My vision is a Tasmania that is at or above the national average in every NAPLAN measurement … in reading, writing, maths and science. A Tasmania where our greatest asset, our young people, are able to achieve their potential and write their own life story. Because a better education usually means better health, and positive outcomes in family life and community participation. And a much better chance of getting a good job. And it's a vision of a Tasmania that is more economically productive and prosperous as a result…that leads to improving education outcomes to give every young Tasmanian their best shot in life, and to lift our State as well. This is central to my vision for our State.
Current Premier, Peter Gutwein, is yet to declare his vision for the State; his priority since he became Premier has been to keep Tasmanians safe during the global pandemic. However, he did note in his State of the State address in March 2020 that ‘education is the passport to a better life – and every child deserves the best possible education’.
The determinants of our health and wellbeing are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. The single strongest predictor of our health and wellbeing is our position on the social gradient, often referred to as social class, which can be measured by educational attainment as well as income or occupation.
A recent report from the Mitchell Institute, Educational opportunity in Australia 2020: Who succeeds and who misses out found that, nationally, about one-fifth to one-third of young people are behind or missing out in our education systems. The report’s indicators cover the various stages of learning and development from early childhood through to early adulthood to assess how well our systems are doing in preparing our young people with the lifelong knowledge and skills needed to contribute successfully and meaningfully to social, economic and cultural life. The report found that the ‘results are at odds with our national goals for education’.
At a state level, the Tasmanian Government can influence educational outcomes directly through schooling, including the first 1000 days of childhood, and vocational education and training.
There are two critical issues that the Tasmanian Government needs to address to improve the educational foundations for Tasmanians.
First, in 2018, over one in five children started school developmentally vulnerable across five indicators; physical, social, emotional, language and communication. A further 11.3 per cent were at risk of being developmentally vulnerable. The same proportion were vulnerable in 2012 and 2015.
Second, one in five of our grade 7 students started 2019 at or below the NAPLAN National Minimum Standard (NMS) for reading, an indicator of future literacy skills and thus economic and social well-being.
Unfortunately, since 2014, the proportion of grade seven students who were at or above the NMS has been declining, and in direct contrast to the former Premier’s aspirational goal to meet the national benchmark.
For those grade seven students whose parents’ highest level of completed schooling was year 11 or below, two in five students (40 per cent) are at or below the NMS for reading.
This poor level of reading skill was identified in both the Year 3 and Year 5 NAPLAN assessments for this grade 7 cohort. Most students who were at or below the NMS in grade 3 and grade 5, still were by the time they started high school.
Those who are not reading proficiently by this age are highly likely to struggle with the demands of the wider curriculum and are more likely to not complete school, leading to poorer health and well-being over their lifetimes.
While Tasmanian students reading outcomes have not improved over the past six years, South Australia has shown what is possible in a short time frame. In the two years since implementing the phonics screen check accompanied by appropriate professional learning for teachers, the proportion of students achieving or exceeding standards has increased by 20 per cent.
Given the current emphasis on health and well-being, there is no better time to ensure that the foundations of a young person’s life prospects are developmentally sound, grounded in strong literacy skills and supported by clear educational pathways whereby our education systems intervene appropriately when needed to ensure our young people are achieving their potential.