Australian students get remedial language help

October 16, 2008

Confronted with a generation of students lacking even a basic understanding of grammar and punctuation, an Australian university has introduced a remedial course to teach first years "language mechanics".

The course at Monash University in Melbourne has been introduced to help the nine out of ten students who cannot identify a noun when they start their degrees, said Baden Eunson, lecturer at the School of English, Communications and Performance Studies.

He told The Australian newspaper: "If you ask them to identify adjectives and other parts of a sentence, only about one per cent can manage."

His comments echo those of Caron Dann, another Monash academic, who said, in a column in Times Higher Education in September, that the majority of her 500 students had little understanding of grammar.

Mr Eunson said the remedial course was "mainly covering material that should have been covered in school but wasn't".

Citing a 2003 study that attributed illiteracy among young people to a "collapse of standards" in Australian high schools, he said he questioned the choice of Sydney University professor Peter Freebody to write the framing document for the national English curriculum.

"The critical literacy approach hammered out by Professor Freebody ... promoted a socio-political view of the world at the expense of basic literacy," he said, predicting that there would be little improvement in school leavers' literacy as a result.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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