Creating and Sustaining International Connections: exploring the learning opportunities for Studying Creative Understandings about Teaching and Research for Equity and Access

Table 9: Study Mode Differences in Learning Approaches

Learning approach DLA SLA Row totals

Full-time students 97 34 131

Part-time students 100 30 130

Column totals 197 64 261

No statistically significant difference between full-time and part-time students is found in relation to their learning approach, χ2 (1, N = 261) = 0.292, P = 0.589. That is, no evidence is found that mature and part-time students tend to employ the deep approach compared with younger and full-time students in Hong Kong sub-degree learning environment.

Conclusion

The positive relationship between deep approach and academic performance may be caused by a variety of factors. First, the assessments of finance students appear to reward the deep approach. Students who use the deep approach may not match the specific demands of the assessment in other disciplines. Byrne and Willis (1997, 2001) argued that public school examinations in Ireland promote the surface approach. Biggs (1994), Marton & Saljo (1976) and Sternberg (1997) argued that the assessment format has a strong impact on how students approach their study. Second, learning approaches can be affected by variables such as heavy course work, didactic teaching method, or over-lecturing in Hong Kong (Gow et al, 1990).

From a practical perspective, the present study shows that lecturers should be aware of the impact of learning approach on academic performance. The present findings revealed that it is needed to teach students some basic learning strategies to enable them to perform better academically. This enhancement in learning strategies is only a necessary condition, not a sufficient condition, for improving students’ academic performance. Ramsden (1987) argues that raising students’ awareness of learning approaches is an integral part of effective teaching.

It is argued that the learning approach students use will be affected by factors such as study habits, the nature of the course content, assessment method, the workload, the teaching method and the students’ perception of the relevance of course materials and career development, interpersonal contact with peers and teachers, out-of-class learning activities and interest of the course (Gibbs, 1992; Ramsden, 1987).

In the light of mixed previous findings, the generalization of the relationship between deep approach and academic performance is in need of further studies. This study was quantitative in nature. It would be useful to use qualitative research to reveal insights into the relationship between learning approach and academic performance in higher education. This study is limited by the sample size. More studies could be taken in other countries’ sub-degree institutions and comparison could be considered in different learning contexts with larger sample sizes.

References

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Symposium

Practising equity in a policy-for-profit world: international perspectives on adult literacy Introduction

Tannis Atkinson, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada

This symposium brings together theoretical and empirical perspectives on shifts in adult literacy education in Scotland, England, Portugal and Canada over the past two decades, noting the intersections and conflicts between theory, policy and practice in these contexts and paying particular attention to how recent policies have affected teaching and research for equity and access to learning. The symposium includes presentations describing four different adult literacy campaigns: three national policy frameworks informed by the OECD’s International Adult Literacy Survey, and one based on a theoretical understanding of literacy as situational and context-bound. The symposium will illustrate both differences and striking similarities in the four contexts. Presenters will highlight the various ways in which theory, practice and policy are interrelated; they will also discuss what opportunities exist for issues of equity, access and social justice in each context.

Nearly three decades of empirical research and theoretical discussion have helped us to understand literacy as not merely a discrete and autonomous skill, but as situated, social, multiple, complex—as ‘literacies’—(Scribner and Cole, 1981; Heath, 1983; Street, 1995; Barton et al, 1994; Breier and Prinsloo, 1996; Barton and Hamilton, 1998) yet this shift in thinking has rarely penetrated policy development. At the same time as theoretical understandings of literacies have become more expansive, policies that inform literacy education have become increasingly narrow (Sandlin and Clarke, 2009; Weiner, 2005; Kell, 2001; Shore, 2009, Hamilton, 2001). During the past three decades, for example, the OECD has carved out and steadfastly maintained its pivotal position in adult literacy policy development using large-scale international literacy surveys. The implementation of the surveys was a response to ‘a revival of human capital asset thinking’ (Lo Bianco and Wickert, 2001) and international comparisons of adult literacy scores have become a litmus test of national adult literacy policies and ‘evidence’ of a nation’s capacity to compete (Darville,1999; Hamilton, 2001; Jackson and Slade 2008). This symposium will consider the range of responses from policy-makers, researchers and practitioners to this environment, highlighting the complexities and tensions. This symposium will also offer alternative perspectives and strategies—including international collaboration—that could reinvigorate the field.

References

Barton D, Hamilton M and Ivanič R (eds.) (1994) Worlds of literacy, Clevedon and Toronto, Multilingual Matters and Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Barton D and Hamilton M (1998) Local literacies: reading and writing in one community, London, Routledge.

Breier M and Prinsloo M (eds.) (1996) The social uses of literacy: theory and practice in contemporary South Africa, Cape Town, Sached Books.

Darville R (1999) ‘Knowledges of adult literacy: Surveying for competitiveness', International Journal of Educational Development, 19:4-5, 273-85.

Hamilton M (2001) ‘Privileged literacies: policy, institutional process and the life of the IALS’, Language and Education,15:2-3, 178-196.

Heath S B (1983) Ways with words: language, life and work in communities and classrooms, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Jackson N and Slade B (2008) '"Hell on my face": the production of workplace il-literacy', in M DeVault (ed.), People at work: life, power and social inclusion in the new economy, New York and London, New York University Press, pp.25-39.

Kell C (2001) ‘Ciphers and currencies: literacy dilemmas and shifting knowledges’, Language and Education, 15, 197-211.

LoBianco J and Wickert R (eds.) (2001) Australian policy activism in language and literacy, Melbourne, Language Australia.

Sandlin J & Clarke M C (2009) ‘From opportunity to responsibility: political master narratives, social policy, and success stories in adult literacy education’, Teachers College Record, 111, 999-1029.

Scribner S & Cole M (1981), The psychology of literacy, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.

Shore, S (2009) ‘Literacy surveys as racial projects: contemporary debates about literacy and skill development’, in M Weil, L Koski and L Mjelde (eds.) Knowing work: the social relations of working and knowing, Bern and New York, Peter Lang.

Street B (1995), Social literacies: critical approaches to literacy in development, ethnography, and education, London, Longman.

Weiner E (2005) ‘Keeping adults behind: adult literacy education in the age of official reading regimes’, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 49, 286-301.

Searching for Alberta’s literacy policy, if found what difference would it make?

Audrey Gardner, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada

After years of adult literacy practitioners calling for a literacy policy the Alberta provincial government in Canada produced ‘Living Literacy: A literacy framework for Alberta’s next generation economy’ (2009). This ‘framework for action’ (Government of Alberta, 2009, p. 1) has become an influential text in the dominant discourse on adult literacy in Alberta. It is frequently referenced in literacy presentations, reports and conversations in government, adult education institutions and literacy organizations. Ackland (2006) describes discourse as ‘a shifting representation of social reality, both a cause and an effect of ideological change’ (p. 37). As a discursive text Living Literacy presents an explanation of what literacy is, a rationale for why it matters and a vision for ‘Albertans (to) have the literacy competencies to participate fully and successfully in living, learning, and work’ (Government of Alberta, 2009, p. 6). It outlines priority actions including goals, indicators and outcomes. I contend that Living Literacy has come to be perceived as a policy text even though a specific policy is not explicit in it or in relation to it. In this paper I will investigate how the Living Literacy text is interpreted in the current dominant discourse in Alberta.

Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) grounded in social theories is concerned with connections between social relations of power and use of language. Fairclough has written extensively on CDA and states ‘Discourses do not just reflect or represent social entities and relations they construct or ‘constitute’ them’ (1992, p. 3). He provides a three-dimensional theoretical and methodological framework and notes ‘Any discursive event (i.e. any instance of discourse) is seen as being simultaneously a piece of text, an instance of discursive practice, and an instance of social practice’ (Fairclough, 1992, p. 4). A thorough analysis of the Living Literacy document is beyond the scope of this paper however I will endeavor to analyze one discursive event, one piece of text in the Living Literacy and its meaning in all three dimensions of CDA. A discursive event is an instance of language use and its connection with social relations of power (Blommaert and Bulcaen, 2000; Fairclough, 2003).

The discursive event is the specific use of ‘level 3’ from the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) measurement scale. In Living Literacy the term ‘level 3’ is used seven times in the 15-page document. One usage of ‘level 3’ reflects a threshold to measure literacy by: ‘Individuals at level 3 are viewed as having skills adequate to cope with demands of today’s society’ (p. 2). ‘Level 3’ is also presented as a goal for increasing literacy: ‘More Albertans have a minimum of level 3 on international adult literacy measures’ (p. 6). A third example of how the language of ‘level 3’ is used in this document is as a targeted outcome: ‘By 2020, 70% of Albertans will have a minimum of level 3 on international adult literacy measures’ (p. 3).

The phrase ‘on international adult literacy measures’ refers to the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) (Murray et al, 2005). The overall purpose of IALS is to inform government policy that will build human capital and strengthen national economic competitiveness. Living Literacy can be viewed as an IALS text as it reinforces the notion that literacy is an economic object. IALS was initiated in the mid-1990’s by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in partnership with Statistics Canada and the Educational Testing Services in the United States of America. Two surveys have been completed to date and a third the Programme for Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIACC) is being launched in 2011. In Alberta the government has coordinated provincial participation in all three surveys.

IALS (meaning all three surveys) is much more than a measurement instrument, it is a distinct conceptual framework that has created new knowledge about adult literacy in Canada. How IALS is taken up in Living Literacy and how Living Literacy is taken up in the adult literacy field in Alberta represent discursive practices ‘where relations of power are enacted’ (Wickert, 1991, p. 50). CDA describes discursive practices as processes in which written and spoken texts are produced, distributed, circulated and consumed that influence and are influenced by contextual power dynamics (Blommaert and Bulcaen, 2000).

In regards to CDA’s third dimension discourse as social practice refers to what Darville (1999) calls a ‘literacy regime’ (p. 274) and Fairclough describes as ‘order of discourse within hegemonic processes’ (Blommaert and Blucaen, 2000, p. 449). Discursive social practice represents IALS as the only story of literacy (Hamilton, 2001), and Living Literacy is most likely positioned as discursive practice within this dynamic hegemonic process. It could be argued that questioning the purpose of Living Literacy, including the discursive practice of it as a policy text, is resisting the hegemony of IALS. Blommaert and Bulcaen (2001) note ‘discourse is an opaque power in modern societies and CD aims to make it more visible and transparent.’ (p. 448). The simultaneity of the CDA three-dimensional framework challenges us to address the textually mediated social inequality, which can be as simple as questioning if a government document is a policy.

References

Ackland A (2006) ‘Lizard dressed as lamb? A cautionary reading of the discourse of the Scottish Adult Literacies Initiative’, Research and Practice in Adult Literacy: RaPaL Journal, 60, 37-45.

Blommaert J and Bulcaen C (2000) ‘Critical discourse analysis’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 29, 447-466.

Darville R (1999) ‘Knowledges of adult literacy: surveying for competitiveness’, International Journal of Educational Development, 19:4-5, 273-285.

Fairclough N (2003) Analysing discourse: textual analysis for social research, Oxen, Routledge.

Fairclough N (1992) Discourse and social change, Cambridge, Polity Press.

Government of Alberta (2009) Living literacy: a framework for Alberta’s next generation economy, Edmonton, Government of Alberta.

Hamilton M (2001) ‘Privileged literacies: policy, institutional process and the life of the IALS’, Language and Education, 15:2-3, 178-196.

Murray S T, Clermont Y and Binkley M (2005), Measuring adult literacy and life skills: new frameworks for assessment, Ottawa, Statistics Canada.

Wickert R (1991) ‘Maintaining power over the literacy agenda’, Australian Journal for Adult Literacy Research and Practice, 2:1, 40-54.

Analysing adult literacy policy and equity in England using a literacy as social practice perspective

Mary Hamilton, Literacy Research Centre, Lancaster University, England

The UK national governments operate within layers of international policy. Currently the most influential of these are the OECD and its regional partners in the European Union (Henry et al, 2001; Rivzi and Lingard, 2009). A challenge for literacy policy analysis, therefore, is to identify the ways in which the effects of global policy regimes play out across different countries, teasing out specific, local characteristics from the broader layers of international interventions. A number of specific features in the UK literacy policy environment have mediated the effects of global and European discourses and in this paper I will describe this interplay, showing the ‘two-way’ flow between national and international influences that Urry (2003) describes in his discussions of glocalisation.

The paper focuses specifically on issues of access and equity in recent English adult literacy policy. It goes on to look at how the theoretical perspective of literacy as part of social practice might support an equity agenda in the context of powerful neoliberal discourses.

The OECD and the European Union broadly share a view of countries, and their citizens, competing within a global marketplace and they concur on the importance of developing policy indicators that can measure performance across nations. The EU promotes the harmonization of educational and training qualifications to facilitate the movement of labour across member countries. This entails developing common measures of achievement (Grek, 2009) and this has been reflected in continuing efforts since the late 1980s in the UK to produce a standardised national framework for adult literacy and numeracy qualifications that can be calibrated against the national vocational qualifications framework (NVQF), school measures of achievement and the levels of the International Adult Literacy Survey (Hamilton and Hillier, 2007). Another important concern in the European Union which can be traced in local policy is that of citizenship (Dwyer, 2004). This both promotes the idea of people belonging to national states within a broader European formation within which communalities of interest can be built on, but also involves protecting the boundaries of those states from unwanted migrant populations.

I will offer some observations about the effects of neoliberal globalisation policy on equity and access for adult literacy learners in England drawing attention especially to four aspects of provision: (1) the measurement and commodification of literacy skills (Hamilton, 2001); (2) the increasing vocationalisation of provision (see DIUS; 2009) (3) the ways in which funding favors those nearest to the threshold of success (the ‘low hanging fruit’) (see Bathmaker 2007) and (4) divisive approaches to language education and migration which has resulted in restricting access to ESOL even though it has been classified as part of basic skills provision (Cooke and Simpson, 2009).

Literacy Studies sees literacy as part of social practice. The meanings and values of literacy are contingent and situated, shifting according to context, purpose and social relations (Barton et al 2000; Street and Lefstein, 2008). Scholars of literacy studies have concentrated on describing the vernacular, everyday practices of reading and writing. They view institutions as selecting and privileging certain practices and policy regimes are one example of this. I will argue that a social practice approach to literacy research can support equity and access through the insistence on diversity which is built into this perspective; by deconstructing the power relations within which literacy is learned and used and by contesting, through its chosen methodologies, the dominant technical/rationalist approach to literacy and policy.

References

Barton D, Hamilton M and Ivanič R (eds.) (2000) Situated literacies: reading and writing in context, London, Routledge.

Bathmaker A-M (2007) ‘The impact of Skills for Life on adult basic skills in England: how should we interpret trends in participation and achievement?’, International Journal of LifelongEducation, 26:3, 295-313.

Cooke M and Simpson J (2009) ‘Challenging agendas in ESOL: skills, employability and social cohesion’, Language Issues, 20:1, 19-31.

Department for Education and Skills (2001) Skills for Life, London, HMSO.

Department for Work and Pensions (2001) United Kingdom national action plan on social inclusion 2001-2003, London, HMSO.

Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (2009) Skills for Life: changing lives, London, HMSO.

Dwyer P (2004) ‘Creeping conditionality in the UK: from welfare rights to conditional entitlements’, Canadian Journal of Sociology, 29:2, 265-287.

Grek S (2009) ‘Governing by numbers: the PISA effect in Europe’, Journal of Education Policy, 24:1, 23-37.

Hamilton M (2001) ‘Privileged literacies: policy, institutional process and the life of the International Adult Literacy Survey’, Language and Education, 15:2-3, 178-196.

Hamilton M (2009) ‘Putting words in their mouths: the alignment of identities with system goals through the use of individual learning plans’, British Educational Research Journal, 35:2, 221-242.

Hamilton M and Hillier Y (2006) Changing faces of adult literacy, language and numeracy: a critical history of policy and practice, London, Trentham Books.

Hamilton M and Hillier Y (2007) ‘Deliberative policy analysis: adult literacy assessment and the politics of change’, Journal of Educational Policy, 22:5, 573-594.

Hamilton M and Pitt K (forthcoming) ‘Changing policy discourses: constructing literacy inequalities’, Special Issue of International Journal of Educational Development.

Henry M, Lingard B, Rivzi F and Taylor S (2001) The OECD, globalisation and education policy, Oxford, Pergamon.

Moser C (1999) Improving literacy and numeracy: A fresh start, The report of the working group chaired by Sir Claus Moser, London, Department for Education and Employment.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (2000) Literacy in the information age, Paris, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Rizvi F and Lingard B (2009) Globalizing education policy, London, Routledge.

Street, B V and Lefstein A (2008) Literacy: an advanced resource book, London, Routledge.

Urry J (2003) Global complexity, Cambridge, Polity Books.

Contradictory discourses: the politicization of the ‘local’ and access to literacy education

Suzanne Smythe, Simon Fraser University, Canada

In 2009-2010, sixty-three adult literacy educators in British Columbia participated in a web-survey designed to gauge interest in a certificate in literacy education proposed by Simon Fraser University. Responses suggested that professional development for adult literacy educators must be studied in the context of broader policies of access and equity in literacy learning. This paper thus reports on a slice of the survey findings, suggesting that ‘contradictory discourses’ (DeVault, 2008) and policies that ostensibly permit greater local control and agency to ‘meet community needs’, are narrowing access to literacy education for low-income British Columbian adults with little formal education. These competing processes are not accidental, nor inconsequential: Attending to how local literacy work is coordinated extra-locally (Smith, 2005), can make visible patterns of inequality, as well as opportunities to interrupt these patterns.

Local contexts and universalizing texts

Processes of inequality, like literacies, are best illuminated through attention to the local. Negotiating the discursive terrain of IALS and OECD, survey respondents observe that the status of ‘low literacy’ or a ‘Level One or Two’ learner (OECD and Statistics Canada 2005) has become a marker for decisions about access to learning resources among colleges, employment agencies, school districts and welfare offices. This plays out differently across geographical, cultural, social and economic contexts. For example, an adult who experiences reading and writing difficulties as a newcomer to Vancouver and to Canada, who is not literate in her first language, or who perhaps speaks a language for which there is no writing system, faces learning challenges and instructional needs that are distinct in many ways from a middle-aged adult native speaker of English, living in rural BC, who completed Grade 10 twenty years before, and is returning to school to qualify for career and job training programs. The learning conditions for each of these adults, the rules governing access to education while receiving social assistance or employment insurance benefits (Butterwick & White, 2006), even the extent to which each can travel to their classes using public transit, access the Internet, or find a qualified educator, varies widely, and shapes fundamentally access to ‘powerful literacies’ (Crowther, Hamilton and Tett, 2001).

In contrast, institutions that govern adult literacy work in BC use universalizing metaphors to describe adult literacy work, and adult learners, in ways that mask these local problems of access. Here, an entire province can be ‘the most literate jurisdiction on the continent’ (Government of BC, 2006), 40% of adults are said to be unable to participate in their community effectively (OECD and Statistics Canada, 2005), in spite of their actual competencies or learning needs, and whether they struggle with literacy, or with learning English as an additional language (Jackson, 2008). Workers are said to require ‘essential skills’ with apparent consequences for the productivity of the entire province or country, regardless of the nature of work available or the social and economic policies that make workplace participation possible (Jackson, 2005). Indeed, as a respondent in the present study suggested, universalized discourses can be more powerful in shaping literacy education than the actualities of literacy teaching and learning: ‘There's a disconnect between what adult students want/need and what the Ministry ‘knows’ about these students and us, the instructors.’

Expanding views of literacy and narrowing opportunities for learning

This disconnection provides a backdrop for three policy processes that produce inequalities in access to literacy resources in local settings. These processes are seemingly uncoordinated, but have in common a principle of ‘local control’; the delegation of educational decision-making power to individual actors and institutions. For example, several respondents drew attention to the effects of the Literacy Now community planning approach to literacy (Literacy Now, 2007). Here, community groups and school districts develop priorities for literacy programming tied to local needs and interests such as food security, computer literacy, school readiness, and so on. While the goal was to respond to local issues and to ‘reach the hard to reach’, decisions for literacy programming were made by local stakeholders who did not always attend to low income adults’ access to literacy resources, including high quality instruction. As one respondent concluded, ‘I believe when we began funding these (community literacy) programs, we all thought the target to be adults who are not able to read (…) but this is not always so.’

Secondly, respondents suggest that the needs of adult literacy learners with learning difficulties, or little formal education background are not adequately met because few literacy educators feel they have the skills to support these learners, and accessible and relevant training is not normally available. The consequence is a ‘two-tier’ system, as this educator observed:

There are two streams of literacy in adult learning: the ABE model wherein native speakers or higher level ESL learners are honing reading and writing skills, then there are new immigrants and low wage workers who come with little or no education history and they need settlement, classroom readiness and support packaged into one program. For the latter, there is very little out there in terms of training or resources.

Thirdly, budget constraints in colleges and universities limit access to literacy education, just as they eliminate employment opportunities for adult literacy educators. For example, the higher the formal qualifications of adult literacy educators, the less likely they are to be employed by colleges because they are ‘too expensive.’ Similarly, educators working in colleges that have converted to universities under a new provincial initiative, find themselves over-qualified to work with ‘literacy level’ students, but under-qualified to work as university instructors, who now require doctorate degrees. As one respondent explained, ‘With the movement away from colleges to universities in BC, plus the push toward higher degrees in order to be hired into universities, instructors in Level One and Level Two are becoming marginalized, and those positions, when available, are not always being filled with the right ‘type’ of instructor.’

Missing among efforts to provide local control over access to literacy is an equity lens, embedded in a stable and integrated provincial policy framework. Currently, seemingly uncoordinated processes produce a unified effect; indeed, what researchers and practitioners (Walker, 2008; Butterwick & White, 2006, Jackson, 2008) had predicted: British Columbians with low levels of formal education and income have the least access to instruction in the most powerful literacies, from the most experienced literacy educators.

References

British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (2006). Adult literacy: a brief to theSelect Standing Committee on Education. Available from: http://bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/Public/Publications/Briefs/AdultLiteracyBrief.pdf (January 9, 2010).

Butterwick S and White C (2006). A pathway out of poverty, Vancouver, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives British Columbia.

Crowther J, Hamilton M, and Tett L (eds.) (2001) Powerful literacies, Leicester, NIACE.

DeVault M (ed.) (2008) People at work: life, power and social inclusion in the new economy, New York, New York University Press.

Government of British Columbia (2006) Strategic plan, 2006–2009, Victoria, Province of British Columbia.

Jackson N (2005) ‘Essential skills: essential confusion?’, Literacies, 6, 38-43.

Jackson N (2008) ‘On reading the future and xenophobia’, Literacies bulletin, Available from: http://www.literacies.ca/literacies/Bulletins/a_few_views.pdf (March 8, 2011).

Literacy Now (2007) Community literacy planning guide: 2010 legacies now, Vancouver, Literacy Now and Government of British Columbia.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and Statistics Canada (2005) Results from the ALL: Learning a living, Ottawa and Paris, Statistics Canada and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Smith D (2005) Institutional ethnography: a sociology for people, Lanham MD, AltaMira.

Walker J (2008) 'Going for gold in 2010: an analysis of British Columbia's literacy goal’, International Journal of Lifelong Education, 27:4, 463 - 482.

Adult literacies in Scotland

Lyn Tett, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Scotland is unusual in having an explicit commitment to an approach to literacies education that frames literacy and numeracy as diverse practices that are patterned by social institutions and power relationships. This approach, usually known as ‘social practices’ (see Hamilton et al, 2006) was adopted in the Scottish Curriculum Framework (Scottish Executive, 2005), which states that:

We are using a social practices account of adult literacy and numeracy. Rather than seeing literacy and numeracy as the decontextualized, mechanical, manipulation of letters, words and figures this view shows that literacy and numeracy are located within social, emotional and linguistic contexts (p. 3).

One reason for using this approach is the strong tradition of community education in Scotland that has been influenced by the critical pedagogy of Freire (1972). This tradition validates the breadth and depth of knowledge that adults acquire in a variety of contexts and particularly through their lived experience (Tett, 2010). Viewing literacies as contextually embedded means that the focus is on the broader processes of facilitation and support of learning rather than the transmission of knowledge.

Hamilton et al (2006) point out, however, that there are a number of versions of ‘social practices theory’ that range from an emphasis on the socio-cultural to an emphasis on the psychological. In Scotland, the social practice approach draws on the prior knowledge and experience of the learner and utilises the literacies events and practices in the learner’s life in order to develop literacies capabilities and nurture critical engagement in the learning process (Scottish Executive, 2005). Thus it prioritises a learner-centred approach that uses the techniques and approaches associated with non-institutionalised modes of education that offer useful ways of engaging individuals in learning.

Ackland (2011) has been critical about the Scottish discourse of social practice because she argues that it has been used to legitimise change in policy that has not challenged the status quo. This is because, whilst the Curriculum Framework might have advocated a more radical critical approach, the version that has been adopted in policy has paid little attention to this and instead has interpreted it in individualistic ways. Ackland also points out that the social practices approach has been colonised and appropriated by practitioners in support of their established practices ‘in order to argue for their own interests’ in maintaining a focus on individual learners’ development (p. 72).

These concerns and others about the dominance of economistic discourses have been lent credence by a recent policy document, Skills for Scotland, (Scottish Government, 2010), which states that:

Improving levels of adult literacy and numeracy is crucial to securing a competitive economy, promoting education and lifelong learning and tackling ill health and improving well-being.

However, these policy discourses are somewhat contradictory as, although they are explicit in foregrounding an economic rationale for adult literacies provision, they simultaneously situate it within a wider social justice agenda. For example, the development of adult literacies is articulated as central to the achievement of economic prosperity where benefits ‘such as social justice, stronger communities and more engaged communities’ are seen as consequential on this prosperity (Scottish Government, 2007, p. 6).

Contradictory discourses about economic pragmatism and social justice both vie for priority in policy documents about the purpose and nature of education. However, the conception of social justice is nearly always focused on inserting individuals back into society rather than changing society (Tett & Maclachlan, 2008). For example in Adult Literacies in Scotland 2020: Strategic guidance (Scottish Government, 2011) the vision is that:

By 2020 Scotland's society and economy will be stronger because more of its adults are able to read, write and use numbers effectively in order to handle information, communicate with others, express ideas and opinions, make decisions and solve problems, as family members, workers, citizens and lifelong learners.

So is it possible to move from an individualistic approach to literacies as a way of more effectively promoting social justice for all? There are spaces within these policy frameworks that mean there is potential that the social practice view of literacies can enable provision that makes a contribution to social justice. Ways that this can be done include:

  • Exploring the contradictions of policy in ways that challenge discrimination and oppression;

  • Adopting purposeful approaches to literacies which take account of all forms of prior learning and knowledge and challenges learners to take risks;

  • Developing and encouraging critical awareness about the possibilities for learning; and

  • Asking why people might not have developed literacies skills in the first place.

Learning is crucial to social justice but this should be a particular kind of learning that is a resource for people to help them identify inequalities, probe their origins and begin to challenge them using skills, information and knowledge in order to achieve and stimulate change. Although this is a difficult task it provides a vision of what might be possible leading to a more equitable life for everyone.

References

Ackland A (2011) ‘The eye of the storm: discursive power and resistance in the development of a professional qualification for adult literacies practitioners in Scotland’, European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults, 2, 1, pp. 57-73.

Freire P (1972) Pedagogy of the oppressed, Harmondsworth, Penguin.

Hamilton M, Hillier Y and Tett L (2006) ‘Introduction: social practice of adult literacy, numeracy and language’ in L Tett, M Hamilton, and Y Hillier (eds.) Adult literacy, numeracy and language, Maidenhead, Open University Press.

Scottish Executive (2005) An adult literacy and numeracy curriculum framework for Scotland, Edinburgh, Stationery Office.

Scottish Government (2007) Skills for Scotland: a lifelong skills strategy, Glasgow, Scottish Government.

Scottish Government (2010) Skills for Scotland: accelerating the recovery and increasing sustainable economic growth, Glasgow, Scottish Government.

Scottish Government (2011) Adult literacies in Scotland 2020: strategic guidance, Glasgow, Scottish Government.

Tett L (2010) Community education, learning and development, Edinburgh, Dunedin.

Tett L and Maclachlan K (2008) 'Learners, tutors and power in adult literacies research in Scotland', International Journal of Lifelong Education, 27, 6, pp. 659-672.

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