Can you walk on ricepaper without leaving footprints? (return)

Balancing on top of a ball; a Kung Fu wanderer relying on his Shaolin temple training; a hero whose ultimate test is to walk on rice paper without leaving footprints - some of the metaphors adult literacy providers used to describe their roles as brokers, negotiators, trainers and sales representatives in these changing times. Despite this climate of uncertainty regarding funding, many providers are responding creatively to these new challenges in order to survive.

The three speakers on the panel titled, 'Providers Responses to the Policy Settings that Face Adult Literacy' had all responded differently to the challenges set by policy changes. These changes had led to targeting different client groups and different methods of provision. As survivors in this new setting, all had had to be adaptable and flexible.

Despite the lack of a national government policy, these providers had all recognised the necessity for professional development of staff. Most had a commitment to providing literacy assistance to those in need, attempting to juggle the lure of the dollar with some community provision. What was evident from all three speakers is that, with the competitive training market in literacy, it is often left up to committed volunteers to fill the gaps in government funding.

Bernadette Kennedy the first speaker on the panel, began her career in literacy in a trailer in Wagga, as part of a team from the ACE and TAFE sectors promoting literacy in the region. Now as head teacher at Adult Basic Education at Wagga Wagga, Bernadette runs workplace and community access provision for the Riverina Institute of TAFE.

A conference on productivity in Wagga led to the establishment of a workplace program which now runs WELL programs in collaboration with local government, ricegrowers and the textile industry.

Integrating Language Literacy and Numeracy into the VET sector has been important in Wagga. Bernadette has been able to second a teacher to industry and also to VET (Carpentry and Joinery). She believes that the professional development given to staff (including ALT and the NSDC modules) has been crucial in giving them the skills to work in a variety of settings

As well as directing programs in industry where funding for literacy exists through WELL, Wagga Adult Basic Education has not ignored community provision. A volunteer program still runs, and access classes are delivered in a flexible and creative way. Bernadette described how adolescent mothers were assisted with pre-vocational literacy and numeracy at their local playgroup, many continuing into TAFE vocational courses.

Joan Guimelli the second speaker, has been working in the literacy field for over twenty years. She has seen the changes in provision from the late 1970s when it was largely run by volunteers, to its growth in TAFE and more recently in the workplace and with the unemployed.

Joan resigned from TAFE and set up Literacy Network in 1987, seeing the need for a community based literacy provider who could meet the needs of those who reject the formal, professional model of classes such as TAFE. As well as some funding through the ACE sector, Literacy Network gained funds through previous labour market tenders such as SIP (Special Intervention Program), the DEETYA funded literacy and numeracy training program for the long term unemployed. The staff have now developed their own curriculum based on the National Reporting System and creating a professional arm of their organisation. Literacy Network still relies heavily on volunteers but insists tutor training should be of high quality. Joan believes that the volunteer program should be represented in ACAL.

Ben Bardon, the last speaker, described himself as the 'Arthur Daly' of the Central West Community College, a small literacy provider which has led a hand-to-mouth existence in relation to funding, and survived. In 1996, at the height of funding through the Special Intervention Program (the DEETYA literacy and numeracy funding program for long term unemployed) Central West College had thirty literacy teachers providing 12,000 student contact hours. Today it has eight teachers delivering 3,000 student contact hours.

Ben raised a number of issues in relation to government funding and how it impacts on provision. Since only 5% of the Central West Community College's funding is recurrent, the college has had to focus its programs where money has been attached. For example, knowing that the SIP would come to an end, the college moved into workplace provision and tendered for case management services. [Dr Kemp, Minister for Vocational Education and Training stated that although SIP had finished, literacy money had not been reduced, merely redirected to case managers.] However, as Ben pointed out in his talk, the financial arrangements for case managers mean that there is very little room to also fund training for clients. Central West Community College had every intention of providing literacy training, but in reality it was not cost effective, and therefore not provided. This dilemma has been echoed by other case managers around the country.

Ben also raised the issue that previous case managers may well have had an advantage in the recent Literacy And Numeracy Training (LANT) tender, since the emphasis appeared to be on demonstrating financial viability rather than good literacy teaching practice. As a result he seriously questioned whether FLEX providers are necessarily going to be good literacy and numeracy providers.

WELL funding also came under scrutiny. Ben explained that, through WELL, it is intended that industry will eventually start funding their own language, literacy and numeracy programs but, in reality, it is more of an incentive to providers of LLN. Ben argued that WELL programs work effectively only where they support other training and that the program was hindered by cumbersome reporting requirements.

The literacy section of the college had also provided teachers to act as consultants to other projects. Teachers' value to the institution, it was realised, resides in their adaptability, their professional development and their understanding of how people learn.


The provider organisations represented on the panel were clearly quality providers who valued professional development of staff and were committed to delivering quality literacy provision. However in these competitive times, it is of concern that there may be providers in the field who are not so scrupulous. What mechanisms should be put in place to ensure quality? Should the field regulate itself? How are gaps in provision going to be filled? How can the field collaborate while competing for tenders?

Certainly, to survive as a quality provider, there is a need to be flexible, to be able to work in a variety of settings, to think laterally, to jump at opportunities, to market oneself, to have a team of experienced and professionally developed staff and at least a minimum of core funding. In other words, you must have the expertise to walk on ricepaper without leaving footprints.

reporter Lou-anne Barker

ACAL rep, Tasmanian Council for Adult Literacy

by Pat Beattie
A panel of adult literacy practitioners shared their individual experience of changing times. They were Sue Anne Randazzo, Ros Gard, Louise Wignell, Helen Dykes and Katie Parks. From their stories, emerges a picture of our heroes' journey so far.

Although their histories and pathways varied, the original training for the journey they had received was valued by all. From it, they drew upon time honoured, adult literacy teaching principles, the ability to analyse needs, plan programs, customise programs for individuals, work in teams, write, make connections, make people feel comfortable and make them feel that their ideas are respected.

On the journey our heroes meet, teach and work with a wide range of people: migrants from all walks of life; workers in factories; nurse educators; young people; miners; managers; women from rural areas; road workers; deaf people; hospital cleaners and so on. Many of their students are also grappling with workplace change and feeling disempowered in negotiations with employers over Enterprise Bargaining Agreements.

The challenges our heroes face are daunting: being proactive in the face of change; operating in a climate of uncertainty; lacking in resources for teaching in new situations; needing to diversify their activities into unknown areas; finding their own funding; marketing their services; setting up whole new systems in strange, new contexts; finding their way among the bewildering array of provision.

How are our heroes feeling about where they're at? Reeling from being 'thrown off the burning ship' and then having had 6 different jobs in 10 months. Confused-a crisis of identity-Who am I now? Angry and frustrated when contracts are terminated through no fault of one's own. Scared a lot of the time, and proceeding with heart in mouth. But trying to listen to a small voice inside that says 'Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can!

The travelling itself involves: literally spending time getting in and out of one's car going from A to B; learning on the job; reading what's available; seeking out more professional development; taking new turnings. For company, our heroes are forming strategic alliances: with police; other providers; personnel from Employment National; libraries; the Department of Agriculture; colleagues with other skills; Social Services; photographers, graphic designers etc.

They find themselves at different times in the role of tutor, counsellor, sales rep, program designer, recruitment officer, materials developer, editor, promoter, and change agent. Their workplace has become the classroom, the factory, the home; the verge; the hospital, the street corner; the mine.

They remind us as fellow travellers that there are pitfalls for the unwary on this journey:

 Sometimes one is asked to do the impossible and indeed the questionable, for example, writing a course in Occupational Health and Safety for mineworkers to be delivered in only 11 hours.

 In spite of the rhetoric of flatter structures in industry, workers' critiques of workplace practices or conditions are still not welcome in many workplaces. The traditional hierarchy of power remains. Where does this leave the adult educator - as a mere trainer?

But some things don't change. Our heroes are still working to make their students' learning meaningful and relevant. They say it gets easier to face change the more you have to. In fact change has prevented them from becoming stale and complacent. And would they go back to the past? Well, in spite of everything, one gets the distinct impession that they wouldn't.

And after the next contract? Who knows? But it's not quite so scary now.

Pat Beattie

ACAL rep, NT Council for Adult Literacy