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

Understanding Shakespeare

Rob Pensalfini will present this workshop via zoom on Saturday 15 October from 9am till 11 am. For further information download the flyer . Details for joining the zoom meeting will be sent on Wednesday 12 October. As this message will be sent to the email address in the registration it is important that you use your own address, rath...

Category: Workshop
Start Time: 9:00 AM
Date: Saturday 15th October 2022
Venue: ZOOM
Email Enquiries:  adminofficer@etaq.org.au


Early Career Conference 2022: Writing our future?

Writing our future? - a conference presented by and for early career teachers  on Saturday 22 October at Wynnum SHS (tbc)

Category: Seminar
Start Time: 9:00 AM
Date: Saturday 22nd October 2022
Venue: Wynnum SHS


External Examination Preparation

Registration Scroll down to register - but please do read this information Schools should register each teacher who will be using the materials.  Acting on feedback from last year, we will be making the materials available earlier this year. We will be running the External Examination Preparation as one package with more fl...

Category: Student (and teacher) Event
Start Time: 9:00 AM
Date: Saturday 29th October 2022
Venue: Online
Phone Enquiries: 0455464000
Email Enquiries:  adminofficer@etaq.org.au


Writing our future in Essential English 2022

Writing our future in Essential English - a community of practice especially for teachers of Essential English on Saturday 5 November.

Category: Seminar
Start Time: 9:00 AM
Date: Saturday 5th November 2022
Venue: To be confirmed


Indigenous Perspectives in the Junior Curriculum

After a work program review Town High explored ways to better embed indigenous perspectives in the year 7 program through a novella study of Black Cockatoo.  The unit became our first taste of analytical essay writing in year 7, in preparation for subsequent years.  We found greater engagement from students across the board. ...

Category: Seminar
Start Time: 9:00 AM
Date: Friday 2nd December 2022
Venue: Town High, Townsville
Email Enquiries:  adminofficer@etaq.org.au


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

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

Be Connected