and opportunity. For industry, literacy and numeracy are vital to satisfy ever-increasing skill demands to remain competitive and improve productivity.
Three quarters (76%) of those responding to the VECCI poll rated the literacy skills of school leavers employed by their business as poor, 18% rated it as acceptable, and only 6% rated it as good or excellent.
Just over half (54%) of respondents rated the numeracy skills of school leavers employed by their business as poor. While a third (34%) rated it as acceptable, and just 12% rated it as good or excellent.
Half of respondents (50%) believe the proposed national curriculum won’t lead to improved student performance in literacy and numeracy, while only one in five (22%) believe it will improve performance.
It is clear that employers responding to this poll believe that school leavers that have joined the workforce have inadequate literacy and numeracy skills, and nearly 80% doubt that a national curriculum will address this issue.
The Australian Government will have to clearly demonstrate how its proposed National Curriculum will make a difference in the classroom and turn around the poor performance of today’s school leavers. However, like most things, a change in curriculum has to be matched with teacher retraining and professional development, reliable and accurate testing, and working with parents, school communities and employers.