A betrayal of our young people and our future

Australia got a kick up its backside this week with release of new data showing our schoolchildren’s educational attainments are lagging seriously behind comparable nations.

Lowlights include coming 27th out of 48 countries tested. A quarter of Year 4 students failed to meet minimum reading standards for their age. Many more than that failed to meet minimum age standards for maths and science in Year 4 and year 8.

The data was compiled by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement – IEA.  The Australian Council for Educational Research  (ACER) has more.

There are many issues arising from this revelation. Worst is the shock, horror reaction of many Australians that we could fall below the standards of Asian countries and the Russian federation. The apparent belief that because we are a white, wealthy and privileged nation we should as-of-right perform better than others is appalling. Such arrogance is so clearly misplaced as to make us a laughing stock of those beating the pants off us. There can be little doubt it is a substantial contributing factor in our educational decline.

But there is a deeper malaise that is reflected in our university students. I lecture them in an array of marketing and public relations subjects.

The inability of many students to write to a reasonable standard of literacy is shocking. Most are unable to spell well, they often cannot form proper sentences and their knowledge of grammar and punctuation is pathetic. I know because I teach them. Every time I get to mark a new set of assignments I am horrified by the low standards of proficiency I encounter.

Consider that these young people have spent twelve long years in a daily grind of educational institutions.  Yet they cannot match the proficiency levels of their parents.

Their numeracy is the same and many cannot perform basic multiplication or division tasks without technological aid.

But there is still worse: their knowledge of civics is abysmal. Most cannot identify key political players and their parties and the knowledge of current affairs – beyond the miasma of celebrity and sleaze – is disturbing. Many readily confess they know more about American politics than our own.  The fact that they don’t really know anything about either system still leaves a haunting question as to their lack of understanding of our own way of life.

Even allowing for the naivety of youth, their lack of awareness – and, especially, any real interest – in civics should make older and wiser heads fearful for the future of our democratic system.

We are left to ponder: what the hell has gone wrong?

Since I am not, in any way, expert, in this field my thoughts are generalised assertions. But . . .

There has been vigorous debate, albeit in very small circles, for two decades about the shaping of curricula for our schools. It has become a commonplace that trendy lefties have seized control of the agenda. That may well be a substantial oversimplification but where there has been so much smoke there assuredly are fires.

Our politicians – of all sides – believe they have a mandate to meddle in pursuit of curricula reflecting their own guiding philosophies. These fools blindly ignore the harsh reality that if you cannot properly read, write or perform basic arithmetic then philosophical thinking is a lost cause.

But while I feel a seething anger at how our young people have been betrayed by the loss of their competitive advantage, indulging in a blame game will not help.

Ultimately, we – the voters – are the ones who have the ability to control the game. We put in charge those responsible for allowing this situation to develop. So, we need to appreciate that resolving the problem is a challenge that ultimately falls to us.

We have devolved far too much authority to far too many faceless people who have been indulging fads, fancies and fashionable causes without being held adequately to account for the outcomes of their dilettantism.

If the unbridled experimentation of the past few decades has yielded such sad consequences for those we want to lead future generations it surely is time for a back-to-basics approach. It is time to restore order to a system that, more than almost anything else, defines our society.

This situation will not be corrected overnight but a start must be made. Change will only come about if we make current and aspiring politicians of every hue aware that we have had enough and we demand improvement.

No more experimentation, no more adventurism, no more politically-biased agendas. Let’s start a revolution by a return to learning the times tables by rote. It worked wonderfully well until we stopped doing it because we were supposedly more clever than that.  What was that about pride coming before a fall?