Australia’s future teachers could be lacking basic literacy skills

Literacy problems: a new study has highlighted problems with student teacher literacy skills.
Literacy problems: a new study has highlighted problems with student teacher literacy skills. 

Australia's future teachers could be lacking basic literacy skills.

A new study has highlighted alarmingly low levels of literacy among undergraduates studying high school teaching, with the results suggesting the graduating teachers could have worse literacy skills than some of their future students.

Some of the would-be teachers who participated in the study did not spell one word correctly out of a list of 20, while only one third managed to get more than 50 per cent of the answers right.

Not one of the 203 student teachers from an unnamed Australian university were able to spell all 20 words correctly.

Published by the Australian Journal of Teacher Education, the study listed some of the more frequently misspelled words. They included 'acquaintance', 'definite', 'exaggerate', and 'parallel'.

The study, conducted by Dr Brian Moon from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, also found the university students struggled with the definitions of particular words.

The word 'candid' was given definitions including 'something hidden', 'burned sugar', and 'cooked in sugar'. Hyperbole was thought to be 'a poem' or a type of Jamaican fruit, and kosher was defined as 'a type of bean' and 'a weapon'.

Dr Moon writes that some of these guesses show "a tendency for subject specialists to make guesses that reflected their narrow knowledge base."

Dr Moon said these poor literacy results are a big problem.

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"Analysis of the results showed high rates of error on general spelling and vocabulary tasks," wrote Dr Moon.

"The raw evidence of student performance on spelling, vocabulary and writing tasks still suggests that some graduating teachers have literacy skills below the ability level of the students they will be hired to teach."

The study pointed out while the accuracy – or lack of – in the student spelling tests is an issue, a closer look at how the students attempted to spell showed a range of problems with their 'personal literacy competence'.

"While the occasional near miss is to be expected, many of the errors reported here point to significant - and probably longstanding - deficits in spelling, vocabulary, and punctuation," Dr Moon noted.

"Many undergraduate students appear to have literacy problems so fundamental that remediation in the late stages of their degree program cannot hope to overcome a lifetime of poor literacy performance."

Dr Moon suggests setting a higher - or different - university admission standard for teaching degrees, but also working to fix this literacy problems much sooner in their school and university careers.

The Federal Government is due to release a report on possible improvements to teacher education soon.