What happened to our community of practice? The early development of Adult Basic Education in NSW through the lens of professional practice theory.

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Pamela Osmond


The field of adult basic education had its genesis as a named field of education in the English speaking world in the mid-1970s, based firmly on an underpinning philosophy of humanistic education and a socio-cultural view of literacy. Subsequent decades of its development have involved recurrent and destabilising periods of change with a major and overriding theme being the move away from the humanist philosophy, towards an economically driven, human capital view of literacy, which mirrors the story of a number of other social programs in their trajectory towards the ‘new capitalism’. This paper considers the first fifteen years, or genesis, of the field of adult basic education in the state of New South Wales in Australia through official documents and archival material and through the stories from practice told by the teachers. Analysis of these stories using a theory of professional practice knowledge demonstrates the ways in which the early field of professional practice emerged as a product of its particular socio-political climate, and demonstrates also the strong convergence between the public discourses and the professional discourses surrounding the field in this period; a convergence which was progressively weakened in subsequent decades.

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