Teaching beyond Literacy: The Challenges Faced by Literacy Practitioners

By Niki Murray, Margie Comrie, Franco Vaccarino, Deborah Neilson, Bronwyn Watson and Frank Sligo.

Published by The Learner Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

From a longitudinal study conducted in New Zealand, in-depth interviews with adult literacy learners have explored a large number of barriers preventing the acquisition of literacy skills during formal schooling. Intermeshing issues of health problems, socio-economic deprivation, family difficulties, negative school experiences, and resulting attitudinal barriers tend to follow students as they enter the adult learning context.

In this paper these issues are discussed from the perspective of adult literacy training providers. Data comes largely from the second phase of an in-depth longitudinal survey of the majority of adult literacy training providers in a New Zealand city and a series of focus groups with literacy practitioners.

We discuss the challenges faced by practitioners who, with limited resources, frequently need to identify and help students tackle their personal and social problems in the recognition that students need this support before they are able to acquire literacy skills. The providers also identify the specific social needs faced by youth, adult indigenous Māori students and non-English speakers in their acquisition of literacy skills in English. The challenge of addressing these issues in New Zealand, as in a number of other countries, is compounded by a tight funding environment which stresses measurable outcomes of functional skills and employment.

The adult literacy training providers vary in their approaches to preparation for learning but all recognise its importance. Through the survey and focus groups, the providers outline some suggestions to tackle these issues. We conclude by considering some implications of our findings for policy makers.

Keywords: Adult Literacy Providers and Practitioners Challenges, Adult Literacy Learners

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 15, Issue 7, pp.37-46. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 596.724KB).

Niki Murray

Research Officer, Department of Communication, Journalism, & Marketing, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

My background is mainly in Psychology where I obtained my Masters in 2002. My MA research looked at the effect of glucose, protein, and fat on the memory and reasoning abilities of young and mature men. After my Masters, I worked for two years with a mental health organisation where I mainly worked with Department of Corrections clients. Here, I was involved with community reintegration work, and also spent some of my time working with troubled youth. I was recently the Project Manager for a study investigating the needs of literacy participants, and the barriers to both literacy and employment that they face. This work also looked at the needs and barriers of those not participating in literacy programmes, and the perceptions of the wider community and employers in the area. I am currently a Research Officer in the Department of Communication, Journalism, and Marketing at Massey University, New Zealand.

Margie Comrie

Associate Professor, Department of Communication, Journalism, & Marketing, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

I teach News Media Processes and post graduate public relations extramurally and in Palmerston North. I find both subjects great to teach because each week brings examples that raise philosophical and ethical questions about media practice and public relations. I joined Massey University in 1990 after 15 years in the media, largely with public radio, but also with experience in newspapers, freelance writing and communication work. I’ve continued researching and writing on the news media. I’ve also published articles on the effectiveness of media relations, the ideal of bi-cultural communication with Maori and communication methods for public consultation and participation in decision-making. I’ve also been closely involved, as an objective leader, in the research project on Adult Literacy and Employment that has been operating out of the Department.

Dr. Franco Vaccarino

Senior Lecturer, Department of Communication, Journalism, & Marketing, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

I’m Italian, raised in South Africa, and now living in Aotearoa New Zealand! My background is in adult literacy and applied linguistics. My career in the adult literacy field started at a commercial bank where we provided literacy classes to employees. At the University of South Africa I was involved in training individuals who wanted to become literacy facilitators, including prisoners. In a joint project by the University of South Africa and an NGO, I managed and coordinated a family literacy project in various sites throughout South Africa, including urban and rural areas, a farm school, a slum area, a mother-child prison, an AIDS-orphaned village, and a special needs school. I designed and developed adult literacy, post-literacy and non-formal education curricula for the Ministry of Education in the Republic of Mozambique. I completed a postdoctoral research fellowship which involved a longitudinal study of adult literacy and employment in New Zealand. I am currently a senior lecturer in cross-cultural communication.

Deborah Neilson

Librarian and Researcher, Wanganui District Library, Wanganui, New Zealand

Dr. Bronwyn Watson

Research Officer, Department of Communication, Journalism, & Marketing, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

Frank Sligo

Associate Professor and Head of Department, Department of Communication, Journalism, & Marketing, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand

I’ve spent most of my working life at Massey University, but have also taught at universities in the USA and Hong Kong. I enjoy working in the communication field, and am active in researching information richness and poverty plus the knowledge-behaviour gap. The latter explores the problem of understanding what is happening when, even though people “know” options that are open to them, their behaviour does not reflect that knowledge. For example, people may understand that smoking will damage their health, but they continue to smoke anyway. What factors help to explain gaps between knowledge and behaviour? Although numerous millions of dollars are spent world-wide on informing people, often different approaches need to be taken to obtain behavioural change. All this makes for a set of interestingly complex theoretical and practical research problems, and it is this interplay of theory and practice that keeps me intrigued by the communication area. I’ve also been the project leader in the research project on Adult Literacy and Employment within our Department.

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