The Australian Council for Adult Literacy promotes adult literacy and numeracy policy and practice.

November 2020

In this issue

1. From The President
2. New ACAL committee members
3. 2021 ACAL membership fees – no increase
4. Excellence in Language, Literacy and Numeracy Practice Award
– 2020 Winner – Rachel Leigh Taylor, Northern Territory
– 2020 Finalist – Yvette Terpstra, Western Australia
5. Digital Literacy Skills Framework – Department Update
6. Teaching in Isolation – ACAL study: Adult Literacy and Numeracy Teaching experiences during the 2020 COVID-19 Isolation Period – ACAL study
7. Filling in Forms – New Research
8. Online Learning, Digital isolation and COVID-19
9. Have you read this? Critical Connections Between Numeracy and Mathematics: Issues in the Teaching of Mathematics (2020) by Dave Tout
10. Have you seen this? Reading Between the Lines SBS documentary
11. SBS seeks learners for adult literacy doco
12. Why do people choose to study a specialist LN?
13. The adult literacy/numeracy teacher: an endangered species?
14. In the states and territory
– More reductions to adult literacy learning opportunities in the NT
– Tasmania’s Adult Learning Strategy and 26TEN Communities
– VALBEC Conference Dec 2, 2020
15. Job opportunity teaching LLN – regional NSW
16. Profiling literacy and numeracy specialists – Stephen Goldberg
17. UN calls for funding for youth and adult literacy post-COVID

1. From The President

Jo Medlin

In 2005 one of the findings of a literature review about the LN workforce in Australia was that there was little professional development (PD) available to teachers and educators about teaching and learning. Information suggested that most PD was focused on compliance, systems and processes. 

 In 2020 there seem to be many opportunities for teachers, volunteers and other education stakeholders to engage in PD about teaching and learning. This is a heartening change, possibly spurred on by the covid pandemic where so much online activity has provided new opportunities for sharing information. Coming out of an era where there were constant complaints about all PD being about compliance, regulations, paperwork and little about content this seems like a great opportunity for people new to the field to be exposed to the breadth and depth of LN, and for old hands to refresh, update and share their skills and knowledge.  

I encourage you to explore the many opportunities available to be involved in PD. You’ll find info in our newsletters available on the ACAL website, which include presentations but also informal PD such as readings and articles. PD opportunities can also be accessed by joining the state organisations, and by searching online for networks where people are generously sharing information.  Many of these opportunities are being provided by organisations staffed by volunteers – it would be good to see more RTOs, government departments, and large organisations funding PD. PD improves teaching which improves learning – so everyone wins. 

If you attend a PD that you’d like to tell us about please contact us via email or the website. We would like to share some stories about the types of PD people are engaged in and what they are finding valuable.

Best wishes to everyone teaching at this busy time of the year as we start to look at finalising 2020 classes and assisting learners to access suitable pathways in 2021. It’s a busy time of year – but when isn’t it!

Jo Medlin

ACAL President

Debra Urquhart and Meg Cotter 2. New ACAL committee members 

Welcome to two co-opted members this month: Debra Urquhart (left) and Meg Cotter (right).  

Meg was the ACAL Vice President in 2020 and past VALBEC Co-president. She has extensive experience in LLN teaching, resource development, professional development training, community engagement, and senior administrative positions in the adult community education sector.  

Debra was the NSW representative in 2018 and 2019 and has extensive experience in teaching, educational administration and literacy management for both government and in service provision. These days Debra is a researcher, with an interest in youth engagement in adult literacy programs.

3. 2021 ACAL membership fees – no increase

ACAL logo

The ACAL Committee have decided to keep the fees for 2021 are the same as 2020 with a wider description for a concession fee to include those who may be financially impacted by COVID.

  • Students and low income $60
  • Individuals $75
  • Organisations with 10 or fewer staff $170
  • Organisations with more than 10 staff $270

Join here

Renew here

4. Excellence in Language, Literacy and Numeracy Practice Award

2020 Winner – Rachel Leigh Taylor, Northern Territory

2020 winnersWith master’s degree specialising in literacy, Rachel started working in foundation literacy after an earlier career as an English language teacher. She has worked across the Northern Territory assisting Indigenous Australians to enhance their literacy and foundations skills and gain employment and community engagement roles.

Congratulations Rachel! More

2020 Finalist – Yvette Terpstra, Western Australia

Yvette Terpstra is a language, literacy and numeracy specialist. She teaches at-risk youth, and inmates at a remand and reintegration facility.

Congratulations Yvette More

5. Digital Literacy Skills Framework – Department Update

Foundation Skills for Your Future Program, Department of Education, Skills and Employment

In late 2019 the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (The Department) commissioned Escalier McLean consulting to develop the Digital Literacy Skills Framework (Framework) to support the Foundation Skills for Your Future Program (the Program), which commenced in May of this year. The Framework was created to support Program providers to assess the digital skills of potential participants for the Program and to assist providers to create appropriate training projects to improve the digital skills of participants.

The Honourable Steven Joyce acknowledged the importance of digital literacy skills in the 2019 report Expert Review of Australia’s Vocational Education and Training System. The inclusion of digital literacy within the Program reinforces the concept that digital literacy is part of an integral suite of core skills that are fundamental for individuals to be able to participate in society and work.

The Framework has been developed with reference to the Australian Government Core Skills for Work Developmental Framework and Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF). It uses the same terminology and structure of the ACSF and has been added as the sixth core skill to provide a coherent approach for the identification and development of core digital skills through shared language and concepts, while also enabling benchmarking, monitoring and reporting.

The Framework :

  • Mirrors the layout of the ACSF;
  • Combines performance variables of pre-level A & B  to Level 3 in the Digital Performance Variable Grid, and demonstrates the support required at each level to mirror the ACSF;
  • Cross references features for each performance indicator from the Core Skills Framework and for consistency mirrors the performance features of the ACSF.

Though the Framework was developed for use in the Program the Department has agreed to practitioners in the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) and the Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program trialling the Framework.

The Department is hoping to evaluate the Framework in early 2021.

6. Teaching in Isolation – ACAL study

ACAL logoAdult Literacy and Numeracy Teaching experiences during the 2020 COVID-19 Isolation Period – ACAL study

The purpose of this study was for ACAL to learn what it was like teaching adult literacy and numeracy using one or more online platforms during the recent COVID-19 isolation period.

It is intended that this report serve as a resource to stimulate conversations about online teaching in the field. The survey comprised 25 questions, some of which were multiple-choice and others required a more extended response.

It was developed using Google Forms and, after a number of iterations, was distributed for completion via the ACAL e-newsletter in early August 2020. 52 practitioners participated in the survey and their responses were collated and are discussed briefly in this document.

This report is now available here.

7. Filling in Forms – New Research

Reading Writing HotlineThe Reading Writing Hotline has partnered with NSW Council of Social Service (NCOSS) to examine how much literacy support is given to assisting clients trying to access essential services.  The Hotline engaged Social Equity Works to conduct the research with 70 community organisations in NSW and 8 libraries in the City of Sydney library network. 92% of respondents to the research reported the literacy and numeracy challenges faced by their clients, prevented them from improving their quality of life.

The Hotline has seen an increase in calls from individuals and community service organisation looking for assistance with form filling. Callers reported finding forms difficult to navigate, were displayed with too much information on each page, used technical language and had confusing instructions.

See the research

8. Online Learning, Digital isolation and COVID-19

COVID -19 lockdowns and the change to online classes resulted in a very steep learning curve for many teachers and their learners. Whilst there is a trajectory toward maintaining online learning, we asked: does this meet the needs of all learners?

What were the experiences of adult literacy learning during the pandemic? What have we learned for the future?  What are the assumptions made about online learning?

These questions were considered by member of the Reading Writing Hotline’s Steering Committee and has been summarised into a brief report.

Get the report.

9. Have you read this?

Critical Connections Between Numeracy and MathematicsCritical Connections Between Numeracy and Mathematics: Issues in the Teaching of Mathematics (2020) by Dave Tout

Increasingly research is showing that life and work in the 21st century is requiring higher levels of mathematics and numeracy of its citizens. Numeracy and mathematics are intrinsically connected and BOTH are needed in our ever changing, globalised and technological world. This paper looks at the implications of this for the skills we want our students to develop and leave school with, and how we can better address these in our teaching and learning.

Download the article

10. Have you seen this?

Reading Between the Lines SBS documentary’t miss your last chance to watch Reading Between the Lines.  This SBS Insight episode is available until December 2020 so jump online now before it’s too late.

Synopsis: Why do so many Australians have poor literacy? Around 44 per cent of adult Australians have literacy levels that make everyday tasks – like filling out a form or reading a prescription – very difficult. Our numeracy levels are worse. Insight speaks to a number of Australians from all ages and backgrounds who have lived a life with low literacy in a world that assumes that they don’t exist. Hosted by award-winning journalist Jenny Brockie.

View the program

SBS-Endemolshine flyer

11. SBS seeks learners for adult literacy doco

Last month we introduced readers to the production company Endemolshine who plan to produce an Australian documentary series for SBS on adult literacy learners.

ACAL have provided a letter of endorsement of the concept to SBS, based on a series of consultations and the subsequent responsiveness of the Endemolshine team.

The production company is still seeking participants for the documentary series. If you are aware of an adult learner, or group of learners who may benefit from this opportunity, you may wish to put them in touch with Endemolshine. Preferably the leaners would be in the Sydney region, or at least NSW.

Flyer with details

12. Why do people choose to study a specialist LN qualification?

Thank you to the TAFE NSW Graduate Diploma in Adult Language, Literacy and Numeracy student who agreed to share reasons for enrolling in a higher qualification that specialises in adult literacy and numeracy:

“I live in a remote community where opportunities for many adults are clouded by trauma, low literacy and addiction. The youth have few role models. Some adults are bored and want change. The youth desperately need that change to occur if they are to discover the many opportunities within their town and the wider world. I chose to study Adult LLN to enable me to facilitate change. By understanding how to teach adults, I can be of assistance to my community.”

“For those adults looking at improving their options, a fear of what they don’t know and a fear of not being able to learn things is blocking progress. My current studies are improving my awareness of these fears and equipping me with ways to present learning that acknowledges what they know and gently builds upon it. Specialised training in Adult LLN gives me skills to create successful lessons and programs. It guides me in individualising activities within the group context. It hones my awareness to the hesitations of my learners.”

13. The adult literacy/numeracy teacher: an endangered species?

As an experienced adult basic education teacher with a string of post-grad qualifications to my name, I find myself these days working on two LLN teacher training programs.  They are both from the TAE suite, but the stark differences in the work remind me on a daily basis what it really means to be an “LLN expert”, and how important it is that we value, nurture and pass on this specialised knowledge.

Exhibit A is the meal-ticket TAELLN411 unit, delivering to wannabe VET trainers: one term, AQF 4, an ‘awareness’ unit. Exhibit B is the Grad Dip Adult LLN. Two years, AQF 8, an expert-level qualification.

With the 411 unit, I see people struggling to even see what the difference is between regular classroom teaching, and strategies that might be helpful to LLN learners. Our specialised work is mostly totally invisible to them. Lip service is paid to our techniques – like writing in Plain English, or scaffolding a task – but people finish the unit with no idea of how to actually do this. The subtle art of assessing what LLN troubles learners have – and more importantly, why – is redacted to a box with a couple of ACSF numbers in it. It’s great that teachers are required to know a little about literacy issues…but it’s such a little.

My joy is working on Exhibit B, the Grad Dip LLN. As people start to synthesize theoretical readings with practical, learner-centred assignments, the penny drops. Over two years they start to build the deep repertoire needed for literacy and numeracy work.

So many important things! An understanding of how language and text works; an appreciation of barriers to learning and the effects of shame and fear; the ability to build bridges between the familiar and the overwhelming; to analyse and unpack the skills that underpin supposedly ‘everyday’ tasks; to carefully design contextualised sequences of work that slowly build confidence.

These days it seems hard to find agreement on what an LLN expert is, and even harder to track one down.   As our workforce ages, as numeracy falls off agendas, as boundaries blur between ESOL and literacy in ‘Foundation Studies’, we need to make sure that this endangered species doesn’t become extinct.

Jill Finch
TAFENSW Ultimo College/TAFE Digital Strathfield

Thanks to Jill Finch for this thought provoking article. With limited training opportunities available to engage in formal adult literacy and numeracy teaching qualifications available in Australia it is timely indeed.

Jill featured in our LLN Practitioner Profile in September 2019.

14. In the states and territory

More reductions to adult literacy learning opportunities in the NT

Following a financial decision to restructure CDU, there will now be fewer courses available in the NT. CDU includes vocational education, and this is one of the areas targeted for reduction.

More information available here

Tasmania’s Adult Learning Strategy and 26TEN Communities

At the launch of the Adult Learning Strategy: TCAL President, Lucy Whitehead; 26TEN members, Siobhan Gaskell and Gail Eaton-Briggs; 26TEN Manager, Sue Costello.On 24th November, Jeremy Rockliff, the Minister for Education, launched Tasmania’s Adult Learning Strategy 2020-2023.

Literacy and numeracy are the top priority in the Strategy.

The Strategy includes expanding the 26TEN Communities model by funding seven new communities by 2023-24.

Find out more about the new 26TEN Communities:  Local Literacy for Work and Life program.

VALBEC Conference Dec 2, 2020

All Comers Welcome | Educating for community and growth – Online. Registrants will have access to live and pre-recorded sessions which will be available to them for 6 months following the conference.

Keynote speaker, Victoria Wilson, Lecturer, English Language & Academic Communication, Open Access College, USQ presents on the important topic of Student Voice: Embracing our learners’ knowledge in teaching and research

Full-price = $70; VALBEC Members = Free; VALBEC Pro rata membership = $52.50 (valid until April 2021 and includes Fine Print 2020: vol 43 # 3 and 2021 vol 44 # 1)

Be part of VALBEC’s new endeavour. And remember, All Comers are Welcome

Full details

15. Job opportunity teaching LLN – regional NSW

TAFE NSW is recruiting casual teachers in small regional locations across Boggabilla, Lightning Ridge, Mudgee & Walgett . The role is listed as Part Time Casual Teacher of Language, Literacy and Numeracy-00007X66 at the TAFE NSW.

To find out more about this role or to apply online, click here.

16. Profiling literacy and numeracy specialists

Stephen GoldbergIn this section we profile LN specialists to demonstrate the range of qualifications and experience that lead to expertise in the field. We encourage all readers to refer to the National Framework as a reminder that the TAELLN411 unit is an awareness unit and is at the start of a journey in LN teaching. For those wishing to extend from awareness to developing teaching skills we encourage shadowing, mentoring and training –  several RTOs  are currently delivering the TAE80113 Graduate Diploma in LLN Practice and information can be found at

Stephen Goldberg

Teacher Educational Pathways, Career Pathways, Aboriginal Languages and Employability Skills

“I started by accident having spent time as a failed hippy, a family friend suggested that my Dip Teach with subjects in Music and Drama might be useful in getting me some work as a sessional adult literacy teacher. She had seen an ad in her local newspaper advertising a position at a college in western Sydney. I rang up and went for an interview the next day. By evening, I was in front of a class. I was the only applicant for the job.”

See more about Stephen’s journey in adult education

17. UN calls for funding for youth and adult literacy post-COVID

UN assemblyOn 16 November 2020, the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly adopted by consensus the resolution “Literacy for life: shaping future agendas”. where the UN General Assembly emphasized that literacy is “a foundation for lifelong learning, a building block for achieving human rights and fundamental freedoms and a driver of sustainable development.” It also underscores that literacy is crucial to the “acquisition by every child, young person and adult of the essential knowledge, skills and competencies that will enable them to address the challenges that they may face in life and represents an essential condition of lifelong learning.”

Some startling facts from the UN (prior to the impact of covid) include:

  • 773 million adults lack basic literacy skills
  • two thirds of that 773 million adults are women
  • more than 617 million children and adolescents were not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics
  •  258 million children, adolescents and youth worldwide were out of school.

In the face of COVID-19 pandemic, this resolution calls:

  •  on international development partners and Governments to ensure that sufficient and sustainable funds continue to be mobilized
  • governments at all levels to scale up literacy programmes for all boys and girls, youth and adults, including older persons
  • on governments to pay particular attention to those who are vulnerable or marginalized
  •  for Member States, United Nations organizations, civil society, academia and the private sector to collectively contribute to the implementation of the Strategies (2020–2025) of the Global Alliance for Literacy.

Relevant links include UNESCO’s new Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy (2020 – 2025) and its action plan and the Global Alliance for Literacy

Read the funding call here


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Contact ACAL

GPO Box 2283 Canberra ACT 2601