A tale of two councils: Alternative discourses on the 'literacy crisis' in Australian workplaces

Australian Vocational Education and Training Research Association (AVETRA)
Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Journal of Training Research, 2011, 9 (3), pp. 218 - 233
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Australia appears to be in the grip of a `literacy crisis in workplaces. Media reports and industry/skills organisations are decrying the low literacy and numeracy levels of workers and the negative effects these have on productivity. As a consequence, the Australian government has increased funding for workplace literacy and numeracy programs and is poised to do more with a National Foundation Skills Strategy. This paper challenges the crisis discourse. It indicates that similar arguments about low literacy and numeracy in workplaces abounded 20 years ago, and there is unlikely to be a change in this dominant discourse position in the future unless the discourse itself changes. By drawing on data from two accounts of literacy and numeracy in different local government councils, the paper shows how markedly different perspectives on workplace literacy and numeracy can result from researchers adopting an alternative `social practice approach, which draws heavily on the perspectives of workers.
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