How often do our literacy students come to us and say "I'm dyslexic"? How often is this an excuse? When is it a real indication of a learning disability?

There is a certain mystique attached to the 'd' word. Labels can make people feel comfortable - "at least I know what l've got."

Dyslexia is considered to be the most common form of learning disability. Is there a cure? No, but we can help students to develop strategies to enable them to function in a reading and writing world.

The 'Learning to Learn' program began at Donvale Living and Learning Centre which conducts a weekly program for up to 200 students in a Community House setting. The Outer Eastern Region of A.C.F.E. funded an Innovations Project to establish a Screening Procedure to identify more specifically the needs of such students and to then tailor learning tasks for them.

Educational psychologists, reading recovery teachers and special education teachers assisted in the development of the assessment and the teaching model. Diagnostic Tests were reviewed including: Intelligence Tests, such as the Wechster Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised (WAIS-R) used to measure the ability to process verbal and visual information, and Language Assessment tests such as the Neale Analysis of Reading Ability.

Students were interviewed separately, then collectively where they discussed education and problems with their disability. This really developed a kinship, a sensitivity and a feeling of collective power - "yeah - I was called an idiot too; and I hated sport; art was great .... I cheated too!"

Dyslexic students learning experiences have extended to public speaking. Dawn Marshall talks about her learning difficulties at a Probus club meeting.

Study Themes in the Donvale program

Cognitive Psychology (how our mind processes things)

- metacognition (strategies and tactics to control)
- schemas (using experience and memory to create an image)
- long and short term memory (some things are filed into permanent memory and others are just for immediate use)


- what is it?
- looking at case studies
- how do I compare?

 Long and Short Term Memory

(strategies include: Grouping things, remembering starts and ends, remembering the unusual, looking at the tangible)


- music and sounds
- improving concentration
- auditory discrimination


- methods of learning
- psycholinguistics
- decoding words
- text structure (looking at the total article using prior knowledge to predict, skim)


- methods of remembering

Left/Right brain dominance


Students complete homework every night!

a) They learn and relearn "sight" words. These are the basis of all reading and must be mastered "Sight" words are learned using techniques developed by each student - 'things which work for them. b) Speed Copying

This is essential as a writing model (student don't have to invent text). The student focuses on copying increasingly longer sections of text. This lengthens the reading span stored in the short-term memory.

- as larger pieces of text are stored this assists letter formation, spelling, punctuation and "sight" words become automatic.
- aids co-ordination and rhythm in writing
- provides a model of form, structure and style in writing

Specific Activities

 Visual Discrimination using shapes/patterns X X X O

Copy the pattern, which is different in the set? Using letters, circle the one which is different in a set:


- using words

fit fat fit fit flow

fine flow fly flee

- Making new words from a pattern

- Add the vowel and read

a e i o u

b_t b_t b_t b_t b_t

r_t r_t r_t r_t r_t

 Spelling Strategies

- Comparing, contrasting, categorising

pluck sock lick stock truck ....

What is the same about these words?

Put them in categories (e.g. used at home)

male pail pay

(All long a)

- Word families

rhymes - tan man pan ...

silent letters - comb wrap debt .....

letter strings - light might fright ....

compounds - playground bathroom prefixes/suffixes - player playful replay .....

- Mnemonics (memory tricks) to fix spelling

Four fourteen but U can't be forty!



This pilot program is in its infancy, yet students applying learned skills into other tasks such as:

- learning the road rules to get a licence
- memorising word patterns in streets to match the street directory
- listening to music to assist in concentration

As students understand more about their learning disabilities, their motivation, self-esteem and learning can only improve.


Ros Butcher & Karen Dymke

Donvale Living & Learning Centre

Phone 03 9842 6726

ACAL President's Report - 1999

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First, let me thank the executive for their commitment and energy over the past twelve months. Administration support is limited and ACAL depends very much on the voluntary work of the executive.

A strategic planning process last year identified that adult literacy exists in a policy vacuum. ACAL needs to position itself to offer policy advice and to form alliances with significant groups. Although we have had reception from both local and federal politicians and continue to enjoy support from DETYA (see below) it is unclear what initiatives ministers will enforce which will call upon us to reposition ourselves. I am prepared to put on record that this government has been devoid of any evidence of consultation with peak literacy bodies to inform their directions. There has been a concern for some time that general and bridging education is left out of the ANTA ambit for developing training and developing resources. Inclusion of literacy in training packages has had some unreliable uptake; evaluation is being undertaken (see below).

Dr Jennie Bickmore-Brand

ACAL Presidentt

PATHWAYS 3 - a simulated work environment

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Deaf Education Network is a competitive training organisation offering adult education programs and services to deaf people. To enhance communication and cultural access, a deaf support teacher works alongside the qualified teacher.

The Deaf Education Network (DEN) has been providing basic education programs for deaf people for several years. These have been offered on both a full time and part time basis. However, it was clear that many of our students then struggled to move from a basic education course to either a VET course or work. The learning environment in the basic education course did not adequately prepare students for less supportive environments.

The Pathways 3 course is the final program of a three part basic education course at DEN. In Pathways 1 and 2 teachers take a key role in what happens in the learning situation. Students are still learning to work together, take responsibility and approach learning in a positive manner. Students are still learning to take control of their own learning. Students benefit from having their educational comfort zone rocked, so that once more they can take risks. . .

Having gained many of these underlying skills in Pathways 1 and 2, students are pushed into new areas and be placed into situations where expectations are high.

When participants comfort zones are not tested sufficiently, it has been noted that they start to lose focus, confidence and enthusiasm and commitment. Programs have the potential to be boring, unstimulating and unprogressive.

Pathways 3 provides the challenge that is needed to build on the underlying foundations of adult learning. It retains a lot of the core characteristics from Pathways 1 and 2.


Participants learn through a simulated work program which builds on prior knowledge and skills developed in Pathways 1 and 2, and where appropriate training and access to resources is readily available. (Teachers and support teachers are seen in this model as resources.)

Participants are asked to provide three Deafness Awareness training sessions within the community. In the past students have delivered to primary and high school students, government departments and TAFEs. This requires them to investigate, plan, provide and evaluate the programs. Thus skills are gained within a practical setting where they are seen to have value. The training is organised as would a workplace, where participants are required to fill in timesheets, work as a team, participate in meetings, take responsibility and have an output.

This involves many skills that they will ultimately need within a work setting, such as:

A planning meeting is held each week so the group can decide what tasks need to be completed. This is written up in the minutes so teachers know what the participants require.

Philosophy Underpinning Pathways 3

Cambourne describes several conditions of learning in 'The Reading Teacher' Vol 49. No.3. Nov 1995.

'The group process may be the best means of promoting low-stress learning in or out of the classroom.' "Superteaching" Jenson. 1988.

Cambourne's Conditions
The state of being saturated by, enveloped in, flooded by, steeped in, or constantly bathed in that which is to be learned.' p185
'The ability to observe actions and artefacts.'
'active participation of learner'
'we achieve what we expect to achieve....we are more likely to engage with demonstrations of those whom we regard as significant and who hold high expectations of us.'
'...the learners themselves decide the nature of the engagement that will occur.'
'...learner-talkers are not expected to wait until they have language fully under control before they're allowed to use it. Rather they are expected to 'have a go'.
'...opportunities for use...'
Pathways 3
Immersion by:
setting up a simulated work environment.
using the language and behaviours of a work environment
organising field visits
Demonstration by:
Role models (Teachers and Support tchrs)
Field visits
Role plays within the training setting.
Engagement by:
Having clear goals and expectations
active participation within the group
Risk taking
Application as opposed to theory.
Output rather than input.
Expectations given by:
Participants will be the doers, rather than the 'receivers'.
It will be expected that they have something to offer others, and that they can deliver.
Responsibility taken by:
participants decide how they will organise the project, and what portions they take responsibility for.
participants have a strong sense of decision making.
Approximations by:
having a go.
strong context
Employment by:

Experiential Learning

A core feature of Pathways 3 is learning by doing. Experiential learning allows participants to embed learning in context. It recognises prior learning, and gives focus for the team to pull together towards a mutual outcome.

Action Research

Action research is normally applied in an educational or work situation where those involved learn by doing. 'It invites them (Participants) to take a systematically critical and self-critical stance with respect to their own practice. In addition, because it is collaborative, it widens the circle of those taking responsibility.....' "Strategies for Curriculum Evaluation From Evaluating Curriculum". Kemmis & Stake.


Deaf Education Network has now provided four Pathways 3 programs. (Each program is 20 - 22 hours per week, for 18 weeks.)

'The student's initial response to the course was one of shock.....They (the students) had been accustomed to a far more passive role. Student: I remember at first I didn't have much confidence....I was like 'I don't want to do this. I don't want to do this' but the second (Deafness Awareness Program) I thought 'Oh Yeah, I can do this. I feel confident' and this one (the third) I'll be even more confident.

The effects of such a course are not always immediate. There was one particular student in his forties, still lived a mother who did almost everything for him. He made few decisions for himself. Although in Pathways 1 and 2 his progress was outstanding, it appeared that he could not cope with the level of responsibility that Pathways 3 demanded. While teachers commented that this was disappointing, it was accepted that this was his choice.

Four months after the course had finished this student rang DEN to tell teachers that he had moved and was now living independently in the country. He had enrolled in TAFE and was continuing his studies.

Judy Harwood
Deaf Education Network

Research projects - provision for groups with special needs

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The Adult Literacy and Numeracy Australian Research Consortium (ALNARC) is carrying out two national projects. The second of these, Project #2, is to investigate provision for groups with identified special needs and is the subject of this report. (Project #1 is to investigate literacy and numeracy in industry Training Packages). A total of 24 small-scale projects have been funded.

NEW SOUTH WALES - Five projects have been approved for up to $2000 to investigate implementation of the federal government's Mutual Obligation scheme:

1. An analysis of the referral mechanisms from a particular metropolitan job agency to a provider, using a survey and interviews.

2, 3 & 4. An examination of the three parties involved in Mutual Obligation - the individual, Centrelink and the provider. Three different rural sites will be investigated - Lismore, Muswellbrook and Wagga Wagga.

5. An analysis of Mutual Obligation from a more theoretical framework, drawing on the work of Freire. This will be published and be the basis of a presentation to be given at the Education and Social Action Conference, 25-27 November 1999 at UTS.

QUEENSLAND - Four grants, each of $2,000, were made available using the criteria below:

to document the literacy and learning needs of a group of people, non-literate in their first language, and identify appropriate literacy learning approaches that are responsive to these needs;
to integrate and support/mentor volunteer tutors into the everyday workings of special needs literacy classes;
to improve the literacy skills of adult learners who wish to enrol in the Certificate of Adult General Education;
to trial literacy training and assessment materials developed for use with disadvantaged young people.

All of the project proposals required support statements from associated community bodies.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA - Three of the four research sites are in regional SA, which is facing economic uncertainty as jobs disappear and globalism forces trainers to work creatively to deliver relevant programs.

 Coming through the doors: Women choosing to study: Why now? Amanda Cawthorne-Crosby, Spencer Inst. of TAFE, Coober Pedy Campus. Mandy's project is endeavouring to find out why women have made the decision to enrol at the Coober Pedy TAFE.
 The LANT Mutual Obligation experience: How to survive it and enjoy it Sue Frischke, Spencer Inst. of TAFE, Whyalla Campus. Sue is interested in the perspective students in her LANT classroom have on their own learning.
Participation in LANT programs: Whose interests are being served? Sarah Linfield-Ide, Uni. of SA, M.Ed Studies. At the centre of Sarah's investigation is how the 'literacy crisis' was worked into government policy.
Language, literacy and numeracy entry level competencies for Vocational Education. John Stone, J & B Stone, Training Consultants. Profiles a rural-based LANT program.

TASMANIA - Over-55s and on-line learning. See the previous issue of 'Literacy Link' (Sept 1999) for description of this project.

VICTORIA - Earlier this year the Victorian Centre for ALNARC held a forum - 'Literacy for Youth: Programs, Problems and Perspectives' (see article by Bev Campbell in this issue). Funds to $3000 were made available for four projects focusing on unemployed youth:

Case History of Potentiality for Unemployment of Youth (Corangamite District Adult Education Group).
Survey of Literacy Issues in Job Search Training (Migrant Education Program Job Futures, Geelong)
Evaluation of Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE's Koorie Services Centre Literacy Support Program (Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE)
Evaluation of the YARHOO Program for Youth at Risk (Wangaratta Centre for Continuing Education)

WESTERN AUSTRALIA - Three proposals are being funded for small scale research. One plans to assess the improvement in literacy skills for a group of at-risk youth using an integrated literacy approach in a regional TAFE. The other two will both be carried out in correctional institutions. One focuses on what makes a 'successful' class in a particularly adverse situation. This will be mentored by one of the WA ALNARC centre advisory committee members who also works for the Ministry of Justice. The other will focus on the ways in which technology can assist or inhibit the learning process of Aboriginal learners who are incarcerated.


The ACAL Conference in November will provide an opportunity for the state Centres to report on the work-in-progress of these small projects.

Beverley Campbell
National Manager ALNARC

Literacy classes at The Big Issue

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Goals are set for vendors in the class through negotiation about what literacy and numeracy tasks they want to tackle in ways that are meaningful to them as individuals. It is a success-based model that encourages the vendors to set personal gaols. It offers the flexibility to accommodate their varying motives and levels of intellectual capacity.

The program asserts that the teacher is there to help, and that the vendors are capable of taking responsibility for their own learning. The program is based on experience based learning theory, which sees the experience of the learner as central to all considerations of learning and teaching. A relationship based on trust between students and teacher is necessary for this approach to teaching.

The subject matter used in the classroom is based on the students' interests - television programs, sport and excursions. Finding materials at the appropriate level has been difficult, and so I have developed many of the materials myself. The class usually follows a set format of a prepared piece of reading on events in the previous week, the students then practice vocabulary and writing about the experience. Mathematics is then practiced by estimating costs for an excursion, or writing an imaginary shopping list and adding it up.

The program doesn't rely on the previous life experience of the students, but on participation in shared experiences in the classroom, and reflection on the events of their day to day life. Excursions are a central part of the program for two reasons: 1.The group has access to social outings and places that they wouldn't otherwise go to; this provides a focus for planning in the classroom. 2. They don't want to talk a lot about their personal lives and past - trips give the groups a positive topic of conversation.

The CGEA (Certificate of General Education Adults) curriculum is the basis of all adult literacy classes. The goals are all evaluated each term. Great flexibility in teaching and learning is provided within this framework. Several levels of ability may be operating in the class at any one time. (Eg Maurice - level 1, Betty level 2 numeracy stream, achieving at a level 1 in some literacy areas, Lillian level 2 - 3).

The course offers great satisfaction and intellectual and social stimulation for the vendors. They are very proud of their certificates of achievement and frame them, putting them on the wall at their home. It offers access to education and social institutions to people that would otherwise have none. This is part of the community service obligation met by TAFE colleges by providing access to education to disadvantaged groups.

I am very committed to the group and ensuring that it is on going by introducing computers so that more vendors can attend. It is great to see education and the quality of life that brings, available to people who are offered very little in our society.

Anne Fitzpatrick, ALBE Teacher
Swinburne TAFE, Wantirna Campus

Understanding our legal and political world

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Only 19 per cent of people have some understanding of what Federation meant for Australia's system of government. Only 18 per cent know something about the content of the Constitution. Only 40 per cent can name the two Federal houses of parliament, and only 24 per cent know that senators are elected on a state-wide basis. Sixty per cent have a total lack of knowledge about how the Constitution can be changed, despite having voted in referendums 'Whereas the People' - Civics & Citizenship Education Report by the Civics Expert Group AGPS. Canberra (1994).

Out of 'Whereas the people' the Victoria Law Foundation identified the need for specific civics & citizenship (Discovering Democracy) courses for adult students.

'Understanding Our Legal & Political World' is a course accredited by the Vocational Education & Training Board. Providers can apply to ACFE for funding to provide it as a General Preparatory Course or it can be run as a module in a Certificate course. So far there have been more than 150 requests for the accreditation document and courses have been provided and interest shown by a diverse range of providers - from correctional institutions in Victoria to a remote aboriginal community in North Queensland.

Josie Viola and I work together as part-time Education Officers at the Australian Electoral Commission's Electoral Education Centre in Melbourne, and as adult education consultants to the Victoria Law Foundation. Part of our role with the AEC has been to increase the access to education resources by adult education providers.

The first step in this process was to customise the presentations at the Education Centre to suit adult groups. We also prepared workbooks specifically for General Education and ESL students to meet the competency requirements at the various levels of the CSWE and CGEA. A visit to the centre can be incorporated to provide a springboard to an assessable unit of work within these certificates.

The Australian Electoral Commission has joined with the Victoria Law Foundation to present professional development for teachers in the adult education sector. This PD has two aims: 1. To cover the constitutional issues around the way the existing system works, the mechanisms to change it and what a new system might look like. 2. To introduce and workshop exercises specific to these issues which satisfy key competency requirements of the CGEA, CSWE, the National Reporting System, and the learning outcomes reflected in the philosophy of ACFE's Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities framework.

In addressing the second aim of the PD, we have found that this subject matter can be used to meet competency requirements of various curriculum frameworks in many different ways. Teachers are presented with tasks and activities they can modify to their respective learners' needs, and the workshopping process enhances their scope considerably. This process also reveals new and novel ways of introducing the subject matter when the technical content of the PD is discussed by teachers.

Just one example of these class activities presented is a numeracy exercise (see Suggested Numeracy Task overleaf) based on the two majorities required for the passage of a referendum question, ie. a majority of votes in a majority of states. Students are presented with a list showing the number of registered voters nationally with a breakdown of these in each of the six states. They then calculate the absolute majorities (50% of the formal votes plus one) required for the question to pass in any given state. By adding up the absolute majorities of the three states with the smallest number of voters (WA, SA and Tasmania), they can calculate that approximately 12% of national voters, situated in those three states, could theoretically prevent the passing of a referendum question even if it receives an absolute majority of votes Australia-wide. The task has been designed to cater for learners applying basic numeracy skills. It can also be completed by learners who are ready to analyse and interpret figures as per indicators of competence in the National Reporting System.

(This article was adapted from an earlier article in "ARIS Bulletin")

Rod Espie & Josie Viola
Electoral Education Centre

Political Literacy

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The Parliamentary Education Office is located in Parliament House, Canberra. Its mission is to encourage Australians to become active and informed citizens through developing an understanding of Australian Parliamentary democracy. The focus has now extended 'beyond schooling', and we have developed some programs and resources specifically for the community and adult sector. We have also used the chambers of several State Parliaments to work with students from TAFE and AMES classes.

Political literacy is empowering for those in the community with little understanding of how political institutions work. Many of the adults in our community who have come to Australia as migrants have had no opportunity to learn about how their new country differs from their homeland. We received a letter recently from a teacher thanking us for taking her students for a program. She said, "As you obviously realise, many ESL students come from dictatorships. It takes a long time for them to understand the dynamics of a democracy".

For a democracy to work effectively it is important that it is not just the well-educated and the well-off who understand how to engage with the political process. All voices in the community need to be heard if the system is to be truly representative.

Role Play

The PEO sees role play as an essential component in its programs &endash; whether we are working with students or with educators. The power of role play is that it allows participants to focus on broad concepts rather than become confused by detail. Concepts such as democracy and representation are easily recognisable, and the interactive nature of role play allows participants to explore what they mean in practice, and how they relate to their own lives.

The public education campaign currently being conducted by the Council for the Centenary of Federation has left many in the community fumbling for an answer. Who was the first Prime Minister?, and who was Samuel Griffiths? Role play, on the other hand, presumes no knowledge of facts. It allows each participant to be actively involved, and to ask questions from their own level of understanding.

In addition to developing political literacy, the role plays developed by the PEO also provide an excellent strategy for developing the listening and speaking skills which are identified in basic literacy courses. Each role play can be used for a simple one-off session, or it can be the basis for a more comprehensive learning program which includes researching the topic, speech writing, talking with local elected representatives etc.

The role play models can also be used for exploring other themes that a class is studying. The model for a parliamentary legislative debate provides a good model for setting up a decision-making forum. It allows different points of view to be presented in a respectful forum, so that all participants have the opportunity to hear various perspectives presented before making a decision.


The PEO has developed free resources for use with adult learners. These include guidelines on how to conduct each of three different parliamentary role plays: a legislative debate, a committee inquiry, and Question Time.

of information sheets. These cover concepts such as the three levels of government, democratic freedoms, the law making process, and voting. The distinctive feature of this resource is that rather than just describing the institutions or processes, the sheets aim to focus on the relationship between the (adult) student and 'the system'. They are called the "You and " series, and have been developed to highlight the ways in which adults can have an input into the democratic process. The language and use of graphics in these sheets is appropriate for students enrolled in literacy courses.

The PEO also has a website that may be used by students and teachers. It includes copies of PEO resources, and has features such as a virtual tour of Parliament House, and links to the Commonwealth Parliament site.

Judy Gauld & Jennet Cole-Adams

Literacy for Unemployed Youth

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You work with people who come stoned to class, who are involved in crime and drug dealing, where sometimes you have to be locked into a room with your students and a security guard. You teach literacy and numeracy to unemployed youth.

In the seminar 'Literacy for Youth', held in July by ALNARC in Melbourne, literacy teachers came together with a shared concern - how to work more effectively with young people outside the school system.

The stories that unfolded during the day need to be told. These students include some of the most marginalised groups in our society: kids at risk; those who have been thrown out of four or five schools; those who have come to Australia as refugees from war torn countries; homeless and incarcerated youth; school refusers; or kids who live six to a one bedroom flat.

Some teachers told of the qualities it takes to work with this very marginalised group, 'Sit with them'. 'Look them in the eye - treat them as the human beings that they are, rather than as the failures or the dregs they have often been made to feel'. 'Don't treat them as 'other' -they can sniff someone who is judgemental a mile away'.

These days a lot is loaded onto the term 'literacy'. Society expects much from education. Nowhere more so than in the area of literacy and numeracy for unemployed youth. There have been repercussions from education being commodified as a marketable product. The ethos brought about with the language of 'self-governing schools' and 'schools of excellence' comes at great cost to those who don't measure up to the standards of achievement and excellence.

Literacy education for unemployed youth is a growth area. Increasingly, young people who don't fit, who are not accommodated by the school sector, are turning up at adult literacy providers. Schools are now seeking solutions from adult literacy providers for those who are in transition from adolescence to adulthood. They know that a proportion will get caught in the unemployment cycle and remain there for a prolonged period. Nic Frances, the newly appointed Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, said in The Age (2 August 1999), 'At least it would be more honest to acknowledge that jobs are not available for everyone...'. Maybe it's time to re-define youth 'unemployment'.

Teachers of unemployed youth have complex roles: counsellor, teacher, surrogate parent, nurturer, mentor, role model, friend. Education has taken over the role of traditional welfare - surely a more appropriate way for transformation to happen when it does. Providing literacy education opportunities for unemployed youth is part of the bigger picture of what a belief in social capital theory has to offer. Teachers' work needs to be supported and publicly acknowledged.

Throughout the seminar different teachers spoke with great professionalism about their work. Transcending their professional voice was their compassion for the young people with whom they work . They spoke about the need to love the young people in their classes even if it means having them come stoned to class, or having to teach them about personal hygiene.

They have taken on that very difficult role of working with people who have been relegated to the edge of society. They are trying to create a feeling of connection in unemployed young people which is stronger than their pervasive feelings of marginality and uselessness.

We ask a lot of our teachers; we ask even more of those teachers who work with unemployed and marginalised youth. Who pays tribute to teachers like those who work with unemployed youth?

Beverley Campbell
National Manager of the Adult Literacy and Numeracy Australian Research Consortium

Environmental health workers - 'landscape literacy'

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Councils in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory are increasingly appreciating the need to appoint local Environmental Health Workers. The history of these workers goes back to the 1950s when they were known on the mission stations and settlements of the time as 'hygiene police', and later 'hygiene workers'. These were untrained and unpaid community members whose unenviable task was to collect human waste from community dwellings in buckets and bury it in trenches they had dug for the purpose.

This practice quite often led to contamination of water supplies and the subsequent sickness of the population. It was therefore decided that education of these workers was essential. This training happened sporadically over the years and gradually, with the advent of improved technology, the job broadened to include the emptying of septic tanks, the unblocking of toilets, the cleaning of communal showers and toilets, the collecting of rubbish and the fixing of taps. In 1991 at a conference of workers it was decided that the primary function of Environmental Health Workers was to educate the community on environmental health issues and, as a consequence of that, ensure that the community was kept clean. In 1993 the first extended training course took place at Batchelor.

The students in the course are mainly, though not exclusively, male. In general, they come from a background of interrupted and minimal schooling and their literacy levels are low. English may be a third or fourth language. Difficulty with English literacy is therefore seen as a 'problem' and the curriculum was designed to be 'literacy light', ie, few assessment tasks demand independent written work. This has been a conscious strategy to accommodate community members whose expertise lies in other areas.

When I was deliberating on how best to help lecturers address this situation I decided to address the question 'What literacy is actually required of these students a) as Environmental Health Workers and b) as students in a tertiary institution?'. To this end I examined the curriculum document in the light of James Gee's definition of literacy, ie, in the context of a field of knowledge or Discourse.

'Each Discourse involves ways of talking, acting, interacting, valuing, and believing, as well as the spaces and material 'props' the group uses to carry out its social practices. Discourses integrate words, acts, values, beliefs, attitudes, social identities, as well as gestures, glances, body positions and clothes.' (Gee J. 1992)

It seems to me that Literacy in its broadest sense (capital 'L') includes all of the above, not simply the print bits.

As I examined the document from cover to cover, I asked myself, 'According to this document what routines and practices are characteristic of each of these fields, Environmental Health and Academia? What technologies or props do practitioners need to master the use of? What terminology (discourse) is characteristic of each field? What oral/written texts are generated by the business of each field?' And, most importantly, 'What knowledge, values and beliefs underpin the business of each field?'

When I examined the course in this way and recorded my findings in some detail for the lecturer, the extent of the underpinning knowledge, values and beliefs upon which the course is premised quickly became apparent. Students must develop understandings of the theories underpinning the study of environmental health which largely originate from a western perspective of: what health is; how disease occurs; how to 'care' for land; how to 'manage' 'waste'; how to operate ie, within a problem posing, problem solving paradigm; the principles of settlement living and all that that entails etc. How to explicate these to people who have very different understandings, presents a real challenge for the educator.

They must develop a range of literacies: 'landscape' literacy ie reading the landscape for signs of potential hazard, potential benefit, degradation, pollution, wasteful use of resources etc; 'event' literacy: the ability to 'read' a situation/routine event and take part in it appropriately in an EHW role; technological literacy: the ability to use different technologies in different situations; scientific literacy: the ability to approach a problem related to environmental health systematically following principles of scientific behaviour; print literacy: the ability to read (and construct) the print texts associated with the EHW role; procedural literacy: the ability to recognise and implement, in sequence, a multitude of different procedures; mathematical literacy: the ability to measure accurately a range of phenomena, using a range of units of measurement; and cultural literacy: a literacy which involves the ability to read one's own cultural theories, beliefs and procedures, perhaps not generally articulated or written up, and articulate them (where appropriate).

At the same time students have to develop the knowledge, beliefs and values which underpin academic Discourse: the primacy of ideas; the practice of abstraction and generalisation, categorisation and classification, hypothesising etc; the value of pursuing knowledge, of taking an 'objective' stance etc. They have to develop the ability to name concepts: to talk about knowledge/practice; to talk about systems and structures;to discuss theories; to summarise ideas; and to read and write the texts required in tertiary study.

Nor is it sufficient for Indigenous students to simply be assimilated into these theories and practices. Space must be provided for critique and comparison with other perspectives. Both these fields must be 'read' critically, that is, with a growing awareness of both benefits and dangers. So, while course demands might have been low in the area of 'print' literacy, they were high in the area of other literacies.

This 'reading' of the course came as somewhat of a revelation to the lecturer. As we discussed, it now appeared that students' difficulties with English literacy may not be the primary cause of their struggles with the course. There were many foreign ideas being discussed and background knowledge being assumed that could no longer be assumed.

As the move to Training Packages was imminent, the lecturer has been able to take advantage of the opportunity and to ensure that these ideas are now made much more explicit in the new document.


GEE, J. (1993). Literacies: tuning into forms of life. Education Australia, Literacy Issue 19-20, 13-14.

Pat Beattie
Lecturer, Batchelor Institute


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Re: the concept of 'disabilities'. Many of these are well documented and their impact on people's ability to learn is recognised. When appropriate resources and support are made available to these learners, they can often overcome the barriers to learning their disability has created.

A major problem is that many disabilities are hidden. What should be done to help adult learners recovering from substance abuse or the effects of emotional or physical trauma? Many mature aged learners return to education with a great deal of 'baggage' from their lives. Until they can 'unpack' and deal with this, their successful participation in the learning process may be severely compromised.

Too often, the psychologists and counsellors who could help with 'situations' and advise appropriate strategies are the first to go when cost cutting measures are undertaken. Appropriate professional development is rare.

For many of us, all we can take into some extremely challenging situations are good intentions.

There is a danger that unhealthy dependency relationships can evolve as we strive to take care of people who are vulnerable. We may find ourselves in situations which impact negatively on our own lives.

It would be nice to feel more confident about appropriate procedures and strategies I could call on when needed as increasing numbers of students with 'hidden' disabilities return to adult learning.

Erica Daymond


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