Why are literacy rates important?
Literacy skills enable children to engage in learning and ultimately to fully participate in society and lead productive lives.
Literacy is often thought to involve reading, writing and understanding the conventions of language (DECD 2013). While these aspects are very important, they do not cover the entire field of literacy. A broader definition of literacy is defined by OECD as the ability to understand, use and reflect on written texts in order to achieve one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential, and to participate effectively in society (Schneider, Keseler, Morlock 2010).
Research shows that highly developed numeracy and literacy capabilities strongly contribute to the social, economic and physical wellbeing of individuals (DECD 2013). The building blocks for literacy start very early in life and a child’s early literacy skills are a predictor of later literacy and academic achievement (Neuman & Dickinson 2010). Literacy levels will also affect children’s opportunities in life for education, employment, income and wellbeing later in life (Goldfeld et al. 2011; Goldfeld et al. 2012).
A number of factors affect successful educational outcomes during the school years, such as young person’s home environment (including whether books are available at home and whether parents read aloud to their children), their engagement with the school, the quality of their educational experience and their attitudes to school and learning (Walsh & Black 2009). Several other factors have also been shown to have an impact, such as resources, parental level of education and socioeconomic position (Walsemann et al. 2008).
Do literacy rates vary across population groups?
In 2017 NAPLAN, the majority of Year 5 students (94%) met the national minimum standard of reading. Girls were more likely to perform better than boys in reading, 96% met the minimum standards compared to 92%. This may be attributed to a tendency for boys to be less interested and engaged in reading activities (AIHW 2012). It is also thought that boys are less likely to be encouraged to read and more likely to experience anxiety about reading (Malloy & Botzakis 2005). Non-Indigenous students were more likely to achieve at or above the national minimum standard than Indigenous students (95% and 76%, respectively).
Students from English-speaking backgrounds were slightly more likely to achieve at or above the national minimum standard in reading than those with language background other than English (LBOTE) (95% and 92%, respectively). Year 5 students in Major cities were more likely to achieve at or above the national minimum standard in reading than those in Remote or Very remote areas (95% compared with 84% and 53%, respectively). The national minimum standard of reading was higher in Year 5 students whose parents had a Bachelor or Diploma (98% and 96%, respectively), compared with Year 12 and Year 11 education (92% and 82%, respectively).
Has there been a change over time?
The proportion of students achieving at or above the national minimum standard for reading has increased slightly since 2008, rising 5.1 percentage points from 91% in 2008 to around 96% in 2013. The proportion has remained relatively stable at around 93% between 2014 and 2016, increasing slightly to 94% in 2017. Similar patterns were seen among boys and girls, with the proportion of boys achieving at or above the national minimum standard increasing 2.9 percentage points from about 89% in 2008 to about 92% in 2017 and the proportion of girls achieving at or above the national minimum standard increasing 2.9 percentage points from almost 93% in 2008 to almost 96% in 2017. Both boys and girls remained stable at around 91-92% and 95-96%, respectively, between 2014 and 2017. The proportion of Indigenous students achieving at or above the national minimum standard for reading increased 12.1 percentage points from just above 63% in 2008 to just below 76% in 2017. For students with a LBOTE, the proportion of students achieving at or above the national minimum standard increased 4.5 percentage points from almost 88% to 92%, between 2008 and 2017.
The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests are the only Australian assessments that provide nationally comparable data on the performance of students in the vital areas of literacy and numeracy. Year 5 reading data is being used for this indicator. Estimated percentage meeting the national minimum standards is based on assessed students. Year 5 corresponds to different average duration of formal schooling and average student age across the states and territories. Refer to source for details.
For Indigenous status, students for whom this was not stated are excluded from the Indigenous status analysis.
LBOTE refers to Language Background Other Than English.
Beginning in 2016, NAPLAN results are reported using the ABS Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) to classify each school’s geographical location (geolocation). As a result, the geolocation results obtained from the 2016 and 2017 NAPLAN are not directly comparable to those of previous cycles.
- AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2012. A picture of Australia’s children 2012. Cat. no. PHE 167. Canberra: AIHW.
- DECD (Department for Education and Child Development) 2013. Numeracy and literacy: a numeracy and literacy strategy from birth to 18. Adelaide: Government of South Australia (Department for Education and Child Development).
- Goldfeld, S., Napiza, N., Quach, J., Reilly, S., Ukoumunne, O. C., & Wake, M. (2011). Outcomes of a universal shared reading intervention by 2 years of age: the Let's Read trial. Pediatrics, 127(3), 445-453.
- Goldfeld, S., Quach, J., Nicholls, R., Reilly, S., Ukoumunne, O. C., & Wake, M. (2012). Four-year-old outcomes of a universal infant-toddler shared reading intervention: the let's read trial. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, 166(11), 1045-1052.
- Malloy JA & Botzakis S 2005. International reports on literacy research. Reading Research Quarterly 40(4):514–18.
- Neuman, S. B., Dickinson, D. K. (eds) (2010). Handbook of early literacy research. The Guildford press: New York.
- Schneider, B, Keesler, V, Morlock, L 2010. The effects of family on children’s learning and socialisation, in OECD (2010). The Nature of Learning, OECD Publishing.
- Walsemann K, Geronimus A & Gee G 2008. Accumulating disadvantage over the life course: evidence from a longitudinal study investigating the relationship between educational advantage in youth and health in middle age. Research on Aging 30(2):169–99.
- Walsh L & Black R 2009. Overcoming the barriers to engagement and equity for all students. Canberra: Foundation for Young Australians.