By Marina Cameron
Figures published on October 22 reveal that one in three year 9 students do not have basic literacy skills.
They also show that literacy problems have increased in Australia since 1975, and that literacy among disadvantaged students is around 50% worse than in the rest of the school population.
In an attempt to deflect attention from the obvious link between growing illiteracy and under-funding of government schools resulting in overcrowding and less individual student attention, the federal minister for schools, David Kemp, responded with a "strong" schools policy. The policy demands that academic results and post-year 12 destinations of all their students be made public as a means of improving "public accountability".
Discrepancies in performance are being used by the government to push more students into private schools and justify further funding cuts to government schools. While state schools are being run down, funding to private schools was increased in the federal budget. Kemp now intends to make the publication of results form the basis of a new "schools' performance ranking scheme" to allow parents to make more "informed choices" about where to send their children to school.
Yet research has clearly and repeatedly linked illiteracy levels to poverty levels, and a report published in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 18 shows that Australia has the second highest rate of child poverty in the developed world.
The inability of many parents to make "choices" was further underlined by a recent survey of 500 people in NSW conducted by The Smith Family which found that more than 80% could not meet the costs of government school fees, 78% could not afford to send their children on school camps and 77% could not afford to pay subject fees.