Adult basic education in NSW 1970-2018 : official stories and stories from practice

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2018
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This thesis traces the development of adult literacy provision in NSW over its 40 year history, with particular focus on the discursive tensions between policy and practice. A major and overriding theme has been the move away from a philosophy of humanist education and a socio-cultural view of literacy, towards an economically driven, human capital view of literacy. The study analyses the changing socio-economic background to the development of the field of adult literacy (later called adult basic education) and the ways in which resulting public and policy discourses have impacted the field. In the foundation years, the public discourse of liberal humanism was reflected in the professional discourse. From the early 1990s however, a tension began to emerge as the public and policy discourse moved increasingly towards an instrumentalist, human capital view. The study illuminates the increasing discursive tensions between policy and practice and between the public and professional discourses that have sought to shape the field. Discourse theory, with its focus on power relations, as developed for example by Foucault (1972), and elaborated by Gee (2015) and Fairclough (2015), informs the analysis of the ways in which these discursive struggles have defined and redefined the field over the period discussed. Building on this understanding of discourse, the main conceptual resource employed is that of Actor Network Theory (ANT) (Callon 1986; Latour 2005). It is chosen as a useful lens through which to view the multiplicity of ‘actors’ both human and non-human, that have interacted in a non-linear and fluid fashion to influence the direction of the field. The study uses a number of the concepts described by ANT theorists to illuminate the ways in which some assemblages of actors came to exert power and advance a dominant discourse of literacy, whilst the influence of others declined. A number of past and present practitioners were interviewed in order to capture the teachers’ voices or ‘stories from practice’, thus informing and giving life to our understanding of the development of the field. Analysis of documentary and archival evidence provides a further perspective on the ‘official stories’. The primary rationale for the study was a wish to commit the narrative to the public memory in order assist present and future practitioners to contextualise their practice. The study concludes with a consideration of some possible implications that it offers to practitioners and activists in their challenge to the present discourse surrounding the field.
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