Collective push to improve Tasmania's education: Peter Underwood Centre director Professor Natalie Brown

Tasmania’s literacy and numeracy scores are notoriously poor, but the push to improve Tasmania’s scores is building steam, involving teachers and parents, to communities, businesses and the state government.

Peter Underwood Centre director Professor Natalie Brown believes the terms ‘literacy and numeracy’ can be off-putting and may discourage people, both children and adults, from understanding what literacy and numeracy actually refers to.

She said the terms are not necessarily talking about tackling complex literary or mathematical problems, but about ensuring people are equipped to handle basic daily tasks – managing a household budget, reading a recipe for dinner, even calculating appropriate medication levels.

The most recent NAPLAN results, released in July, reported on average Tasmania’s Year 3 students out-performed their Year 9 fellows.

At the release of the results, Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff said the results showed students were “consolidating solid progress” with Years 3 and 5 showing strong improvements.

Professor Brown said the focus on getting increased education to early years would pay off as the state’s youngest generation began entering the school system.

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“Certainly we’re starting to see some improvements in NAPLAN in reading and numeracy,” she said.

“There’s a lot of work going on in all of our schools, and again it’s multi-pronged, there’s whole-school initiatives, there’s interventions with groups of children or individual children – a number of different strategies are being used.”

While questions continue to be raised about the validity and worth of the NAPLAN testing system, its supporters argue the overall testing is important data for schools to assess and use to track their progress in the future.

Compared to the first year of results, in 2007, there is a statistically significant improvement in Years 3 and 5 results nationally in literacy results.

Although the focus may be on test results, Professor Brown said there is a general awareness that collective community effort is needed, and a broader approach than focusing purely on test results, to help Tasmania’s students attain everything they want to do.

“There is a realisation across the community but particularly from the government that we could be doing better, and if we have got low levels of literacy and numeracy across the community, it’s really disadvantage Tasmanians,” Professor Brown said.

“We want Tasmanians to have the best opportunities and to live lives that are not restricted by not having levels of literacy and numeracy that help them be full participants.”