EDITORIAL - by the ACAL President

Because this issue of Literacy Link is the first in the year 2000, we thought it appropriate to invite contributors to cast an eye back over their years of service in the field and to consider how it has evolved.

In the 'Spotlight On...' section, Literacy Link invites providers to write about their particular programmes. Ten years ago Linda Wyse went out on her own as a literacy and ESL provider; such a step was almost unheard of at the time.

Heather Haughton has rummaged through old issues of adult literacy newsletters Fine Print and Good Practice and has uncovered evidence of the landmarks and less obvious shifts that have occurred over the past couple of decades.

Peter Kell identifies three main phases to the ways literacy has been perceived over the last 50 years. He identifies a further phase the field is on the verge of having to come to terms with, and new challenges the profession will have to address. Frances Christie discusses the various shifts of meaning underlying use of the term 'literacy' and how these shifts in definition have affected the field. Jean Searle, Margaret McHugh and Jacquie Parslow have provided brief commentries on the historical markers in the adult literacy fields in their respective states.

Lynne Fitzpatrick sketches the main features of the Workplace Communication in Training Packages project, which sought to implement what many people involved in workplace education saw as important: the building-in of language, literacy and numeracy underpinning skills into industry competencies.

The Annual General Meeting was held at the national conference in Melbourne in November, 1999 which led to changes in the elected members of the Council. Firstly, I would like to thank outgoing members for their commitment to adult literacy and numeracy education. Dr Rosie Wickert, Vice President, has retired from the Council but in recognition of her long service has been offered life membership of ACAL. We hope that Rosie will continue to provide advice and support to ACAL. State and territory representatives, Lou-Ann Barker (Tas); Pat Beattie (NT); Ruth Trennery (SA); and Erica Daymond (WA) will all be replaced by new representatives elected by their councils. We thank them for their contributions. Dr Jennie Bickmore Brand will remain on the Council after two energetic years as the President. Erica Daymond has been elected as the Honorary Secretary and Geraldine Castleton, Queensland, has been elected as the new Vice President. Jim Thomson, Tess Were, and Rae Flanagan join us. As always, Literacy Link carries a complete contact list of the Council on the back page
.....Rosa McKenna, ACAL President

Spotlight on a private provider - Lynda Wyse
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 I had been happily teaching in AMES with no intention of doing anything else. When my eldest child was about to embark on her year 12, on what I believed would be a difficult and challenging year, I naïvely thought that she might enjoy having a parent available to assist as required. I thought of working part time when the principal of what was then called English in the Workplace, suggested an alternative path which was to set up as a consultant. I was totally dumbfounded - me not working in the public sector! As a child of the 60's I was totally scathing of private enterprise and could never have imagined that one day I would run my own business, let alone be an employer.

However, the more I talked about it and thought about the possibilities, the more attractive the idea became. I saw myself floating around as a free spirit, doing bits and pieces of work now and then. I don't think that I ever seriously entertained the idea that the consultancy would really work and I imagined that at the end of the year I would simply ring up AMES and announce that I wanted to come back.

As a model of how one should set up a small business, I was the absolute antithesis of all orthodox theory. I had no business plan nor had I undertaken any research to see if there was a market for an independent ESL consultant. In fact, if any one had suggested that this would be a useful way to proceed I would have turned up my nose in disgust at such a premeditated approach.

So how did I proceed? I started by ringing CES offices to see if they needed help with NESB clients and, as I had written a book during my time at AMES on Job Seeker Skills for NESB clients, I was already known by a number of CES staff. I also plucked up my courage and cold-called a number of manufacturing companies to talk to them about my skills but mostly came up against brick walls as they wanted to know for whom I had worked as a consultant since leaving AMES.

The hardest things for me were the initial negativity I received from some colleagues who believed that I had sold out, and the assumptions by others that I was unethical and exploitative. I found these views to be terribly hurtful, partly because it seemed to me that people believed I was capable of fundamentally changing my world view and ethical base and partly I guess because it was also hard for me to have to redefine my own identity.

Overall though it has been constantly exhilarating, exciting and challenging. I've had the opportunity to constantly learn in so many new areas, to experiment with new understandings, to try things and move on as I wanted without having to justify to anyone else. Well, I suppose not quite as I do have a work partner. For me that has been one of the highlights. Firstly, it has provided me with the opportunity to discuss and develop ideas before rushing ahead, but also I think that irrespective of whether you believe that everyone in an organisation is equal, when you are the manager or employer, there is a certain distance, no matter how hard you pretend that it isn't there.

When I look back over the years that I have been involved in the field, I am amazed at how many changes we have lived through. The changes, however, don't necessarily reflect a change in what I, and most others, see as the fundamental approach to teaching. This involves starting with what learners see as their learning goals and developing programs that reflect these needs. It's all the peripherals that have changed, driven largely I guess by external ideologies and agendas.

There are a number of issues that keep worrying me, even though I know that this is now the reality of the workforce, not only for teachers, but for the majority of workers. One of these is the continual devaluing of teachers' work and the continual eroding of employment conditions and the relative stagnation of teachers' salaries reflects this. Another concern is the lack of funding for professional development and the development of a culture in which a highly casualised workforce does not have automatic paid access to staff meetings and professional development activities. The other area that sits uncomfortably with me is the redefinition of ESL which, other than the on-arrival program, has largely been subsumed as a subset of literacy. If you redefine away a need, does that mean that it no longer exists?

On a more positive note, one of the most exciting developments has been the understanding, not only by teachers (who have known this for a long time) but by other interested parties, that language and literacy can only be understood through a socio-cultural perspective. Language and literacy do not develop and occur in a vacuum but by being placed within a social context. When I first started ESL teaching, we used Situational English, which saw language learning occuring through the rote learning of various words and structures, completely decontextualised from their actual use as expressions of living within a social environment. I remember clearly that one of my first classes was in a church hall in Fitzroy with a group of Italian women who were either housewives or had retired from paid employment. AMES employed a child care worker but the only children were mine and the whole teaching experience was really a social experience for all of us. In exchange for my teaching of English, I received cooking classes which rotated through the kitchens of the women in the group. The security of working through Book One of Situational English was so strong that the group kept wanting to return to the beginning and start again rather than moving on to unfamiliar territory. We did actually adapt the word Situational to situate as we developed language skills through discussions on child rearing, baking, pickling and preserving and the immigrant experience of working in the textile industry. We shared, to some degree, common backgrounds, as my grandparents started life in Australia in the same suburbs working in similar situations. So, I guess that even before we had the theoretical perspectives in which to situate our teaching practice, we had an intrinsic understanding of the need to contextualise our learning. I love hearing about other people's lives and this is one of the things that I miss most in not being a grass roots teacher.

One of our current projects involves facilitating groups of workers to map and document current skills and competencies against those contained within a training package. While the process promises to be extremely challenging, I relish the opportunity of learning face to face with these groups, of situating myself as a learner within their community of learning. In a way it's an amazing journey from teaching ESL in a community class to a group of Italian women to facilitating in what is essentially an industrial relations context and yet, it is still all about the need to connect and communicate with each other.

Linda Wyse, Director Linda Wyse & Associates. email linda@lwa.au.com

Linda Wyse & Associates is currently involved in the Communication in Training Packages project specifically for the ALMITAB, Public Safety ITAB and Transport and Distribution ITAB. The company is undertaking a project reviewing the NRS. This is one of three projects, the others being undertaken by Agenda Communications and Communication in Education and Training. (see page 14 'Workplace Communication Project' in this issue) They are responsible for reviewing the sample activities to include workplace examples so that the NRS has greater applicability for the WELL Programme.

The Changing Phases of Adult Literacy in Australia over 50 Years - Peter Kell

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The purpose, nature and significance of Adult literacy in Australia have been subject to major and profound shifts over the past 50 years. These shifts represent very different perceptions about the purpose of literacy and the connections between the individual, the state and role of the education system.

There have been three distinct phases from 1950 up to 2000. Each of these phases has been typified by contestation, contradictions and tensions about what literacy is, what value it is and how it should be applied.

The field is on the verge of another very different phase that will present significant challenges and dilemmas for practitioners and policy makers alike.

Civic/Voluntarist Phase

Adult literacy has grown originally from a tradition of individual improvement and enlightenment. This liberal tradition saw literacy as a vehicle for individual fulfilment and participation in the everyday activities of the community. The focus of this phase extended from the post war era to the late 1970s and saw literacy as both an inclusive and connective function providing people with the tools to participate in the community.

The provision of literacy services to adults grew from a poorly funded and voluntarist model of provision towards an increasingly professionalised model with agencies such as TAFE, evening colleges and adult education services being the major providers.

The curriculum was directed towards text based views of literacy and conservative views of spoken English. While the philosophy of practitioners and the motivations of teachers was based on a humanist and inclusive model of education, the nature of the curriculum and its grounding in conservative views of reading and speaking often did little to connect participants with a framework for meaningful community activism and participation. It was a tendency that positioned adult literacy in the periphery of "mainstream" aspects of adult and technical education.

Vocational/Industrial Phase

In response to economic crisis in the late 1970s and 1980s adult literacy was re-conceptualised within an economic and instrumental paradigm directed at national survival. Adult literary was associated with a general sense that the skill base of the Australian community was deficient and incapable of meeting the challenge of an export oriented global economy.

Within the context of economic crisis, high unemployment levels and industrial restructuring, adult literacy was re-conceptualised to prioritise the broad range of skills and competencies needed in the workplace. The nature and character of adult literacy shifted towards competencies and skills associated workplace practice and performance rather than broader notions of literacy focusing on individual improvement.

In this phase government became increasingly active and interventionist in devising, mandating, assessing and validating literacy with a vocational orientation targeted at addressing the vague notion of "the needs of industry" and the employability of citizens. During this phase government policy developed a cluster of policies designed to create competitive training market which facilitated the access of private providers of adult literacy to state funds.

Ironically the vocational phase shadowed a period typified by high levels of unemployment and restructuring of the workforce where most jobs were created in unskilled occupations requiring minimal literacy and communication skills. During this phase notions of literacy became increasingly shaped by forms of communication outside written and spoken language and started to incorporated multi-media and computer technology.

Commodity/Marketisation Phase

The late 20th century witnessed the collapse of class based political struggles and its replacement with a politics concerned with the management of consumption. During this period the purpose of education and training has been redefined within a paradigm of consumption focusing on futuristic "lifestyle options" to secure economic security. Education was increasingly seen in the 1990s as a positional good to be obtained through an exchange relationship. In this context adult literacy was conceptualised within differentiated "lifestyle" markets and promoted as literacy for specific purposes rather than a broad range of generic competencies and skills.

Literacy has become clustered and presented as self-contained, and often up-market products, such as "English for Business", "Communication Skills for Managers", "Using Technology to Communicate" and other curriculum packages to address specific markets. Uniform and universal notions and applications of literacy curriculum are valueless in an environment typified by niche and specialist markets. The market context of this phase demands from practitioners new skills in assessing the needs of client and student groups, developing new packages or customising existing materials. The emphasis in this phase has been the creation of learning "deliverables" using a range of new learning technologies and the servicing of differentiated markets based on the principle of "user pays".

The orientation towards semiotics, graphics and languages associated with information technology has taken on a new dimension that a teaching workforce trained prior to the advent of the digital era has found difficult to come to grips with. Concurrently the increasing privatisation and corporatisation of state providers of literacy services and the shift to non-institutional teaching in enterprises and the use of new learning technologies has created massive challenges.

Contrary to the empowering rhetoric of the market, the application of user pays principles and the creation of differentiated niche marketing has witnessed a growing gap in opportunities for learners in all aspects of education including adult literacy.

The current era is typified by the dilemmas of dealing with communicating in globalised and localised contexts. Both of these settings are typified by cultural and linguistic diversity that ensure static notions of literacy based on generic competencies associated with standardised reading and writing will need to be increasingly customised and contextualised.

In this environment language and communication and particularly major global languages such as English and Spanish, will/are/have become subject to modification and hybridisation. Adult literacy practitioners will not only need to be prepared to work in global and local settings using combinations of new learning technologies but must be able to recognise and apply the new range of Englishes that are a feature of a global language. Adult literacy professionals will need to be aware of the range of 'Englishes' and the forms of expression and communication that now accompany them in both local and global settings. They will also have to be aware of the tensions between standard and orthodox forms of English and the new hybrid Englishes that typify diverse settings in the suburbs and across the globe. As new forms of English emerge in adult literacy practitioners will need to be sensitive to these in their teaching and learning strategies and ensure that they are not repackaging "dead" and obsolete forms of English literacy.

This phase also involves the new literacies of graphics, icons, computer languages, the inter-net, multimedia and design associated with the digital era, as well as traditional reading and writing in all its new abbreviated forms of matrix, spreadsheet and dot point layouts.

In this phase new challenges arise for practitioners to engage cultural and linguistic diversity in a way that recognises the rich linguistic heritage in the Australian community and applying this in creative and innovative ways to seek to create connections and relationships across the globe and in our own communities. This is an immense challenge of a very different nature from that which confronted Australian adult literacy professionals 50 years ago.

Associate Professor Peter Kell, RMIT University

FINE and GOOD PRACTICE in PRINT: a rough guide to 25 years of change reflected in a couple of ALBE magazines - Heather Haughton

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In the autumn 1988 edition of Fine Print (vol. 12, no. 1) Daryl Evans spoke about the three eras of adult literacy:

* the early 70s to the mid 80s: the era of enthusiasm

* the mid 80s to the mid 90s: the era of professionalism

* the mid 90s to the present: the era of reductionism.

This tri-partite sectioning is clear-cut enough to provide a structure in which to embed the growth of state and national ALBE journals, but fluid enough to allow for considerable overlap. As an enthusiastic professional, Daryl contributed pieces to ALBE journals that were always worth waiting for. Too bad that the professional reducers have stripped the journals.

If you count the school mag., I've been editing on and off since 1954. Longer stints included Idiom1 for seven years and Fine Print2 for ten years. Editing Good Practice3 for one year followed serving on its editorial panel for three years. While part-time Executive Officer for VALBEC I was responsible for Broadsheet and the Numeracy Newsletter, and took a close interest in The World Times. As well I was on the editorial panels for Open Letter and the CATALPA Bulletin. At present I have a day job but derive much pleasure and the odd headache from editing on a freelance basis.

My close personal association with Fine Print and Good Practice means that this article will be skewed towards them and that I need to apologise to my former colleagues in states outside Victoria for neglecting their magazines.

Back to Daryl's three eras, and to my attempt to place a couple of Australia's ALBE journals within them and beside the policy changes that drove shifts in pedagogy and curriculum over 25 years. Peter Waterhouse, another enthusiastic professional, reminisces4:

'When I first wrote for Fine Print in 1982........I recall editorial meetings when the magazine was literally pieced together with a group of volunteers working around a table. There was much laughter, lively conversation and physical cutting and pasting. We discovered the wonders of "magic tape", used "white out" extensively and made banner headings with peel-off Letraset letters.'

He has forgotten to mention he also used to knock out the odd cartoon!

A veritable snapshot of a do-it-yourself system when AL (not ALBE) workers were creating the infrastructure of professional development through peer support, swapping ideas and self-publishing. Fine Print pages were produced on a photo-copier purchased with a Kangan Commission disadvantaged schools grant. Policies that existed prioritised social justice; curricula focussed on the needs of the individual; delivery of tuition occurred largely (in Victoria) via volunteer tutors5, mostly women; and professional paid staff were few. Joan Kirner's speech at the 1984 ACAL conference spoke not just of equality of opportunities but also of equality of outcomes.

The contents of Fine Print vol. 7, no. 1, February-March 1985 covered notices of VALC meetings and of tutor training at nine venues; a discussion among staff at Holmesglen TAFE College about tutor training; and a report on a four-day tutor trainers' course. Advertisements appeared for VALC's resource directory for tutors working with students who had disabilities; for the 1985 Sydney ACAL conference; and for a stimulus pack to encourage creative writing amongst students and tutors commissioned and produced by the National Core Curriculum Adult Literacy Materials Development Project 1984. Daryl Evans contributed a detailed 'How To' piece on your first session with a student, while Barbara Leahy, co-ordinator of a library-based program, contributed a poem about a student. There was a report on a 'Writing in the Community' conference and various reprints including material from the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, 1984. Some notes about local people kept things up-close and personal.

Enthusiasm - well in evidence. Professionalism - undoubtedly. And I'd have to differ from Delia Bradshaw's 1993 emphasis on priorities:

'Gone....are the days when literacy workers saw themselves primarily as therapists, there to listen to problems and to grow self-esteem.'6

A sense of the pace of change is palpable when we jump four years to Fine Print vol. 11, no. 4, August-September 1989. Computers! A new staff member at VALBEC (no longer VALC) employed as editor, contributed an article on word processors and the teaching of literacy. Related topics were on introducing students to computers by the regional AL co-ordinator in Geelong, and learning to do word-processing as an example of Frank Smith's natural learning principles by Aileen Treloar, one of the staff working in the head office of the new Division of Further Education. Thanks to VALBEC's lobbying, the State budgets of 1988-90 delivered funds for employing regional co-ordinators and an expert central team. International Literacy Year fast approaching! An editorial from The Age was reprinted, entitled' Literacy is a Human Right' citing Rosie Wickert's No Single Measure. Tertiary courses! This edition of FP carried an advertisement for a Grad. Dip. in Literacy Education at Victoria College (now Deakin University). Furthermore, classes for adult literacy students were gaining ground accompanying the proliferation of neighbourhood houses and learning centres, so we have an account of literacy and numeracy integrated with pottery, yet still there appeared a notice about tutor training for students with mild intellectual disabilities. A supplement from ACAL appeared, a part of the national adult literacy awareness campaign (DEET through the National Policy on Languages), mentioning Hazel Hawke as patron for ILY, Rosie Wickert's survey, award restructuring, the Adult Literacy Action Campaign and the ILY Small Grants Program.

A tap had been turned on. At national level, Good Practice appeared for the first time in 1988, the result of ACAL's successful advocacy to DEET, and until 1992, for 19 issues was edited within the ALBE field. Its explicit 'Show, Not Tell' criterion for contributions invested it with broad credibility and acceptance especially in places where funding for literacy remained sparse. All of the first 19 issues were later reprinted, including the annotated directory, no. 15. By way of nailing its colours to the mast, the editorial panel decided that the first issue would be on 'Negotiating the Curriculum'.

When, in 1993, Good Practice was tendered out and editorship passed to a commercial publishing house in Canberra on purely economic grounds, outcry from the field erupted. The topics for each issue for the next four years mostly reflected DEET's funding priorities; advertorials increased; and a policy of accepting contributions along state lines prevailed. The overall number of articles offered by practitioners declined markedly but especially from NSW and Victoria. Volume 31, July 1996 was the last issue. Thereafter Good Practice was merged with Literacy Update, the DEET newsletter that had explicitly advertised Commonwealth-funded initiatives since 1992. As a journal of 'Adult English language and literacy' it was rechristened Literacy Now and survived for another two years in that form. News about WELL programs, developments in ANTA/VET curriculum and DEET endeavours filled its pages. Supplements from ACAL and/or ALRN7 meant that teachers were kept up-to-date with professional matters but the fact that ACAL and ALRN had little choice but to accept such grace and favour arrangements simply indicated that their own funds had fallen away. The journal's sub-title indicated DEET's desire to tidy up administrative arrangements by merging adult ESL and ALBE. The age of reduction, remember, began in the mid-90s.

The Publications Activities Group of VALBEC announced a review of Fine Print during 1993, the better to 'resource the needs of all VALBEC members in terms of information and professional development'. In her President's Report (vol. 15, no. 2) Rosa McKenna spoke about VALBEC's role in monitoring the introduction of the Certificate of General Education for Adults. Meetings on the subject would be advertised in Broadsheet (i.e. VALBEC was running three publications by then, including The World Times for students). Rosa commented on ANTA's establishment, but CALP funding flowing from the ALLP would remain with DEET. This meant for Victoria that CALP would be reduced, and available through the Special Intervention Program via CES tenders. An article by Peter Holden, then co-ordinator of the Rozelle, NSW, SkillShare program, dealt with issues of accountability, reporting, measurement, evaluation, competencies and CES tender documents. Professor Brian Street's article, 'Literacy - a social practice' offered insights of contemporary relevance.

Members of VALBEC were indeed coming to terms with rapid and enforced changes, which included, for many, being set back on their heels by a new look Fine Print. Desk-top published, emblazoned with illustrations and laden with theory, it offered much stimulating reading but one immediate effect was to drive a wedge between metropolitan and rural members. It concentrated the aim of providing professional development via VALBEC's flagship publication on those members who had already served their apprenticeships, relished the intellectual challenge of debate and who had the advantages of proximity of like-minded peers on their side. Unfortunately, at the same time, opportunities for accessing other sorts of professional development were being reduced.

Five years later again, by the autumn edition of 1998 (vol. 12, no. 1) Fine Print had also designated itself 'A journal of adult English language and literacy education'. In VALBEC's 20th year, the (new) editor, Bob Keith, took the theme of repositioning of the field from literacy to basic education, mentioned the 'competitive tension' between ESL and ALBE, the 'enormous breadth' of educational activities and provider types and the 'extraordinary diversity' of students. Contributors wrote about adult learning theories, assessment, training in industry, teaching of young adults and aged adults in community programs, and the articulation of adulthood in the (new) federal assistance programs. Twenty years earlier most of these developments would have been well beyond the conceptual horizons of most workers.

Adult literacy practitioners have always prided themselves on their flexibility. Rosie Wickert once said that when we met a rock, we went around it, like water. What happens in a drought? All small magazines have lived with uncertainty most of their lives. Some coalesce, others self-destruct, and some fight on by adopting new techniques (the Web?). In the long run, readers will choose whether to subscribe to a print-based or an electronic publication according to their circumstances. It will be only if their circumstances have reduced practitioners' enthusiasm for their profession that currently surviving magazines will dry up altogether.

1 Victorian Association for the Teaching of English

2 Victorian Adult Literacy Council (later Victorian Adult Literacy and Basic Education Council, [VALBEC])

3 Good Practice in Adult Literacy and Basic Education in Australia, funded by DEET

4 Fine Print, vol. 22, no. 4, Summer 1999

5 Accounting for variations between states, e.g. NSW and Victoria is way beyond the scope of this article.

6 Conference address, Fine Print vol. 15, no. 3, Spring 1993

7 Adult Literacy Research Network


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When one takes a quick look at the history of literacy in the English-speaking world, it turns out that like many other terms that have wide currency today, this one has been subject to changes, to some extent in its meaning, and certainly in its significance.

The term 'literate' is quite an old one. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a literate person was originally one who was acquainted with letters, though by about the 17th century, it had come to mean a person who was learned. It was not till about the 19th century that the word 'literacy' seems to have come into use, referring to one who was literate. For all that, and despite the fact that the terms 'literate' and 'literacy' were known and used in the 19th and 20th centuries, it would not be true to say that they were extensively used in educational discussions for a very long time. Those who, for example, wrote textbooks for teacher education in the 19th century wrote of the teaching of reading and writing.

In the 20th century, as far as I can tell, for a very long time the terms 'reading' and 'writing' were used in preference to literacy, and in addition oral language often didn't rate much of a mention. When I commenced teaching as a secondary teacher of English in NSW schools in the 1960s, for example, the official curriculum guidelines referred to the teaching of reading and writing. It was during the late 60s and 70s that the term 'oracy' came into use, coined by the British researcher, Andrew Wilkinson.

The times began to change from the late 1960s to 1970s on, though instead of words like 'literacy' it became the trend to refer to 'language' and 'language development', and sometimes 'language acquisition'. The Australian school syllabus documents referred to 'language', and to the 'language skills' or sometimes the 'language modes' of listening, speaking, reading and writing.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I worked at the then Curriculum Development Centre in Canberra, and I was responsible for the National Language Development Project (LDP). This federally funded curriculum project brought together teams of teachers and curriculum consultants in all states devoted to exploring language development, particularly in the school years of upper primary to secondary school. The LDP attached great importance to the teaching of reading and writing, but primarily as aspects of the more generally conceived notions of 'language' and hence of 'language development'.

Why had reading and writing become subsumed into the more general terms 'language' and 'language development' by the late 1960s and 1970s? And why was it that in turn, from about the late 1980s on, the term 'literacy' came to achieve greater prominence?

Today, while educational authorities continue to be concerned about oral language development, it is certainly also true that literacy rates frequent mention on the political scene, and that it presently attracts large amounts of government money, federal and state. Moreover, throughout the English-speaking world, governments attach great significance to lifting the literacy performance of their school students, while national curriculum statements devoted to English literacy, and national literacy tests have become a commonplace in both Australia and the UK. Moreover, a quick review of scholarly publications and research programs over the last 10-15 years or so makes it clear that literacy has attracted a great deal of attention. In addition, the term 'literacy' often appears in association with other terms, all of them giving a new significance to its use. For example, we now regularly hear or read of: 'critical literacy', 'multiliteracy', or sometimes 'multiliteracies', 'cultural literacy', 'computer literacy', 'visual literacy', and so on.

The trend that emerged in the 60s and 70s to refer to 'language' and 'language development' was a result of the upsurge of research interest in those decades into the nature of language. Linguists of many traditions (as various for example, as Chomsky in the USA and Halliday in the UK), as well as many English teaching specialists (such as Britton, or Barnes or Wilkinson in the UK) all pursued interests in such matters as the nature of language, its role in building meaning, its relevance as a resource for learning, and its significance in personal development. The results for educational theorising and for educational policy planning were very beneficial, because

(i) the more generic term 'language' rather than the terms 'reading' and 'writing' gave a unifying significance to the notion of language in development and in the curriculum, and

(ii) teachers were better informed about the significance of language itself.

In some senses, to this day, I prefer the terms 'language' and 'language development' because they suggest a unified and unifying appreciation of the significance of language in all areas of living and learning, while we are not prevented of course, from discussing and planning for development across the modes of listening, speaking, reading and writing.

However, the times have changed, and here I refer to my own Chair at the University of Melbourne as one small measure of the changes: it is a Chair in Language and Literacy Education. The University chose the term because it was held to embrace the equally important dimensions of language (conceived as essentially oral) and literacy. This is an interesting sign of the times. Literacy, far from being a little used term, as it was in educational discussions for most of the first half of the 20th century, is now very prominent in educational theorising and policy planning.

There is much today, of course, to applaud in recent research and policy interests in literacy. Literacy in the early years, literacy in the transition or middle years 5-8, literacy in the workplace, tertiary literacy, and adult literacy, are now all legitimate areas of research, theorising and discussion. And as I earlier noted, we also have the many other companion terms, such as 'computer literacy' or 'critical literacy', which have achieved considerable currency. In all, the contemporary preoccupations with literacy are welcome.

I would strike only two cautionary notes about the present interests in literacy. Firstly, we need to resist the sometimes naïve tendency to see a clear relationship between literacy and the economic good of the country. It is clear that anyone without literacy in contemporary Australia is enormously disadvantaged and unlikely to find work; it is also clear that we must do all in our power to assist all Australians achieve high levels of literacy. But it is just too easy to argue that possession of literacy guarantees gainful employment. It does not, for the issues are much more complex than that, requiring a range of strategies put in place in all levels of the society to achieve suitable employment for all.

Secondly, while in one way the now very general and varied ways in which the term 'literacy' is used may be useful in that they serve to stimulate interest and awareness, they can also obscure the central role of the language system itself in literacy. My point is that 'literacy' is about language. Where we use the term in such expressions as 'visual literacy', or 'computer literacy', let us recognise that the use is metaphorical, and let us never lose sight of the peculiar significance of language itself in human life, development and learning.

Frances Christie, Foundation Professor of Language and Literacy Education, University of Melbourne

A History of Literacy Provision in Western Australia - Margaret McHugh

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In 1975, the first classes in adult literacy started at Perth Technical College on St Georges Terrace in the central business district. Shortly after, thanks to the efforts of local technical education general studies teachers keen to help apprentices who were struggling with their English and maths, the volunteer literacy tutoring scheme was formed. From its lowly beginnings in 1975, tagged as remedial English, adult literacy provision in Western Australia has grown, predictably in response to special purpose funding, so that at the beginning of the new millennium the language and literacy bridging courses form the second largest component of the state training profile.

Adult literacy as a term may not have had much currency in either policy or programs in 1975. The most superficial of glances at the National Policy on Languages (1986) and the Australian Language and Literacy Policy (1991) illustrates this shift as it begins to happen in the policy documents. Contrast both of these with the 1996 policy-oriented publication, Australian Literacies. A similar shift can be seen in the structuring of provision. English language programs for new adult migrants had been established since the 1950s. In Western Australia, throughout the 1970s and 80s there was sustained effort aimed at developing Western living skills and in particular English literacy for Aboriginal people living in settled as well as remote parts of the State. By comparison, programs for adults from an English speaking culture with a need to improve their literacy and numeracy skills attracted only sporadic funding from State or Commonwealth governments until the Australian Language and Literacy Policy of 1991. As a consequence of the additional Commonwealth funding, as much as the goals of the policy itself, the adult literacy field, aided and abetted by a proliferation of academic interest (nationally and internationally if not at a State level) has emerged to claim an identity which is separate from language teaching on the one hand, and communications or English teaching on the other.

Since 1991, throughout the different waves of reform in the vocational education and training sector, a focus on adult literacy (to include both language and numeracy) has been maintained at the federal level. As a consequence, literacy bridging courses now offer credentials compatible with the Australian Qualifications Framework. The positive effects of this are that students can and do use these credentials as an alternative to school qualifications and can gain access to higher level vocational courses. One of the less positive effects is an emphasis on skills recognition which can lead to a reduction of the centrality of the learner's needs in adult literacy teaching. Some accredited courses tend to replicate the learning outcomes of school-based subject English which are not necessarily relevant to either the working or social lives of many adults. One of the other consequences of these vocational reforms for the state training system is that it is now very difficult to disaggregate the quantity of delivery aimed at particular groups of people. For example in WA, the accredited literacy bridging course is delivered to Aboriginal people, to people from a non-English speaking background and to people with an intellectual disability as well as people with none of these special needs. Therefore the apparent growth in literacy delivery may in fact be more perceived than real.

The term adult literacy, in the minds of many bureaucrats and technocrats, refers to a bridging course and is associated with target (special needs) groups. Efforts to establish diversified literacy services predicated on normalising the needs of substantial proportions of vocational students to access support from literacy teachers while they grapple with their vocational courses therefore tend to meet with resistance born of incomprehension. Unhappily the academic discourse only makes things worse! The term literacies signals the need to move away from a simplistic understanding of literacy as a set of coding skills. The interesting work on language as social practice offers a definition of the literate social subject as a person who is employable, intelligent, self-determined, socially responsible and critically aware. However, it is beyond the means of any state training agency to undertake responsibility for producing these social subjects, and in any case surely this is the brief of the schooling sector! A definition of adult literacy as skills gap - and by this we mean a gap left by a system rather than one inherent in a deficient human being - is a pragmatic device for targetting, and justifying, literacy services to adults. The gaps to be bridged are between what people know and can do and the specific demands of training courses or the worklplace.

In one way, the wheel has come full circle. The first volunteer tutors in WA were trained so that they could give support to apprentices. In 1999, the State training agency in Western Australia accredited a new literacy curriculum solely for the purpose of providing in-situ reading, writing, comprehension and maths support for vocational students. This is necessary because, despite the best efforts of many agencies and individuals to ensure that language, literacy and numeracy will be integrated into vocational teaching and credentialling, the implementation of the new Industry Training Packages threatens to deprive students of access to specialist teaching to develop their so-called generic educational skills. It is interesting to speculate on why it continues to be so difficult to achieve this primary goal (both at home in the State and on the national stage) when so many of us - policy makers, bureaucrats, academics and practitioners - have identified the problem and are working towards a solution. Of course the theories each of us could offer will depend on the position from which we speculate.

Margaret McHugh, WA Department of Training and Employment

(Article drawn from a more substantial work with authors Jennifer Nevard and Anthea Taylor.)

A History of Literacy Provision in South Australia - Jacquie Parslow

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Adult Literacy provision in South Australia evolved from a project in 1976 to investigate the literacy needs of adults. Initially Adult Literacy provision was offered only through TAFE Colleges and was distinctly separate from the Adult Migrant Education Program. Now, 24 years on, literacy and numeracy provision is offered throughout SA by TAFE Institutes, work places, community settings, prisons, re-entry schools and a range of private providers using accredited curricula, and state of the art modes of delivery.

Professionals have always employed strong adult learning principles and placed emphasis on responding to the requirements and needs of students. However, as with programs in other states and territories, provision in SA has been influenced considerably by Commonwealth funding and changing government policies. This has meant constant highs and lows for induction of new staff, professional development, curriculum development, resource and material development as well as staff consistency and program planning.


In the late 70's tutors employed through the Department of Further Education were paid for both one-to-one tuition and small class teaching. A change to volunteer tutors was made for one-to-one tuition but group teachers continued to be paid. A strong volunteer program existed in TAFE until the late 80's with paid lecturing staff providing their initial tutor training and ongoing guidance and support.

From the late 70's and throughout the 80's SA literacy personnel were pioneers in the production of reading, writing and numeracy materials with an adult focus. Many of these resources are still in use throughout Australia. Distance courses using technology, were developed for new readers and writers (Read, Listen Write). Self -paced courses were also written specifically for Aboriginal learners.


In 1988 Community Literacy Programs were initiated by the South Australian Council for Adult Literacy (SACAL) and funded by the former Office of Tertiary Education (OTE), now Adult Community Education (ACE). The Community Literacy Program currently offers accredited and non-accredited literacy provision mostly through Neighbourhood Houses in the metropolitan and semi-rural districts. Paid Community Liaison Officers train, coordinate and support volunteer tutors who work in a range of settings. Many of these classes are run alongside and in conjunction with ESL focused oral language classes

Adult Literacy personnel in SA were constantly involved with curriculum development for the field. A full time General Education course was developed and delivered by literacy teachers at the then Adelaide College of TAFE in the mid 1980's. This course was a forerunner to the accredited Introductory Vocational Educational Certificate course (IVEC) and was developed to respond to adult basic education students needs for pathways to further study and qualifications. The nationally accredited IVEC course includes basic education subjects as well as subjects within vocational programs eg Horticulture, Animal Care, and Office Studies. IVEC has been reviewed twice and still provides valuable links and a vocational pathway for adult basic education learners.


A major influx of funds in the early 90's ($1.5m for SA), as a result of the Australian Language Literacy Policy (ALLP), meant a bonanza for Adult Literacy developments in SA.

Developments included:

National Skills Shortage Teacher Training Program from Commonwealth funds allocated for Adult Literacy teacher training for South Australian rural regions

Special Intervention Program (SIP) funds for unemployed adults which resulted in amazing growth of literacy and numeracy program delivery

Workplace literacy and numeracy programs introduced from DETYA WELL funding

Focus on rural and remote delivery - Development of resource package "Stepping Out - Adult Literacy and Numeracy, Ideas for Tutors and Learners"

Pioneering of development of On-line courses for literacy, numeracy and ESL.

During the 90's other changes in SA included: The transfer, in 1992, of language, literacy and numeracy programs in prisons from TAFE to the Department for Correctional Services.

TAFE Colleges became Institutes with more autonomy.

The devolution of central coordination also led to the demise of central State coordination for Adult Literacy. The Adult Literacy Unit staffed by a Principal Lecturer, administration staff and various seconded staff had been the hub for professional development, curriculum and resource development and maintenance of standards since 1977.

Formation of TAFE SA with institutes having to manage shrinking budgets has had major implications for smaller and commonwealth funds reliant programs. Basic Education programs offering literacy and numeracy and Programs for People with Disabilities are now shrinking in TAFE.

Award restructuring in DETAFE resulted in appointments of Educational Managers not necessarily with knowledge of Basic Education. Their role usurped the Adult Literacy Coordinator and resulted in a diminished voice and networking opportunities.

A massive change in provision in SA is now evident with much of commonwealth funding for delivery allocated to private providers. With diminished TAFE participation in delivery and limited central support the professional development and training to counteract an ageing Basic Education work force is worrying. It would appear that the situation is not unique to SA.

Jacquie Parslow

A History of Literacy Provision in Queensland - Jean Searle

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Although the key events in the early history of adult literacy in Queensland reflected what might be termed direct community action, later events resulted more from changes in government policy at state or national level (often as the result of considerable lobbying), or significant events, for example International Literacy Year, 1990. The following events should be seen as just a few highlights (and a low) to give a flavour of what has happened in Queensland. This does not imply that other events were not important or relevant but that space has restricted the number reported.

During the 1970s, some individuals working in the community recognised a need for adult literacy provision but these initial programs were quite ad hoc, and lacked both coordination and systemic recognition. By 1980, some of these programs were supported by a TAFE Extension Officer (who was also the Queensland representative to ACAL) and a committed TAFE College Principal. This support allowed for the appointment of the first full-time adult literacy officer in TAFE and the commencement of adult literacy classes in TAFE. The first 'key event' for Queensland occurred when these officers arranged for a number of the community providers to come together to form a network to convene the 5th national conference of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy (ACAL), which was held in Brisbane in 1981. This was closely followed, in 1982, by the second 'key event' - the formation of the Queensland Council for Adult Literacy (QCAL). The foundation President of QCAL was Dr Laurie Miller from the University of Queensland and the State Librarian, Lawrie Ryan, became Vice-President. QCAL was established as a community organisation, outside of TAFE and so it was in a strong position to lobby for increased adult literacy provision and a policy position within TAFE.

By 1984, for the first time, there were officers within TAFE Operations Branch who were supportive of the infant adult literacy field and in a position to assist with its development. As a result, a TAFE Basic Education Advisory Committee was established and an adult literacy teacher was seconded to Head Office to write a number of adult literacy policy documents. In addition, Commonwealth funding from the National Policy on Languages (NPL), was used to appoint a further ten permanent full time adult literacy teachers throughout Queensland.

The next crucial time for adult literacy in Queensland was 1988-1989. Several events coincided to present a climate in which an Adult Literacy Information Service could be established and an Adult Literacy Information Officer appointed. An adult literacy teacher (Marian Norton) was again seconded into Head Office to plan for the 12th ACAL National Conference which was held in Brisbane in 1988. She then became Project Officer for the Adult Literacy Action Campaign leading up to International Literacy Year, 1990. In addition, given the importance of ILY, state funds were combined with NPL funding to fund the first full-time position in adult literacy in Head Office, an Adult Literacy Information Officer (Julia Zimmerman).

International Literacy Year, 1990, was doubly important for Queensland. Not only was attention firmly directed towards literacy, it also marked a change in state government (Goss Labor government). ILY funding allowed for a number of initiatives including a review of adult literacy in Queensland (Morris, 1991). Increased Commonwealth funding under the Australian Languages and Literacy Policy (ALLP) for Labor Market Programs meant additional staff were required for the administration and implementation of programs at provider level and the field was still waiting for the promised $1 million state funding for adult literacy. However, by 1991, Adult Language Services (previously located in the Department of Education) had joined Access Education Branch, within the Division of Adult Education to form the Language and Literacy Unit, Access, Equity and Foundation Studies Branch, TAFE.TEQ, and at the end of 1991 the TAFE Training and Employment Queensland (TAFE.TEQ) Language and Literacy Centre was opened by the Minister. The Centre comprised the Language Services Unit, the Literacy Education Unit, the Adult Literacy Information Service and a Workbase Unit, as well as accommodating the Vocational Literacy Officer. This was the high point of adult literacy in Queensland. Unfortunately, due to a State policy of regionalisation, rationalisation, and restructuring, the TAFE.TEQ Language and Literacy Centre was closed by the end of 1992.

The restructure of the Department of Employment, Vocational Education, Training and Industrial Relations resulted in the separation of policy from implementation and evaluation (purchaser from provider). A Vocational Education, Training and Employment Commission (VETEC) was established with TAFE.TEQ becoming just one of a number of providers. Initially the Literacy Services Unit remained within Access, Equity and Foundation Studies, while Community Literacy Programs and the Languages Services Unit were relocated. However, subsequent restructurings resulted in the strong centralised Language and Literacy centre being reduced to two Executive Officers: one for the implementation of literacy policy in the TAFE sector and disbursement of Commonwealth funding to TAFE colleges, the other to organise professional development for TAFE literacy staff. Meanwhile, in 1993, at the national level, the Ministerial Council approved a National Collaborative Adult English Language and Literacy Strategy (NCAELLS). The frame of reference included: setting directions; diversifying and expanding provision; widening the resource base; ensuring equitable access and high quality outcomes; and demonstrating value for money. To implement this in Queensland, VETEC reconvened a Working Group on Language and Literacy to develop a state Adult English Language, Literacy and Numeracy Policy, drawing on the earlier Morris (1991) review of adult literacy in Queensland. The resulting Queensland Adult English Language, Literacy and Numeracy Policy and Implementation Strategy was published in 1994 with the main recommendation being the establishment of a Queensland Adult English Language, Literacy and Numeracy Council (QAELLNC) to operate as a standing committee of VETEC. This Council, which comprises representatives from a range of stakeholders with an Executive Officer located in VETEC, is supported by regional QAELLN networks each of which has an Executive Officer and responds to the needs of the region.

While Queensland has moved towards national accreditation of competency-based adult literacy curricula, has seen the deregulation of training and subsequent multiplicity of language and literacy providers, it is arguably the survival of a strong QAELLN Council that is the key to the future of adult literacy in Queensland.


  1. Australian Advisory Council on Languages and Multicultural Education. (1990). The national policy on languages, December 1987 - March 1990. Report to the Minister for Employment, Education and Training, May 1990. Canberra: Australian Advisory Council on Languages and Multicultural Education Secretariat.
  2. AEC/MOVEET (1993). National Collaborative Adult English Language and Literacy Strategy. National strategy document for effective programming. Sydney: Adult Literacy Information Office.
  3. Commonwealth of Australia. (1991) Australia's language: Australian Languages and Literacy Policy. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.
  4. Department of Employment, Training and Industrial Relations (DETIR). (1994). Queensland Adult English Language, Literacy and Numeracy Policy and Implementation Strategy. Brisbane: Department of Employment, Training and Industrial Relations.
  5. Morris, A. (1991). A Review of adult literacy in Queensland 1990. Report of the Review Committee; and Opening doors: A review of adult literacy needs and provisions in Queensland. Report of the consultant to the working group of the review Committee. Brisbane: Bert Morris and Associates.

Dr Jean Searle, Faculty of Education Griffith University

The Workplace Communication project - Lynne Fitzpatrick

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The inclusion of language, literacy and numeracy skills in national Training Packages has been ANTA policy since 1995, following the decision that relevant underpinning skills and knowledge and core competencies be incorporated into competency standards.

In May 1997 DEETYA funded the Workplace Communication project through ANTA to develop a number of strategies to assist with this. The focus of this project was on integrating language, literacy and numeracy, to 'build it in', to industry standards, by working with the twenty-plus national ITABs and recognised training bodies. The process was to be informed by the National Reporting System (NRS).

Key aspects of the project

There were five key aspects of the project:

Supporting ANTA processes. Presentations about the project were made at regular intervals for ANTA staff and to Executive Officers of National ITABs and recognised training bodies. Literacy-inclusive examples were developed for inclusion in the ANTA Best Practice Manual.

National ITABs and recognised training bodies were required to integrate language, literacy and numeracy into the industry standards which formed the basis of Training Packages. The project provided a literacy consultant to assist ITABs before the Training Package was sent to the National Training Framework committee for endorsement.

Each ITAB was eligible to apply for and develop an industry-specific resource. This part of the project acknowledged that industries have differing communication needs depending on their individual characteristics.

Generic professional development resources targeting different audiences were developed including ANTA's New Steps booklet. Other resources comprised a video and a workbook called Built in Not Bolted On, A New Assessment Tool, and Ten Fold Returns respectively. These have been 'best sellers', and A New Assessment Tool is now available as a PDF file on the ANTA site, (http://www.anta.gov.au). An additional resource for VET in schools teachers has been developed. It is called Forging the Links. Limited copies of these resources are still available from Louise Wignall at wignalll@anta.gov.au

A communication strategy included articles, project up-dates, a national roadshow, an NRS web-site incorporating professional development (http://www.nrs.detya.gov.au


Most Training Packages have a combination of 'stand alone' communication Units and 'technical' Units with integrated language, literacy and numeracy. This does not mean that there are no standalone communication Units. Units from all approved Training Packages can be downloaded from the ANTA. It is interesting to compare 'good' Training Packages with examples from the curriculum-based modules of an earlier generation with their almost complete absence of generic skills and the narrowness of their scope.

One of the less tangible outcomes of the Workplace Communication project but possibly the most important, has been the cultural shift in industry attitudes on language, literacy and numeracy issues. In 1997, when the project was funded, the expectation at ANTA was that a total of 10 National ITABs and recognised training bodies only would take up the project. In fact, by the middle of 1999 all of the National ITABs and recognised training bodies had participated in some way in the project.

Acceptance of the importance of communication issues at all levels in a workforce, not as an issue affecting workers at the 'lowest' levels.

Relevant contextualised training including generic skills, and portable qualifications, benefit workers at all levels of the workforce.


Some of the issues emerging are:

The most important issue for implementation is related to nominal hours for Training Package units. In order to work out how much each Unit 'costs' in order to fund training, state training authorities are assigning nominal hours to Units in Training Packages, or assigning hours at the Certificate level. It is difficult for language, literacy and numeracy practitioners to argue for time to teach the Underpinning Skills. Each state and territory training authority will need to tackle the nominal hours issue for language, literacy and numeracy in Training Packages as part of their implementation strategy, and it is pleasing to note that some states are starting to address this.

Each industry requires differing types and levels of language, literacy and numeracy skills. Compare the writing skills necessary even at low AQF levels in the Administration Training Package with what is required at a similar AQF level in Construction Training Australia's Training Package. This makes adopting common communication units across industries extremely problematic, especially for those who want to apply a 'one size fits all' approach to delivery

Issues to do with assessment are now surfacing. Who is qualified to assess? This is set out in the Assessment Guidelines for each Training Package.

While the WELL funded project concluded at the end of December 1999, Louise Wignall (Project Manager for ANTA of the Workplace Communication in national Training Packages project) is still available at ANTA's Melbourne office to assist with related enquiries.

Lynne Fitzpatrick, Communication in Education and Training (email commet@labyrinth.net.au)

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