Home >  Blog >  Misrepresentation in a national newspaper

Misrepresentation in a national newspaper

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 20 February 2016

Page 3 of The Australian of Thursday 11 February 2016 included a story with a headline that asserted "One in two teens fail reading, maths". In response, I submitted the letter below:

Maths weakness widespread

Your education editor interprets an OECD report to open her story with the claim that "half of Australia's high school students have flunked the minimum international standard in maths, reading or science by the age of 15" ("One in two teens fail reading, maths", Feb 11).

The figures reported in the story do not support this conclusion. A side bar headed "low-performing 15-year-old students" shows Australia's scores as 20% for maths, 14% for reading, and 14% for science. It is not logical to add these three figures because, across the country, many of the same students would feature in each of these low-performing groups.

This embarrassing story illustrates that some of the paper's staff have a problem with numeracy. Is the school system to blame for this?

And no, I don't really expect that this letter has any chance of publication.

Garry Collins

When the letter, needless to say, was not published I sent this email to the journalist, Natasha Bita. 

Feedback on your "One in two teens fail reading, maths" story

Dear Ms Bita

Below, by way of feedback, is the letter that I submitted in response to your story on Page 3 of Thursday's edition.

Here I inserted the letter above.

And there I was starting to think that The Australian had moved on from its long standing practice of routinely misrepresenting aspects of school education in the country.

Garry Collins
Immediate Past President, English Teachers Association of Queensland (ETAQ) and the Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE)

Ms Bita replied:

Hello Garry,

Lovely to hear from you again.

To clarify, the OECD figures show that 56,673 Australian students were low-performers in maths, 41,000 in reading and 39,322 in science. This adds up to 137,000 students - roughly half the total number of 15-year-old students.

Have a great weekend,

Natasha

And I then responded

Natasha

You do not seem to grasp that it is inappropriate to add such figures or the percentage equivalents. This would only be valid if you could guarantee that no students featured in more than one group. Otherwise, you would be counting the same students two or three times. Is your message below just playing a straight bat to any criticism or do you genuinely not understand this point?

I am also disappointed to note that, towards the end of the story, you identify Kevin Donnelly as "the executive director of the Education Standards Institute" without pointing out to readers that this impressive sounding organization is really just Dr Donnelly. You do understand, I hope, that it is just a one-man operation. Is this lazy journalism or are you deliberately seeking to mislead readers?

Incidentally, who promoted him from plain "director" to "executive director"? And how many professional staff do you think Donnelly directs in that important-sounding role?

Stories like the one on Thursday are the reason that many people who work in education refuse on principle to buy The Australian. I suppose it is just as well that the paper doesn't aspire to be a profit-making concern.

Garry Collins

I also responded as shown below to another letter in the paper on the same general topic.

Statistics interpretation error repeated

David Syme (Letters, 13/2) writes that "half of Australia's high school students have flunked the minimum international standards in maths and reading by the age of 15". In doing so, he repeats the invalid claim made by the education editor ("One in two teens fail reading, maths", 11/2) and shows that his grasp of basic statistics is as flawed as hers.

Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past PresidentAuthor: Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President
About: Garry Collins was ETAQ President from mid July 2005 to 15 March 2014. He taught English in state high schools for around 35 years and now tutors in English curriculum courses in the School of Education at the University of Queensland.
Tags: General news

Post comment

Upcoming Events

Literature Spectacular

Graham Joseph from Ryan Catholic College will present a workshop designed for teachers who are thinking about introducing Literature, delivering Literature for the first time or looking to review their Literature course in the near future. In the first part of the workshop, we will explore a framework for delivering a Literature course that c...

Category:   Workshop
Start Time:   9:00 AM
Date:   Saturday 13th February 2021
Venue:   ZOOM
Email Enquiries:   adminofficer@etaq.org.au


March Seminar 2021: Challenge and Change: Doing things differently

We are delighted to announce that we will be back with face to face professional learing events in 2021 - usual format but wtih some important changes: the March Seminar will be a full day event; the AATE-ALEA National Conference will be held in Brisbane in July and consequently there will not be a state conference. Other events for the year ...

Category:   Seminar
Start Time:   9:00 AM
Date:   Saturday 13th March 2021
Venue:   Iona College
Venue Address:   85 North Road, LINDUM
Phone Enquiries:   0455 464 000


Grammar at Hervey Bay

A grammar workshop will be held at Hervey Bay State High School to assist attendees to develop their understandings of grammar in order to fully comprehend and to effectively teach the Australia Curriculum: English (AC:E). Also highly relevant to Years 11 & 12. This will be an updated re-run of the activity conducted in both 2018 and ...

Category:   Workshop
Start Time:   9:00 AM
Date:   Saturday 27th March 2021
Venue:   Hervey Bay State High School
Venue Address:   56 Beach Road, Hervey Bay
Email Enquiries:   adminofficer@etaq.org.au


JCU Spectacular

Join Dr Claire Hansen for a two-hour session on teaching Macbeth. We'll dive into an exploration of the language of Macbeth and teaching strategies to engage students with Shakespeare's Scottish play.  The workshop will also explore learning activities for Macbeth created by the Shakespeare Reloaded project. This session will...

Category:   Seminar
Start Time:   9:00 AM
Date:   Saturday 22nd May 2021
Venue:   ZOOM
Email Enquiries:   adminofficer@etaq.org.au


Grammar Day

ETAQ will be conducting another of the very successful grammar days on Saturday 29 May 2021.  If your school would like to host this event, please contact Admin Officer.

Category:   Workshop
Start Time:   9:00 AM
Date:   Saturday 29th May 2021
Venue:   To be advised


< Previous | 1 | 2 | Next >
View all

Latest News

View all

Blog Feed

Grammar myths

Sep 12 2017
An edited version of the letter below was pu...

Impact on learning

Sep 12 2017
The following letter was submitted to The Au...
Read all

Testimonials

Read All

This is the first time I have been to an ETAQ conference and it was really sensational to get so much at all of the sessions.

ETAQ conferences always have sessions that make me excited to be a teacher.

I know that ETAQ conferences in the past have never disappointed - valuable, relevant, practical, inspiring so I came again.

Read All

Newsletter

Receive updates
from ETAQ

PO Box 3375, STAFFORD,
Queensland, Australia, 4053
(07) 3284 3718
ABN: 17 689 278 512

Connect to a great range of people who are passionate about English and have their finger on the pulse.

Be Connected