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back to article Australians can’t read or count

“Education fails” stories are an irresistible hot-button for even moderate media, let alone those on the right wing. So it is that when the Industry Skills Councils – an umbrella group of skills research and lobby organisations – announced that half Australia’s working-age adults have inadequate literacy or numeracy skills, the …

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Grenade

as Mr. Disraeli said:

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

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Grenade

Mr Disraeli missed one...

probably becasue the wire services were still in their infancy in his day...

".. and wire-service hack journalism..."

The author makes his point extremely well - Press releases that are mindlessly repeated by lazy journo's too stupid to read behind the 'news' are nothing bu sucker-bait

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Grenade

Journos

Just because a word ends in a vowel doesn't mean it takes an apostrophe before the plural s.

This has been brought to you by the society for protection of pizzas, paninis, pianos, and friends.

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Headmaster

's

But it does when it's an abbreviation...

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Anonymous Coward

really?

Citation please.

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Anonymous Coward

But ...

"Journo" is a diminutive, not an abbreviation.

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Headmaster

@Journos

To clarify:

Regardless of whether it's a diminuitive or an abbreviation, an apostrophe is NEVER used to form a plural.

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Headmaster

To clarify.

Sarcasm.

By the way, an apostrophe is neither a diminuitive [sic] nor an abbreviation. Grammar Nazism is such fun.

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Happy

Panini ...

... is already plural. I love asking for 'a panino' in coffee shops.

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WTF?

What?

No, an apostrophe is a type of punctuation mark. I didn't say that it was either of those things.

What I did say is that apostrophes are never used to form plurals. This is a fact.

And sorry, yes I did accidentally put an extra letter 'i' in one of the words I typed - well spotted.

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Anonymous Coward

Orly?

"No, an apostrophe is a type of punctuation mark. I didn't say that it was either of those things."

So you're saying that diminutives and abbreviations are some type of plural? Please read your sentence again:

"Regardless of whether it's a diminuitive or an abbreviation, an apostrophe is NEVER used to form a plural."

To what does the "it's" refer? It must either be "an apostrophe" or " a plural".

"What I did say is that apostrophes are never used to form plurals."

Citation needed. Otherwise, you'd best mind your p's and q's.

"This is a fact."

Is it? You do know that a lot of "grammar rules" are actually just style choices?

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I'm not understanding what your problem is, John

An apostrophe is a punctuation mark. Here is an example of one: '

An apostrophe is not an abbreviation. An apostrophe is not a diminutive.

QED.

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Boffin

In other news, half of all people are below average.

Wake me when the Industry Skills Council can clearly differentiate between mean, median and average without becoming all mealy-mouthed.

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Megaphone

... and that following the "Journos overstate news" shocker.

This article attributes all to incompetence; I'm doubtful. As news is the hack's bread-and-butter, saying "nothing to see, move along" is not a good attitude if you want to keep working. I suspect most journalists know how to read the press releases they're reediting, and how they're intended to read them; they just don't let they're not being misled.

Like the "climategate" journalist: his entire career has to be built on the supposition that an informal reference to a "trick" (i.e., "method" --- it was referring to a published technique) uncovers a big conspiracy. In interviews that hack shows he doesn't know anything on the topic, and just needs there to be an issue or he's back to his unemployed blogging self.

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Headmaster

In other news...

Half are below the average only if the distribution is symmetric about that average. No doubt you mean median (so to speak) - and my stats knowledge is appalling.

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Happy

What next?

That half the population is below average on... everything?

That half the population has an IQ lower than 100?

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Here comes Ollie Octothorpe ->

If you find that half the population has an IQ lower than 100 then it probably means that the IQ test questions have not been worded clearly or possibly not applicable to the target demographic; e.g. questions on US presidential succession given to Australians. This will skew the results towards the low end.

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Boffin

Re: Here comes Ollie Octothorpe

The IQ test is a normalised to 100 test, therefore, you'd expect as many above average as below average (100), in "IQ and the Wealth of Nations" the normalisation was done across countries which is why the average American came out at 98 and the Hong Kong average came out at 107 (UK @100 interestingly enough).

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says:

Yes, you would expect as many above as below, but my inferred point to the original poster was that 50% of the population would not be below 100, but fewer than that as they had not taken the proportion of the population that had a score of exactly 100 into account.

I have seen a few purported IQ tests and the amount of locale specific questions is astonishing, and

must hammer anyone who is not familiar with the tester's history/culture.

Having useless colour vision, I always suffer when "Orange is to Yellow as Purple is to ......." style questions pop up.

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Boffin

@lawndart

>>Yes, you would expect as many above as below, but my inferred point to the original poster was that 50% of the population would not be below 100, but fewer than that as they had not taken the proportion of the population that had a score of exactly 100 into account.

The word is EXPECT as many above as below, however there is no reason to believe that a small number of exceptionally high OR exceptionally low scores will skew the numbers, it all depends if you have an even bell curve or an offset bell, imagine five people four score 300, one scores 305, the average score is 301, normalisation would mean that nobody is "average", four are below average and one above average, they would all have an IQ "around" 100 (99.67 or 101.32 rounding down, no-one would score 100)

>>I have seen a few purported IQ tests and the amount of locale specific questions is astonishing

Hmmm.... probably not a good test, however, general knowledge (retention of facts) is a factor in IQ tests rather than just problem solving or pattern recognition, Mensa tests are very good on consistency, that said it is possible to score more on subsequent tests because of being used to the test conditions and learning how to solve problems in the same manner, so IQ tests are generally flawed as you can get "better" at them (which defeats the point of them, as an adult, you can become more learned, but not more inteligent - in theory)

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WTF?

It's all FUD during an election year

As the author put it, this entire "report" is hidden and vaguely worded, deliberatly playing with statistics in such a way to make something that's totally normal appear horrible and scarey. It's right up there with "50% of people are below average intelligence". Well DUH!

Even more so since it's appeared in "The Australian". This Murdoch-owned newspaper is rabidly anti-ALP (The Australian Labor Party). He also owns that paragon of the British Press, "The Sun", so you can guess how balanced the reporting is.

Here in Australia there is due to be a national election this year and The Aus, along with all the other Right-ring 'pundits' are doing their utmost to push the ALP out of power. This "report" is pure FUD and is being used as fodder to create a campaign for how the ALP is stuffing up Australia's kiddies. Lets totally ignore the fact that education of children is completely and totally controlled by each State government. It's even encoded into the Constitution of Australia! The Australian Government literally has zero legal influence on education standards. It would be against the Constitution for the Commonwealth Gov to have any control. They can recommend and suggest, but that's it.

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Re: It's all FUD during an election year

Not that I disagree about FUD and The Oz, but given that the current government was elected in 2010, the next national election isn't due until 2013. Have I miscounted, or are you presuming a double dissolution / other exceptional circumstances?

http://aec.gov.au/FAQs/Elections.htm#next_election

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Education reform

Also although the states have control over education, the Commonwealth of Australia is setting the agenda. The federal government raises the bulk of the taxes and they dribble it back to the states via various means, all with strings attached. That's how their enforcing their national curriculum.

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However

As a former Mathematics teacher reduced to teaching Excel to supposedly numerate adults, it is appalling that too many adults cannot correctly answer a simple question like 1 + 2 * 3.

Australian education is not as rigorous as it should be, and it is no surprise that the higher achievers are more than ever from non-Australian backgrounds.

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Boffin

Well, that's a bit of a trick question

OK, it's not a very hard trick, but I suspect quite a lot of adults will have forgotten about the precedence of arithmetic operators. It's not something that gets used in general daily life, so I always use brackets when writing something like that for a non-mathematical audience (which, in my current job, means all the time, writing as I do for a non-technical audience).

It seems rather unfair to me to use that sort of question to measure the arithmetic competence of the general population.

GJC

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Headmaster

Re: However

While I agree with you about the standard of education being lower than it should be (I did some A-Level maths papers for a laugh, and was shocked), I would never write a problem like you have done. I suppose I've always found it safer to use parentheses so as to remove every possible ambiguity.

Of course, if you had given the question *after* explaining "Order of Operations", then you've every right to be appalled.

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Indeed

I'd describe myself as being above average in numeracy but had forgotten the precedence of arithmetic operators in the 20+ years between GCSE maths and the OU course I'm studying now. And for any hard sums I did in those 20+ years I'd use brackets.

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Troll

"1 + 2 * 3"

isn't really a question.

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Headmaster

20 Years Ago ...

“The assessment of what [adequate numeracy and literacy] meant 20 years ago will be very different to what is required today."

"Different to" being used in a report about inadequate literacy skills. Tut, tut.

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JDC
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Errrr... that's standard English

Using "different to" is perfectly acceptable English, although "different from" might be preferable in more formal communication.

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Stop

Erm.. no.

The author appears to be committing the same mistake he blames the news media from doing - misreporting the news, in at least one item:

"Eight million Australians with “inadequate” skills is about 53 percent of the working-age population – or, presuming a normal distribution curve of literacy or numeracy, it’s roughly what’s below the median."

Please, dear author, note that the word used is "inadequate", not "below average". It is possible for a person's numeracy to be below average but still "adequate" for the position they are filling (for example; checkout-chick/jock, where the registers/tills pretty much do your counting for you).

While I agree that the majority of the media-handout is likely to be biased to be picked up by the news-outlets, do not fall into the same trap in attempting to debunk it.

Thank you.

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Anonymous Coward

Self confession

The author is also a journalist - hence, don't have high expectations...

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Well you have to admire the media...

for so brilliantly demonstrating this effect, they obviously lack both numeracy and literacy skills as demonstrated by their interpretation of this report.

Which is unsurprising to anyone who has met an Australian journalist...

Nice analysis Richard, pity it will be ignored in the 'serious' media.

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Sometimes

I love the definition of sometimes - I don't think there can be a man in the world who doesn't 'sometimes', make a mistake in following instructions. Anyone ever failed to put together ikea furniture? Bam! 8 million plus 1

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Anonymous Coward

i argee

i'ts tottly unfair taht us hiGh acheevirs get miss reprizentid all der time.

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Coat

Can't count?

I recall reading an Oz newspaper article where they claimed 1/5th [or 25%] of Australians cannot count properly..

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ah, but they sometimes make mistakes

acceptable for the rest of us but below par for Australia

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GIGO

"“People experience difficulties, or make mistakes, reading and following instructions, communicating reliably via email, or interpreting graphs and charts.”"

That's not people being 'inadequate', it's reaction to yet another pointless and meaningless email or chart or graph sent round by people who don't bloody understand it themselves.

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Alert

Yeah. But it's true...

I am employed to write work instructions for young Australians working with dangerous equipment in demanding conditions.

Around here, if you don't read the work instructions, you do it wrong. If you do it wrong, chances are high that someone will die. Not necessarily you. Worse: there's a chance they "won't" die. They will live from age 20 to age 80 being fed through a tube and turned every 6 hours.

Our biggest challenge is to persuade these guys to actually read the work instructions. But it goes deeper: they "can" read then, and if the boss stands over them, they will. But they cannot then decode and apply the information, let alone remember it. And if the boss doesn't stand over them, they won't read at all. It's just not in their normal range of behaviour.

These are not complicated instructions: "Before opening valve A, ensure the pressure in line B has dropped below 3 bar." Problem is line B contains boiling caustic soda: if it gets lose, the only thing they will find will be the soles of your boots. I can stand at one place at work where I have five different ways of departing this mortal coil as individual atoms: Steam that will drill holes in steel, Heat that will soften steel, Chemicals that will disolve you before we can get you out, Electricity that will vaporise you, High-pressure fluids that will cut a Toyota Ute in half (they already did...).

And yes, the nature of the work has changed: all the easy operations are now done automatically by the computer.

The statistics in the press release may be dodgy: but the problem is very real.

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Anonymous Coward

So why expect them to read?

Isn't that, like, the foreman's job, and then train the blokes in person and with a 2x4 within reach to make sure the lessons *stick*?

Another field is the military, where you have not-so-very-literate squaddies that nonetheless have to learn to care for their equipment and survive as a group while other people are actively trying to kill them. How does training work there, beyond the first couple weeks basic training?

The secret of writing that's going to be read is to write /for/ and not /at/ the audience. That is you know your audience and you pick just the right way to approach them. Here, if they won't read then you bring the lessons a different way. For it isn't the reading that's important. It's the lessons. Bring'em home any way you have to.

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Try changing the writing style...

Popping... "Line B contains boiling caustic soda: if it gets loose, the only thing they will find will be the soles of your boots." as the nice bold headline would I suspect, get you a lot more readers.

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Pirate

You mean like...

the way stern cancer warnings on cigarette packets deter folks from smoking themselves to death?

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Just another example...

... as we've seen recently in the reports coming from Japan - the media is only too happy latch on to vague or irrelevant statistics - meanwhile the real news is sidelined ( remember those hundreds of thousands of tsunami victims? whatever happened to them? )

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Coat

this is a good place to mention

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, (ig nobel prize winner 2002) born and bred in New South Wales, he single-handedly tries to answer all questions on science and life of these 'inadequate' Australians. I've been listening to his ABC JJJ podcasts for a few years and, at least the Aussies who can use a phone or send a text sound quite adequate to me! There's usually only 1 question per year along the lines of "me and my mates were shooting things after 87 tinnies and why did I keep missing?...."... more fun is available at http://www.abc.net.au/science/k2/podcast/drk_rss.xml

If you're awake at 3am on Thursdays Dr Karl also does a live phone-in on BBCR5L , but the Aussie one sounds funnier and has more vitality. Did anyone mention that the Credit-Crunch/Cuts/Recession/Housing crisis has failed to happen in a big way in Aus? is that related to poorer numerical & reasoning & literacy skills??

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And that's just the dumb ones

The smart ones look up the answer for themselves using their favourite search engine and/or online encyclopaedia.

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Can't haz calculator?

What's the crap about people not being able to do maths without a calculator about? Who cares!?!?!

I struggle to do fairly basic maths without a calculator, but it doesn't mean I'm no good at maths. I actually did 3 unit maths and physics, both of which I did better than "average". Does it still make me stupid because I need technology to assist me?

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Anonymous Coward

Why, yes, it does.

Thank you for asking.

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@ Tim

Yes.

HTH

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Not Nececelery

Well, Mr Bates, I’d go a little easier on you than the anonymous and the anomalous. I use math every day at work, some of it simple, some of it quite complicated and some somewhere in the middle. All of it however, is assisted by some form of computer because time, according to the boss, is money. And we listen to him because he pays for the sweeties. As such, at least once a year I find myself utterly stuck when confronted with a mathematical problem to which I really should know the solution but with no mathtard electronic trickery at hand to help. Having become institutionalised, my math-brain just sits there whirring along (possibly wondering which combination of goods on the shelf will initiate the correct macro), merrily not giving shit about how much embarrassment it’s causing the rest of me. It’s times like these that alert me to the fact that I need to spend an evening brushing up on the basics, which I do and all is well for another year. So no, mental-math-fails don’t automatically make you stupid, you’re probably just falling victim to relying on computer assistance a little too much. Now, not doing something about the over reliance once alerted to it, well, that’s possibly open to conjecture.

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Paris Hilton

Never Forget

The average Australian has less than two legs.

Paris has perfect legs.

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