There is no way you can survive in the modern world without being able to communicate, so it is critical that we encourage every person to be confident in their literacy ability.
When I reflect on how we prepare students for the working world through teaching entrepreneurship, it is critical that they can speak to each other, write to each other and communicate confidently with those around them.
For them to be able to start their own business or be an effective team member within an organisation, they must work with others, share information, interpret situations and be able to communicate effectively. Think about how many people you’ve talked with today, emailed or even texted; that requires confidence in literacy.
It might just be my impression, but the scariest thing is that over the eight years I’ve been delivering programs in schools across Australia, I believe that confidence in literacy is dropping. We push the students hard in the programs – but we know that in these situations, how the students handle this pushing depends upon their confidence in all areas. And it’s becoming more and more important for us to restate core literacy skills, such as punctuation and capitalisation, amongst others, despite teaching high school students.
The notion of the need for a village to raise a child is then a useful metaphor on how society should be part of education; especially literacy: to underpin how critical this skill is for all areas of learning.
If a student is struggling with literacy, this creates a huge barrier in their ability to engage fully in other areas of learning.
Using the village metaphor, there is an image of all learning being taught for a purpose and with an authentic application. While there have been tools and programs developed over the years to guide and facilitate the development of literacy skills, the ability to see how these tools are applied in the real world is sometimes missed – meaning students struggle to see the reason why they are learning these skills.
One of the key motivations of Project Based Learning is to present students with opportunities to gather all the skills and knowledge they encounter and apply them in real world situations. By doing this, students get to experience how different skills and knowledge interact across subject areas, rather than being focused on single subject areas. This is essential to literacy because until students can experience how valuable effective communication is in their lives, they will struggle to place value in what they are learning. Another essential element of how a village educates youth is in the multiple influencers that the village has. Educators are continually placed under pressure to be responsible for all areas of learning – and while they have a key role to play, the responsibility is not entirely theirs. If we are to truly lift literacy levels in our community, it is the responsibility of the whole community to invest in the next generation.
In the Illuminate: Nextgen Challenge program, we know that our wider community wants to be part of the learning experience, be invited in to speak, support the creative process and judge student work. This means that students access professionals who share in their learning experiences as well as bringing knowledge and providing examples of how the target skills are applied in the working world.
These opportunities should be more regular, and those who are in our community should also see that learning can occur outside of the 9-3 day. There are so many ways to do this, including encouraging job applicants to seek feedback, to work with employees to build their communication skills, and giving them a chance to fail but to then reflect on what could have otherwise been done. As a final point, we should be looking at how we equip parents with skills, confidence and ideas in order to support them in helping children develop a love and interest in literacy. If teachers are shown skills on how to teach students to spell, read and speak, parents should be supported to extend this into their homes. This does not mean that the home environment becomes an extension of the classroom, but young people should be encouraged to think critically about the information being presented to them and explain their answers or thoughts when asked questions within other situations. Therefore if we are to truly see a change in the literacy standards of our community, we need to provide students with authentic and practical opportunities to apply their classroom learning in diverse real world situations.
Tasmania can and needs to become the village that empowers every single individual of our next generation to be more engaged than the generation before.
Adam is the founder of Illuminate Education which encourages students to be innovative and entrepreneurial; he is also a former finalist for Young Australian of the Year. Jessi is an experienced primary school teacher now working with Illuminate Education to expand programs into primary schools for fostering creativity and innovation. Here Adam and Jessi write for the Communicating: The Heart of Literacy initiative – find more at chattermatters.com.au.