If you've been working in education over the last decade, you probably already know what the data is now telling us. Australia's high school students just aren't writing at the same level as they once were.
NAPLAN data over the last ten years reveals that NSW high school students are performing worse at writing tasks then they did previously. Among the most concerning stats, is that one in four Year 9 boys don't even meet the basic levels required to set them up for further education or work. To achieve the threshold for quality, students should understand how to put together well-reasoned sentences, convey ideas, and demonstrate spelling and grammar skills.
Naturally, determining who is accountable for the declining quality has become a subject of public debate. Politicians have blamed universities for not teaching the teachers well enough. Teachers are blaming the system for not allowing enough on the job training. But no amount of finger pointing is going help solve the problem and teach our kids how to write.
Let's stop blaming and start fixing
COVID-19 made education even more challenging in 2020, and many Australian schools decided to look for technology as a solution. It makes sense. Compared to other rich nations, Australia has placed little importance in technological improvements to its education system, and the pandemic became an opportunity to fix this gap.
A research paper just published by Texthelp shows how rapidly this idea gained ground this year. The study "Lockdown and beyond: Learning in a changing landscape" found that, in 2020, Australia has outpaced the likes of the UK and US in its adoption of education technology during the COVID outbreak, with a whopping 190% increase in new downloads.
It sounds like good news, but there is a caveat. The research shows that 74% of teachers have reported an overall increase in working hours during lockdowns, despite not being in the classroom, and the extra effort is not even translating to better results. The study found that 80% of students will need additional support when returning to the physical classroom. https://text.help/whitepaper
The report concludes that this mixed result may be due to technologies that do not address a crucial requirement for learning: motivation. While student motivation may well have been a problem before the pandemic, the isolation and lack of structure at home have only exacerbated it. While technology can provide innovative and efficient methods to teach and learn, solutions that don't focus on motivating students won't push them to the next level.
What do these solutions look like? They include features that encourage students to work hard, offer instant feedback, create opportunities to engage in a community of learners and provide them with autonomy.
Understanding which type of technological solutions can truly be an ally in the battle against the decreasing writing skills in Australia is central to stopping fruitless discussion around who to blame for the existing problems. It's time to start addressing the issues with the right strategies and the right tools.