Jim Belshaw has posted on the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey 2006 from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, released just today. I have downloaded the full report, and to be honest have not had time to do more than browse.
Jim’s post does have a good historical introduction.
He then notes:
A second thing stands out when I look at the numbers. Those in the 15 to 19 age cohort had lower levels of literacy than the 20 to 24 year age cohort and by a reasonable margin.
The following graph captures that; I won’t even try to explain the five categories at this stage. The general trend is what Jim is referring to.
Proportion at skill level 1/2, by age
Skill Levels 1/2 are the lowest levels. The lower the line the better.
Let me offer a mischievous interpretation.
Given that those aged 15-19 had all or most of their education during the Howard years… And that the “best” figures encompass those educated during the years categorised during the Howard years as a hopeless period of educational anarchy, that is those aged in their 20s to mid 30s. And noting that the “worst” figures are for those over 50, a large proportion of whom would have learned their literacy using phonics and traditional grammar, especially those over 60…
But that is mischievous.
It could be softening of the brain too.
The report summary merely states:
Literacy levels tended to decrease with age, with higher proportions of people in the older age groups attaining skill scores lower than Level 3. The exception to this was the 15 to 19 years age group, which had lower levels of literacy than the 20 to 24 year age group. Of those aged 15 to 19 years, 52% attained skill scores lower than Level 3 on the prose scale, 47% on the document scale and 57% on the numeracy scale, compared to 37% on both prose and document scales and 45% on the numeracy scale for those aged 20 to 24 years…
I found this quite fascinating too:
PERSONS WHOSE FIRST LANGUAGE WAS NOT ENGLISH
The ALLS was conducted in Australia’s official language, English. Examining the literacy skills of people whose first language was not English, 36% of this group achieved scores at Level 3 or above on the prose scale and 38% on the document scale, compared to 54% and 53% respectively for the general population (table 19).
Compared to 1996, of the people who migrated to Australia in the five years prior to the survey whose first language was not English, there was a statistically significant increase in the proportion of people attaining literacy scores of Level 3 or above on both the prose and document scales. On the prose scale, the proportion of this group with scores at Level 3 or above increased from 22% to 38% while on the document scale the proportion increased from 32% to 50% (table 19).
The international comparison should prevent us from panicking too much.
Prose literacy, proportion at skill level 3 or above, by Age(a) – for selected countries
In this case, the higher the line the better. Levels 3, 4 and 5 are the best levels.
Norway’s performance may partly be due to the size and homogeneity of the population, but there are possibly other factors. See The Teaching of Literacy: Debates Conference 2006:
Sue Palmer, lobbied for a “proper foundation period” before children begin formal reading and writing lessons. Sue made her case by discussing her visits to countries like Norway and Sweden which concentrate on music, song, drama and the development of motor skills through a structured kindergarten programme. Here, children do not begin formal writing until the age of six or even seven compared with four or five in England, and as a consequence, Sue argued, children’s reading skills top the league tables in Europe.
Update 4 December
See Email re the Educational Testing Service on English/ESL.