Reframing Literacy in Adult ESL Programs: Making the case for the inclusion of identity
Adult ESL programs in the Australian context are heavily influenced by neo-liberal notions of functional literacy and numeracy. This paper argues that such notions, designed to enable the learner to function within the workplace or community can fail to acknowledge the complexity of ESL program participation for adult learners. This may be considered especially so for pre-literate learners from refugee backgrounds who have low or minimal levels of literacy in their own language and are hence negotiating a new skill set, a new culture and arguably a new sense of identity. This paper is based on research which points to the need to position the learning of literacy and numeracy in the ESL context as a social and educational journey made meaningful by a learner's sense of (emerging) identity. In this context a holistic, socially orientated understanding of their learning and their progress is preferable to an approach which views and evaluates learners against preconceived functional literacy skills. The participants in this study were people of refugee background from Africa with minimal literacy skills.
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