Screen time and testing standards hurting future teachers, say principals

Malcolm Elliott, a former principal and president of the Australian Primary Principals Association.
Malcolm Elliott, a former principal and president of the Australian Primary Principals Association.

The nation’s school principals are concerned nearly 10 per cent of aspiring teachers are failing to meet literacy and numeracy benchmarks, saying struggling teaching students need to be identified earlier by universities and they are being damaged by increased screen time.

The Australian revealed on Monday new results from the 2019 Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education (LANTITE) show 9.3 per cent of students failed the numeracy benchmark, and 8.3 per cent failed in literacy.

Peak bodies for the nation’s primary and high school chiefs say the results need to be taken seriously by universities and governments.

Australian Secondary Principals Association president Andrew Pierpoint said on Monday the latest LANTITE results indicated literacy and numeracy were becoming a bigger issue as more tech-dependent young people enter the teaching ranks.

“The report would indicate that work needs to be done with literacy and numeracy with Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses,” he told The Australian.

“We may be seeing the consequences of increased screen time with the younger people who do education courses. This is a challenge for all of our community, as well as the education sector, as we seek to improve the quality of our teaching.”

Australian Primary Principals Association president Malcolm Elliot said universities had to move away from a “bottom on seats” approach to accepting teaching students, and should hold LANTITE tests earlier in their courses.

“If there is some sort of testing it should happen early,” he said.

“We shouldn’t have a bottom on the seats approach with the initial education courses … we need to promote teaching as a really important profession and attract our best performers.’’

Universities have a choice on when education students sit the literacy and numeracy test, but most schedule the exam in the final year of the degrees.

The LANTITE results show 91.7 per cent of teaching students can read and write properly and 90.7 per cent passed the numeracy standard in 2019.

Those results are a slight improvement from the previous year but much worse than in 2016 and 2017.

Opposition education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said the Commonwealth now needed to lead the way in enforcing tougher admission standards to university teaching courses nationwide.

“Countries with high performing school systems generally select their teachers from the top 30 per cent of achievers. That’s what Australia should be aiming for,” she said.

Education Minister Dan Tehan said he had invested more than $40m in the effort to beef-up education research and improve teaching students’ literacy and numeracy skills.

“We have also reached agreement from the states and territories to back our plan to focus on literacy by making the teaching of phonics and reading instruction mandatory … increasing the time allocated to literacy in ITE courses,” he said.

“The government announced it would provide $25m towards the $50m national evidence institute to undertake important educational research into effective teaching and learning practices.

“We are also providing $9.5m to strengthen the capacity of teachers to teach mathematics and numeracy and $7.5m to develop a new Future Leaders Program to prepare top-performing teachers for leadership roles.”