xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: Millions of Federal dollars for formal testing in Year One. Did anyone ask the teachers what they REALLY need?

Monday, 18 September 2017

Millions of Federal dollars for formal testing in Year One. Did anyone ask the teachers what they REALLY need?

Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham will spend millions of dollars inflicting a universal literacy and numeracy testing regime on all Year One students. By doing this he is demonstrating the penchant for politicians to look as if they are interested in education and busily doing something about it.

There is not a Year One teacher in Australia who could not have told Minister Birmingham at the end of February this year which children in their class would thrive in language and numeracy, which children would achieve satisfactory outcomes and which children would struggle. They would struggle because of a variety of intellectual, physical, psychological, social, emotional and cultural factors.

What these Year One teachers want is not another testing regime imposed from above. What they want is more well trained Teacher Assistants, more school nurses, more speech therapists, more school psychologists. They especially want more social workers to visit families that are not coping, that are dysfunctional, that are affected by drugs, physical and sexual abuse. Many of the problems children experience at school originate well outside the classroom.

By inflicting this new universal testing scheme on Year One Teachers, Minister Birmingham is indulging in Teacher Bashing, because he is in effect saying that up till now Year One teachers have been derelict in their duty in detecting children at risk.

He also putting increased downward pressures on schools and teachers to introduce formal literacy and numeracy skills to the early years of childhood. Since NAPLAN was introduced in 2009, the pressure on teachers to introduce the formal teaching of language and numeracy skills into Kindergarten and Pre Primary classes has resulted in Kindergarten becoming the new Year One and Pre Primary the new Year Two.

The dangers of inflicting formal education on very young children was highlighted by highly respected Professor David Elkind, of Rochester University, in 1989, when he published his bestselling book, “The Hurried Child, The Power of Play and Miseducation.”

Elkind spent many years studying “The Hurried Child” and the many problems that arise from getting young children involved in formal education too soon. He stressed that “Education is not a race.” He believed that children’s education activities should be “developmentally appropriate.” Unlike our politicians, Elkind spent a lifetime researching the subject.

In 2001, Elkind published a paper entitled, “Much Too Early”. He again warned of the dangers of forcing formal education on minds not yet ready.  He warned of the “Growing call for early-childhood educators to engage in the academic training of young children.”  Elkind went on to point out that “Those calling for academic instruction of the young don't seem to appreciate that maths and reading are complex skills acquired in stages related to age. Children will acquire these skills more easily and more soundly if their lessons accord with the developmental sequence that parallels their cognitive development.”

“The short answer” said Elkind, “is that the movement toward academic training of the young is not about education. It is about parents anxious to give their children an edge in what they regard as an increasingly competitive and global economy. It is about the simplistic notion that giving disadvantaged young children academic training will provide them with the skills and motivation to continue their education and break the cycle of poverty. It is about politicians who push accountability, standards, and testing in order to win votes,  more than to improve the schools.”

Elkind wrote these words in 2001. They are even truer today than they were then. Elkind clearly identified the problem sixteen years ago yet politicians have continued to push for policies that win votes but do not necessarily improve schooling.

Unfortunately, some parents and most politicians, do see education as a race. Despite the research evidence of educators like Professor  Elkind, who have spent years studying the effects of “Too much Too Soon”, they believe that they can give children a head start in “The Race” by starting them earlier and earlier.

Elkind concludes by saying, “If we want all of our children to be the best that they can be, we must recognize that education is about them, not us. If we do what is best for children, we will give them and their parents the developmentally appropriate, high-quality, affordable, and accessible early-childhood education they both need and deserve.’’

He warned, "It is during the early years, ages four to seven, when children's basic attitudes toward themselves as students and toward learning and school are established. Children who come through this period feeling good about themselves, who enjoy learning and who like school, will have a lasting appetite for the acquisition of skills and knowledge. Children whose academic self-esteem is all but destroyed during these formative years, who develop an antipathy toward learning, and a dislike of school, will never fully realize their latent abilities and talents.”

These chilling words, warning of large numbers of youth disaffected by schooling, should be written in bronze on the walls of every politicians’ office. The problem would be getting them to read them and understand them.

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