Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 96 – Information Literacy Part 3 – Solutions

“How many languages can a child learn? As many as you can teach him”
Jim Rohn

As you know, we have been looking at the problems of information literacy and yes I was being facetious in the February edition when I suggested that if half the population were not functionally literate, we didn’t need half the schools. To raise literacy rates we do, I think, need to re-think not only service delivery of both schools and libraries, but we need to look at the overall environment as well.

Some time ago, I read that MacDonalds had exchanged those small plastic toys in every “happy meal” for books. I’m not sure how long the campaign lasted, but it was done in a bid to get books to those children who may not have had access to them within their home environment.

The Sunday Times here in Western Australia is currently running a promotion where you can obtain 5 kids books for just $2 each (1 a week for 5 weeks).

And then there is Gonski. But we will get to that in just a moment.

Environment and Literacy Problems

Before we look at service delivery of literacy in schools, I would like to discuss our environment and culture towards reading, especially in relation to children. Children are like sponges, they will absorb everything and anything around them. So what happens if:

  • Parents don’t read to their children,
  • here are no books in the house suitable for their reading years or future development,
  • They do absorb whatever is in their environment – will they too grow up unable to comprehend why, when they have kids, they should read to them.

I remember going to daycare to pick up my children and found my son sitting on a cushion reading to another child. It turns out the other child had a form of autism and was being a little disruptive as other children were trying to sleep. So my son had taken the child over to the books, sat him down and he told him stories. It was a calming and peaceful scene when I entered, the little boy enthralled by the pictures and the words which had obviously woven a spell around him. My son who is now 19 doesn’t remember doing that, but it is a scene that has always stuck with me.

Story time at the library

Are we preaching to the converted?

There was a time when books were precious. They were expensive, money in households was tight, and there were less distractions for people’s time and attention. Think B.C. that is – before computers, i-anything, apps and video games. When there was usually one television in the house and it had 4 or 5 channels and you watched what your parents wanted to watch. So a trip to the library was exciting. You got to choose your entertainment for the next week. I preferred to read rather than watch re-runs of cowboy movies in a fog of 2nd hand smoke. But I know that several of my junior school friends didn’t go to the library because their parents didn’t take them.

Fast forward 30+ years, and libraries are competing in another world and it’s not just with social media and the devices that deliver that experience and others like it. No – publishers still haven’t come to the party regarding e-book lending, and the price of books keeps going up. Authors are up in arms saying they miss out on sales of their work because libraries lend them for free. Funding is being cut, staff aren’t replaced when they leave, and you have to wonder why libraries and the remaining staff haven’t thrown in the towel.

But story time in libraries persists. And I would hazard a guess that the parents who currently take their children to story time were probably taken by their parents when they were children (it would be an interesting study to undertake). Of course, libraries offer other very important services and they are important to our current discussion, but we will discuss those in a later edition. Today though we go back to the importance of reading.

Did you know that 2012 was the year of reading?

The National Year of Reading was adopted at the Australian Library and Information Association Public Libraries Summit, held in July 2009, at the National Library of Australia, in Canberra.

The senior library leaders attending the summit agreed that something needed to be done to address declining levels of literacy in Australia – a study at the time showed that 46% of adults struggled with reading and writing, and in 2010 it was found that 23% of five-year-olds were developmentally vulnerable or at risk of not achieving the language and cognitive skills they will need.

The results:

·         4,000 events

·         12,000 online followers

·         200,000 participants

·         $1.7 million funding

·         $5.6 million in kind support

·         $26 million media coverage

·         $20 return for every $1 invested

The Year of Reading was a great start, the question is – what next?

The Gonski Review

The Gonski Review was the most comprehensive investigation of the way schools are funded in Australia in almost 40 years. It was commissioned by the Federal Government and conducted by an expert panel headed by senior businessman David Gonski. The final report was released in February 2012.

Gonski found Australia is investing far too little in education and, in particular, in public schools.

As a consequence, too many students are missing out on the resources they need and there are growing gaps in the achievements of students from different backgrounds.

Gonski recommended a $5 billion a year injection of funding into public and private schools (75 per cent to public schools) and an overhaul of the way the money is distributed to ensure it is going where it is most needed.

Five key findings:

1. There is an urgent need for change.

The Gonski Review found that Australia is investing far too little in schools and the way the money is distributed is not efficient, effective or fair. The system is failing too many students who are missing out on the resources they need.

2. There are growing gaps in student achievement

While Australia remains a high achieving nation in education, our overall performance has fallen in the last decade. Students in disadvantaged areas are up to three years behind those of the same age who live in wealthy areas. One in seven 15 year old students does not have basic reading skills.

3. We must invest for success.

The review recommends a major increase in funding to schools. The way it is distributed would also change to better meet the needs of students. It says public schools should get the greatest increases in funding for additional staff, learning programs and upgraded facilities. Funding would vary according to the needs of students, but the average increase would be almost $1,500 a student per year. That is enough for seven extra teachers in a public school with 500 students.

4. The Federal Government needs to lead the way

Gonski recommends a much greater funding commitment to public schools from the Federal Government. Currently it is only providing 15 per cent of the money that public schools receive, despite having access to greater revenue sources than state and territory governments

5. Our children’s future is at stake

The report’s recommendations are aimed at ensuring every child has the same chance to receive a high quality education. But Gonski warns a failure to act will cost not only our children but our country: “Australia will only slip further behind unless, as a nation, we act and act now.”

So it was interesting to read the other day that Labour has launched a 1.1 billion 3 year initiative to improve literacy for more than 1 million students from kindergarten to year three. Unfortunately some of the states have yet to agree to the reforms. A case of watch this space.

What are your thoughts – how do we improve information literacy?

With many thoughts