Vocational education, the bearer of great optimism for literacy and numeracy!

Victoria Beckwith, Literacy & Numeracy Leader, UCOL

Literacy & Communication and Maths Strategy

The new 2022 Ministry of Education Literacy & Communication and Maths Strategy has caused quite a stir in my world. Emotive language used in describing the state of our nation’s literacy in Dr Hood and Mr Hughson’s 2022 report created a stage for highlighting how fragmented and disjointed our literacy awareness and capability have become. Both the new strategy and the report have described a dark, depressing, failing system, layered with educational and societal issues, with a future of limitations and narrow pathways ahead. Transitional spaces appear to be of particular concern, being nexus points where risk of disengagement is high and where support may be at its lowest. Sadly, these descriptions are not a surprise for those of us working in literacy and numeracy.

However, not all is lost.

Vocational education is the bearer of great optimism!

Vocational education, in my experience, supports students effectively in the transition space from school to further education or the workplace. An assessment tool is used to highlight strengths and weaknesses resulting in action being taken to develop strategies to reduce any skills gaps. Support and strategies for learning differences, such as dyslexia, may be sought following an in-depth review of results. Literacy and numeracy assessments, results, and feedback offer other perspectives that become part of the holistic support for students. Developing literacy and numeracy skills within a vocational area is enhanced when lecturers recognise where literacy and numeracy are embedded in their own vocation. This encourages awareness of literacy and numeracy within daily life. By making literacy and numeracy examples explicit, students are able to transfer their understanding and knowledge to other situations. “Everyone benefits when people have good literacy and numeracy skills” (The Tertiary Education Commission, 2015, p.5).

High expectations, commitment, and achievement

I currently work with lecturers and transition coordinators who have high expectations for their students. They are committed to supporting students’ literacy and numeracy progression and skill development. Many of the students we support:

  • Are still in school or have just left school
  • Are not failing
  • Are achieving results at or above the Tertiary Education Commission’s thresholds for literacy and numeracy competence (The Tertiary Education Commission, 2017)

Students achieving good literacy and numeracy results, at or above the Tertiary Education Commission’s thresholds, positively reflects on the students’ abilities and the education system they have been part of. These results provide evidence of success for students in a transition space, which presents an outlook contrary to what we have been seeing in the recent articles, e.g. here and here, surrounding the release of the Literacy & Communication and Maths Strategy.

Let the vocational sector extend a hand

My reflection is that, as educators involved with literacy and numeracy in the vocational sector, we have a wealth of experience and knowledge that we’re willing to share. We have worked with disengaged, disaffected, disgruntled, and disassociated students. We have repaired the damage done by poor quality teaching. We have recognised learning differences and supported students objectively with practical and effective strategies. We have listened to our students and provided direction for pastoral care. We have advocated for literacy and numeracy and spent decades collectively pushing for recognition.

There are many groups (e.g. see here, here, here, here, and here) quietly picking up pieces and supporting students and adults with their literacy and numeracy in their daily life. The transitions from home to early childhood, starting school, changing schools, moving into tertiary education or starting work are part of their journey. “Positive transitions during a student’s years at school have far-reaching benefits” (The Education Hub, 2022). Success during transition periods comes from supporting each other. Success comes from knowing who to turn to, knowing where to find solutions, knowing when to be agile and when to reflect. Let the vocational sector extend a hand and welcome our fellow practitioners from across early childhood, primary, intermediate, and secondary educational spaces. Our students are on their own journey but they will visit each of us in turn to grow and develop their skills. With respect to everyone involved, we, the literacy and numeracy educators, supporters, and practitioners in the vocational space, are here as your resource, to support you, to collaborate, to share our experiences, tools, frameworks, and strategies.

Manaakitanga and whanaungatanga

Reframing the literacy and numeracy landscape by demonstrating positive and proactive mindsets will encourage best practice and enable values-based, creative, and sustainable solutions to flourish. My response to the Ministry of Education’s newly released Literacy & Communication and Maths Strategy is that manaakitanga is vital in the literacy and numeracy space. Whanaungatanga will empower us to support and guide each other. Putting prior experiences aside to walk forward together is as important for us, as educators, as it is for our students and their whānau.

Victoria Beckwith has been professionally embedded in literacy and numeracy in the vocational sector, in NZ and the UK, for over 20 years. She currently holds the positions of Literacy and Numeracy Leader at the Universal College of Learning (UCOL), Convener for the Language, Literacy, and Numeracy Professionals Community of Practice, Rural Women New Zealand’s International and Education Portfolio Hubs member. Victoria is also a PhD student of Education at the University of Waikato researching global citizenship through children’s lived experiences.

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