On Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending Te Pae Ako Adult Literacy and Numeracy Symposium at Te Wananga o Aotearoa in Porirua. The symposium was a celebration of the journey educators are taking in supporting literacy and numeracy in tauira (students), particularly in a Maori context. Excellent addresses were given by two keynote speakers (the third was unable to attend due to events relating to the Christchurch earthquake) and a range of workshops were presented by staff from various wananga and institutes of technology around the country. More than anything, energy and inspiration came from interacting with a group of people who were truly dedicated to improving learning outcomes for their tauira, particularly through empowerment in the areas of literacy and numeracy.
I have always thought there is a lot more to literacy than reading and writing, yet these seem to almost exclusively encompass what we understand about being literate. So what does it mean to be multi-literate? Who decides? As part of his opening address, Dr Shane Edwards introduced the concept of colonial functional vs indigenous literacies, as summarised here:
|Colonial functional literacies||Indigenous literacies (pae ako)
It was stressed that indigenous literacies apply to everyone, and not just indigenous peoples. Also, in no way do they undermine the importance of what we have traditionally seen as the 3 Rs; multiple literacies strengthens everyone’s ability to be literate and benefit all of society. By taking a (k)new approach to science and literacy, we are valuing and developing skills from a position of strength by recognising and building on the cultural capital of each learner.
Highlights and challenges
As with any quality professional learning experience, there were a number of highlights and thinking points that emerged throughout the day, some of which provided great challenges to my own ideas about literacy, numeracy and learning. Dr Manulani Aluli Meyer, Associate Professor at the University of Hawai’i was particularly challenging and inspirational. Here are some ideas I am pondering:
- “Experience doesn’t come from words. Words flow from experience.” – Nityananda. How often to we value the written (or spoken) word over experiencing something first hand? Why does education seem to reflect and promote this?
- An over-reliance on literacy will be the downfall of Western society as we know it. I am still struggling with this statement. It is not undermining the value of literacy, rather its function and how we have elevated its status in Western society.
- “Language is the medium in which understanding occurs … understanding only occurs in interpretation.” – Gadamer. Merely speaking or writing means little unless it is understood.
- “Context is within. Content is external.” – Roxanne Kala. Without an authentic and meaningful context, knowledge is simply external and short term.