This letter was emailed directly to a number of the candidates in all political parties, including Premier Annastacia Palasczczuk, Opposition leader Tim Nicholls, Education Minister Kate Jones and Shadow Education Minister, Tracy Davis, the Queensland Greens and One Nation, as well as the Queensland Teachers Union on the 7th November 2017.
Protecting Childhood is a grassroots alliance of teachers, parents and mental health professionals advocating for the well-being of Australian children. Our particular area of concern is the impact of the Australian school system on children through developmentally inappropriate academic standards and expectations, high stakes standardized testing including NAPLAN, and the diminishing elements of free play, exploratory learning and creativity in a heavily planned and content-heavy national curriculum.
What we are seeing in Australia is an incredible rise in childhood anxiety and depression, which is mirroring the experience in the United States and United Kingdom post 1950 where the depression rate in teenagers is 5 to 8 times higher than in 1955. Dr Gray has identified a strong correlation between the decline of play in childhood, including at school and this rise in mental illness.
“By depriving children of opportunities to play on their own, away from direct adult supervision and control, we are depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives. We may think we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring the endeavors they would most love, and increasing the odds that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and other disorders,” Dr Gray writes.
Play is not in addition to or a distraction from learning, it is the critical key to it, particularly in those early years which set the tone for a lifelong learning journey.
“There is very clear evidence that children’s cognitive development and emotional well-being are related to the quality of their play, and a number of studies have shown that individuals who are not well developed in these areas are not playful.” (Whitebread, D. 2012).
The problem of Play Deficit Disorder is evidenced with the increasing pressure on children from the moment they enter a school classroom in Prep. There are assessments of their academic knowledge from the outset, and where children are less advanced than others there is pressure to push them to develop early literacy and numeracy skills at the expense of the free play that is so critical to their early learning.
This has been acknowledged by the current Queensland government with the Age Appropriate Pedagogies program in Queensland State Schools essentially designed to return play back to the prep and year 1 curriculum. However, we fear it’s only a bandaid solution and what is needed is a change of approach to school education from the outset, to reverse this push-down pressure and expectation that is doing serious long term harm to our children.
This approach is set to worsen with the proposed Federal Government Year 1 Phonics Check. While a phonics check can be a useful tool to identify early indications of dyslexia, the Federal mandate of this approach and inevitable reporting of this information on a national, state and probably school by-school level is only going to increase this risk of anxiety and depression even earlier in the school experience.
This Queensland State Election represents an opportunity for the next government to stand up for Queensland children, and in turn, stand up for the future of our state.
Protecting Childhood is therefore calling on all parties in the Queensland State Election 2017 to commit the following:
1. To reject the implementation of the Federal Government Year 1 Phonics Check.
2. To restructure the State curriculum program – Curriculum 2 Classroom – for Prep and Year 1 to ensure the expectations on the achievement spectrum are age and development appropriate.
3. To reject any suggestion to lower the school starting age.
4. To advocate to COAG Education Ministers Forum to end MySchool publication of NAPLAN results on a school-by-school basis
5. To reject robomarking and online performance of NAPLAN.
6. To ensure funding is available for registered kindergarten programs to enable children to have an additional year in kindergarten if their early childhood educators and parents believe they are not ready to start school.
We understand that the Federal Government has imposed itself significantly on the autonomy of State education departments since the Melbourne Declaration in 2008. However, we want the States to resist on behalf of the teachers, parents and, most importantly, children who are suffering in this regime.
We look forward to your considered response which will help our 10,000+ members make an informed decision on November 25.
Chris Cox on behalf of the Protecting Childhood Executive Team