Conference program

Thursday, September 20 and Friday September 21

Welcome to country, Verna Nichols

Verna Nichols is a Tasmanian Aboriginal artist, born on Flinders island, and also a descendant of the Bunurong people of Victoria. She works in the media of painting, silkscreen, printmaking, ceramics, drawing, weaving and kelp work. She has exhibited in Tactility, National Gallery of Australia (2003) and We’re Here, National Museum of Australia (2004). In 2008 Brest Maritime Heritage Centre in France received a kelp water carrier commissioned from Verna.

Whilst Verna has achieved national and international recognition in the arts she has worked in the Aboriginal sector for most of her life. She co-ordinated the Women’s Karadi Aboriginal Corporation and Palawa Aboriginal Corporation, worked in the anthropology department of TMAG, was a deckhand on a fishing boat and a mother craft nurse. She has taught arts and crafts at schools, Aboriginal school camps and festivals. In 2001 she was presented with a Local Hero Award from the City of Glenorchy Council.

Keynote speakers

Pat Strauss, Associate Professor, Auckland University of Technology

Pat Strauss, Associate Professor, Auckland University of Technology

Adult Literacy Practitioners – making our voices heard

The fourth strand of the conference addresses the area of creativity, and asks us to look to the future of the adult literacy sector, and find creative ways to move forward. Before we consider this future, this is an opportune moment to take stock of the present, and, in particular, ask ourselves what we understand by the term ‘adult literacy’ and who we view as adult literacy educators. There appears to an almost unquestioning emphasis in much of the world on the functional vocational approach “resulting in a discourse of literacy as a technical skill and vocational competence” (Tett and St Clair, 2011). This of course goes hand in hand with the view that links literacy to economic prosperity. In industrialised countries adult literacy learners are often viewed as those who have not succeeded in conventional education – the second chance learners. Yet I would argue that this is a narrow view and that adult literacy should be viewed as a continuum, that learners engaged in preliteracy/ vocational entry  classes have much in common with those at the other end of the scale, those struggling with academic literacy demands at postgraduate level, and that their tutors also have much in common. After all, as Freebody and Lo Bianco (1997) point out, effective tuition aims to equip students to actively interpret the meanings of texts and critically analyse and transform them.

At the moment a colleague and I are engaged in research into Foundation Studies programmes in New Zealand. These programmes are aimed at giving learners “the requisite academic skills that will enable them to enrol in other tertiary programmes to which they would otherwise not have been able to gain entry” (Benseman and Russ, 2003). At the same time I am talking to those tasked with helping students at postgraduate level with their literacy. Both sets of tutors are a dedicated, enthusiastic and caring group of people, passionate about what they do and eager to do better. Many, however in New Zealand at least, are marginalised by their institutions, battle for adequate resources and live under constant threat of review and possible redundancy. They too, are outside the “processes of consultation and decision –making so that policy simply ‘arrives’ without explanation” (Hamilton, 2012).

The obvious question is why bother – why should tutors of disparate groups come together? The answer quite simply is that we share so many of the same challenges that we can support and learn from each other.  More importantly though is the fact that there is strength in unity. Literacy practitioners at all levels find it difficult to make their voices heard. In this presentation I would like to explore ways in which we, as literacy practitioners, can overcome the silencing of our voices, so that our understanding of student needs and challenges, and our expertise in meeting these needs gains the recognition and support it deserves.

Pat Strauss is the co-programme leader of the Masters of Literacy and Numeracy Education at AUT University in New Zealand. She has been involved in teaching various literacies to students from foundation level to those enrolled on postgraduate programmes. She is particularly interested in the institutional positioning of literacy practitioners working at all levels in further and higher education, and the way in which this positioning impacts on their practice.


Anita Roberts, Innovation and Business Skills Australia

Anita Roberts, Innovation and Business Skills Australia (IBSA)

VET + LLN = Together Forever

The introduction of the Foundation Skills Training Package has the potential to bring significant change to the delivery of vocational education and training (VET). Innovation and Business Skills Australia (IBSA) believe that the new training package will encourage and enable greater collaboration between VET practitioners and LLN specialists – and increased attention to the skill development needs of individual learners. Many factors will impact on the successful implementation of the Foundation Skills Training Package; among them are practitioner awareness, resource availability and workforce capability. To aid the implementation process IBSA has created an online resource that will provide advice, practical examples and tools to support use by a diverse range of potential users. IBSA hopes that the resource will continue to grow and develop, bringing together contributions based on the experiences of users across the sectors. Anita has worked within the vocational education and training system at the national level since 1995 and has extensive experience in language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) policy in the VET sector. She has co-ordinated a variety of LLN projects and authored a number of reports and publications on behalf of Industry Skills Councils.

Anita Roberts has worked closely with Innovation and Business Skills Australia (IBSA) on many initiatives including commercial resource developments, professional development activities, scoping for qualifications and skill sets, and three environment scans. She is currently the project co-ordinator for IBSA’s project to develop a Foundation Skills Training Package. Anita is also a member of the Victorian State Advisory Committee for the Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) program.


Bob Boughton, University of New England, NSWBob Boughton, University of New England, NSW

South-South Cooperation: Can it work in Australia?
Australian adult literacy practitioners and adult educators more generally have become accustomed to hearing about the loss of our original emancipatory mission over the last forty years, as the result of growing worldwide neoliberal hegemony. The problem with this non-dialectical history is that it directs our attention away from the many sites of resistance around the world, and tends to reinforce our own sense of powerlessness. If we look beyond the narrow confines of the so-called advanced industrialised countries, however, we find that popular education in the tradition of Paulo Freire is alive and well in Asia, Latin America and Africa, where emancipatory literacy practices have continued to flourish and grow, and remarkable things have been achieved. In this presentation, Paulo Freire’s visit to Australia in April 1974 will be recalled as a convenient starting point for an alternative, ‘revisionist’ history of the struggle for literacy in Australia and our region. The remainder of the talk traces the link from Timor-Leste’s national adult literacy campaign to a remote western NSW Aboriginal community, which is now conducting the first pilot of the same mass campaign model, utilising the ‘Yes I Can’ method originally developed in Cuba. This application of a ‘South-South’ cooperation model in Aboriginal Australia provides us with an opportunity to consider new forms of cooperation within Australia and our region.

Bob Boughton has worked as a community development worker and adult educator since the 1970s. He is currently an Associate Professor in the School of Education at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW, where his research focuses on the role of popular education in development in marginalised and impoverished communities.

In 2006, he began working with the Cuban education mission in Timor-Leste on a national adult literacy campaign, which has now taught basic literacy to over 120,000 people using local village-based facilitators. In the last twelve months, he has been coordinating the trial of a similar literacy campaign model in a remote Aboriginal community in NSW.


James Toomey, Mission AustraliaJames Toomey, Mission Australia

Community focus

We know that adults come to learning with a range of complex needs but also with the diverse strengths all of which impact on their ability to learn. Needs may relate to relationship or personal difficulties, changing workplaces, substance misuse, mental health or homelessness, to name but a few. Strengths may be having achieved and sustained employment previously whilst having low levels of functional literacy, or being accomplished in one language but not in English. These needs and strengths weave together to impact on learners and challenge us to build on people’s strengths by using robust evidence based research, clear policy and planning, whilst being mindful of their needs. Literacy and numeracy learning is more than purely an adult learning opportunity as it provides us and the learners with an opportunity to develop their strengths and manage their needs as part of their learning journey.

James Toomey is the Executive Leader of Community Services at Mission Australia. James joined MA in 2010 having emigrated from the UK to Australia with family in December 2009. As a qualified Social Worker, James has extensive experience in children and family services, including residential care and young offender programs.

Some of his recent roles have included Operations Director for Skill Force, which is an education charity working with 10,000 young people throughout 150 schools in Great Britain who are in danger of leaving school without the skills and qualifications they need to succeed in life.