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Workplace literacy & media representation

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 23 January 2016

On Monday 18 January 2016 The Courier-Mail had the following front page headlines:

   Revealed: Adult illiteracy crisis cruelling our nation.

   THIS SPELLS DISASTER

In response, the following three letters were submitted during the week but none found its way into print. This was not surprising. In my experience, papers seldom give space to criticism of their own practices.

Overblown language about literacy

Your sensational headline "THIS SPELLS DISASTER: Adult illiteracy crisis cruelling our nation" perturbed me at breakfast on Monday.

Later in the day, however, I skimmed through the Australian Industry Group report that apparently "revealed" this so-called national crisis. Chart 4 on Page 10 shows Australia ranking 5th in adult literacy proficiency out of the 23 nations surveyed. Only Japan, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden scored better and the differences appeared minimal. There is always room for improvement on the literacy front but the word "crisis" seems a poor choice.

If there is indeed a crisis here it probably relates to the composition of appropriate headlines rather than to any deep malaise in society.
 

Inflated language in headline

Monday's front page headline used the words "disaster" and "crisis" in relation to a report on adult workplace literacy (C-M, Jan 18).

A chart on Page 10 of the Australian Industry Group report shows Australia ranking 5th in adult literacy proficiency out of the 23 nations surveyed. Only Japan, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden scored better. There is always room for improvement on the literacy front but the words "disaster" and "crisis" are surely not justified.

Inflated language does nothing to promote sensible consideration of important issues.
 

Motivation for literacy

In commenting on what Monday's front page claimed to be a crisis in workplace literacy, John Tadman (Letters, 22 Jan) approvingly described caning as an effective motivation for learning in primary schools.

If there really is a crisis, perhaps we need a system of corporal punishment in workplaces to motivate staff to improve their levels of literacy. This might sound extreme but would surely be worth it to avoid the impending national disaster predicted in Monday's headline.
 

Author: 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

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