A taste of what's in a coming issue of Fine Print

Building bridges to learners’ lives and communities?

Keiko Yasukawa from the University of Technology Sydney

Do the numbers stack up? In our feature Teaching adult numeracy: navigating a dynamic and messy terrain, Keiko Yasukawa from the University of Technology Sydney maintains that while the creation of a more equitable VET system may go some way (for some stakeholders) towards achieving the government’s social inclusion and equity targets, research shows that only a change in pedagogy and numeracy teaching practices will lead to real equity.

Another strong trend that Stephen Black and I observed in our research on integrated LLN was a deficit approach to teaching LLN; that is, the starting point in many sites was to look for (through screening, diagnostics, learner profiling) the LLN skills and knowledge that the learners commencing a VET course ‘lacked’, and then using this information to integrate remediation strategies for those students who were ‘lacking’ (Black and Yasukawa forthcoming). While there are many explanations that can be given for the prevalence of this deficit approach, one of the tensions this approach presents to any genuine commitment to social inclusion and cultural diversity is that the approach does not allow for the learners’ existing numeracy (and literacy and language) resources  - other than those that match what is assessed and valued as part of the existing curriculum – to surface and be built upon. In the deficit approach, if the learners do not have the LLN skills and knowledge that are included in the diagnostic instruments, then they are in deficit of LLN regardless of what other LLN practices they may engage in.

A contrasting approach would be to recognise that while the learners may not have the LLN skills that form the accepted academic and workplace practices, connections may be made with the LLN practices that they have developed to negotiate their life in the community. This may be a way of bridging the gap that learners have when they first encounter academic and workplace LLN practices that are new to them. Research by Ivanic et al (2009) in the UK involved engaging vocational teachers and their students to research the learners’ everyday literacy practices and to see how some of these practices and the knowledge of the learners’ practices could inform and support the college curriculum. For some of the teachers, involvement in this project led them to change their pedagogies so that the literacies that the students were practicing in their everyday life were incorporated into the curriculum, in some cases displacing some of the traditional academic literacy practices that, upon critical reflection, were deemed obsolete or inappropriate. This approach is the reverse of the deficit approach mentioned earlier, where the learners’ existing LLN resources are discounted.

From Teaching adult numeracy: navigating a dynamic and messy terrain by Keiko Yasukawa