Over one hundred people attended the recent ACAL Forum held in Sydney at the Institute of Technology. This is the third in a series of Forums funded by DEETYA for ACAL to both consult with and inform the adult literacy profession about current issues. This Forum was an opportunity to map out some of the changes that have occurred in the provision of adult literacy and to share solutions that organisations and individuals have found to the threats and opportunities of the new times.


Not so long ago adult literacy teachers 'taught' 'students' in 'classrooms'. Nowadays teachers are variously named as practitioners, brokers, providers, case managers, consultants, enterprise based practitioners, and the list goes on. Students are commonly know as 'clients', participants' or perhaps even 'cases.' For some adult literacy practitioners this has been an exciting time; for others, it has been distressing and confusing.


Dr Brian Jones, Senior Manager of the Sydney Institute of Technology opened the conference and asked participants to consider where they wanted to be in the next 5 years. The majority of current further education programmes have a vocational emphasis, however, he believes that improvements in literacy enhances the quality of family and community relationships and he predicts there will be increasing demand for continuing education. He encouraged the profession to develop strong arguments to internal senior management and external clients concerning the value and worth of involving adult literacy practitioners in the shaping and delivery of programmes.


Dr Peter Kell, Associate Professor at RMIT, Victoria gave the keynote address that traced adult literacy provision over the last 25 years situating the changing practitioner roles in the policy emphases of the day. He was optimistic that the new times had shifted adult literacy provision from the periphery to the centre. He also made a salient observation that most of the adult literacy profession would not be teaching by the year 2008. He predicted massive changes in the teaching profession and doubted whether we would have enough energy to work in this commercialised, commodified and accelerated environment. He sees these times as the end of the band-aid curriculum now that Literacy, Language and Numeracy are so explicitly stated in the training packages. He believes that enterprise-based learning offers potential for new interventions and that adult literacy practitioner roles will be more of a navigator and a co-ordinator. His strongest message to the profession was to form new alliances, for example, with industry, local government, schools, business and TAFE's.


The participants were prompted to ask questions that the adult literacy field might do well to explore among their own colleagues in their own working environments. Questions such as:

Do we need a set of principles or ethics that we should be operating from?

What might a pedagogy for these New Times look like?

What research would be useful to be done in the short term?


The panel discussions which followed explored various ways in which different organisations and individuals have responded to the policy changes in the most recent years.


The overall atmosphere was one of optimism and encouragement for adult literacy practitioners to not only steer their way through the gaps between the threats and opportunities of these new times but, as Louise Wignall put it to 'Go for the gap'. Her inspiration suggested we take a chance and not wait until the experts tell us what to do. 'Create the idea yourself instead of being a thwarted critic at the end of the day.'

Dr Jennie Bickmore-Brand

by PETER KELL (return)



Recent research conducted jointly by TAFE Queensland and a team of university researchers on VET teachers' work, revealed that their work is undergoing a profound and irreversible reshaping in response to the competitive training market, and that new models of practice are needed to respond to these changes.

The research

The research, conducted in 1996 and 1997 at four TAFE Institutes, was initiated by TAFE Queensland in recognition of the dynamic nature of teachers' work and the need to come to an understanding of changes in teaching and learning. It wanted the researchers to analyse the issues of how TAFE teachers' work had changed and what skills might be needed in the future. The university research team of Associate Professor Peter Kell, RMIT, Ms Jo Balatti, James Cook University, Ms Angela Hill, Barrier Reef Institute of TAFE / James Cook University and Mr Sandy Muspratt of Griffith University, researched the impact of the Open Training Market on TAFE teachers' work.


The findings

Emerging from the research was a pattern of teachers' work which reveals a simultaneous broadening of their roles and an intensification of work. Moreover, uncertainty about future models of work practice in response to the mandate of flexible delivery, overlays the present struggle of job redefinition.


In response to a competitive training market teachers' work has broadened extensively to include new entrepreneurial roles such as networking, marketing, brokerage, liaison and negotiation with clients. Many teachers spoke of an intensification of their work as these new roles have been "bolted onto" their traditional roles of teaching. Some teachers were enthusiastic about these new roles but expressed frustration at not having the time and training to carry these tasks out more effectively since they were required to maintain traditional style 'face to face' loads. This was compounded by an uncertainty about the pedagogical value of flexible delivery and how teachers might work most effectively with these new forms of learning.


The need for a new model

While the response to these new roles appeared to have polarised these VET teachers into groups that are, in varying degrees, enthusiastic, hesitant and resistant, there is general acceptance that the teaching role needs to be redesigned. Participants expressed a strong need for new practices within an entrepreneurial model of teaching, that will account for a broadened interpretation of teaching duties.


The question of how to merge the skills associated with entrepreneurial teaching with aspects of flexible delivery is the subject of a recently completed ANTA funded Framing the Future professional development program conducted at Tropical North Queensland Institute of TAFE Workplace Communications Unit. Participants in the professional development program identified the need for a blend of skills and capabilities which facilitate level organisational capabilities and the development of a broad repertoire of learner centred practices. Participating teachers believed that success in the competitive training market is dependent on the ability of teachers: to manage upwards within their organisations; to establish covert coalitions and networks to find solutions; as well as to solve organisational problems.


Just do it!

Teachers also believed that organisational and networking skills needed to be accompanied by a 'Just Do It' attitude, similar to the well publicised Nike advertisements, where a proactive posture is adopted to surmount numerous difficulties associated with negotiating enterprise based programs. In this environment political skills and abilities at assessing risk management are seen as, as important, as a broad teaching repertoire.


Professional development

Teacher preparation and professional development urgently needs to incorporate opportunities and content which will facilitate the acquisition of these entrepreneurial and political skills and capabilities which many teachers consider 'alien' to the culture of teaching.


These skills and capabilities are not new, since teachers have traditionally required strong networking and political skills to survive in the bureaucratic maze that typifies many TAFE systems. However the competitive training market reshapes teaching and learning into a more commodified exchange relationship and brings with it the danger of neglecting the social and cultural role of VET teaching.


The future role of teaching

Reformers need to be careful that the social relations of teaching are not collapsed into attaining measurable quantitative financial targets through narrow and decontexualised teaching packages. The role of teaching is in danger of being uncoupled from social and cultural transmission, and is being viewed merely as an instrumental acquisition of the 'right skills' in disconnected fragments. Teachers are clearly aware of the need for a more broaden view of teaching which incorporates the social, cultural commutative and micro political aspects of enterprise training.


Training Packages

Training Packages and enterprise level training present a dual challenge to VET teachers, and indeed those in higher education where similar initiatives are emerging. At one level Training Packages have the potential to position teaching in a passive "autopilot" mode and subordinate their role in facilitating real workplace change. They can be viewed as predetermined and decontextualised, 'do it yourself' kits that operate independently of teachers.


TAFE Queensland has recognised this, and has moved to develop a number of initiatives to facilitate the type of cultural change required for the transition from institutional based delivery to enterprise based learning, and this is evident in initiatives such as Strategy 21 - An Overarching Approach to Organisational Change and Development.


At another level, it could be argued that the era of 'band aid' and 'home made' curriculum may be drawing to a close, and that enterprise based teachers are now free from the responsibilities of curriculum development to be involved in new levels of intervention across the enterprises they work with. Indeed, if teachers have the political skills identified in the Queensland Framing the Future project, the dimensions of influence that teachers possess will move beyond just 'teaching the course' towards facilitating workplace reform and renewal which will provide the foundations for more productive Australian enterprises.


A collaborative effort

Developing new models of practices will require collaborative efforts from policy makers, academics, administrators, unions and industry. An ongoing discussion on job redesign will need to incorporate changed concepts of teaching, time, process, product, productivity, location and purpose. Internationalisation, new technologies of learning and intersectional relationships will need to be addressed.


Most importantly any discussion will centre round a genuine desire to preserve VET teaching as a worthy and valued career path with practitioners having a primary role in Australia's social and cultural development. To do anything less will accelerate both an intellectual decline and an economic impoverishment.


Associate Professor Peter Kell is the Head of Department, Industry, Professional and Adult Education at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Bundoora, Victoria.