Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

`New' Literacies for `New' Times? Shaping Literacy Curricula for the Post-Compulsory Years

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

`New' Literacies for `New' Times? Shaping Literacy Curricula for the Post-Compulsory Years

Article excerpt

This paper considers tensions associated with constructing literacy curricula for students in the post-compulsory years of schooling, where discourses of work, higher education and school accreditation jostle for prominence. Using an Australian state as example, the paper demonstrates how students are channelled towards different versions of English literacy in the senior secondary school, and how literacy curricula become complicit in the hierarchical sorting and streaming of young adult learners. Students seeking immediate post-school employment are offered a literacy program which emphasises practical, routine literacy skills and procedures, whereas students preparing for higher education entry are offered a curriculum which emphasises public, formal, theoretical analysis and imaginative and creative language play. The paper argues that post-compulsory students need access to a literacy repertoire that extends beyond such simple differentiation: a flexible and intelligent repertoire of literacy practices that prepares students for the changing and dynamic face of contemporary literate practice.


In this paper I consider how English literacy has been defined and appropriated by various discourses operating in the post-compulsory schooling arena. Although the paper will consider in particular the situation that applies in one Australian state--Queensland--the issues that I raise are relevant throughout Australia. My argument is that the English literacy curricula that have been developed in Queensland for post-compulsory learners reflect the tensions of being drawn from a set of potentially oppositional discourses, as concerns for workplace relevancy jostle with traditional concepts of secondary school curriculum. Literacy at this post-compulsory level has become a highly contested and politically charged arena where the nature and purpose of post-compulsory schooling become of critical concern, and where literacy practices become complicit in the social differentiation of young adult learners in terms of economic and social privilege.

The result is unfortunate for young adult learners (and for their parents and carers), who need to make curriculum choices that will have profound effects upon their post-schooling lives. What comes to count as literacy at this level matters. It matters what literacy repertoire young adults have access to, to buffer them in their post-schooling lives. It matters whether or not they exit school with an acceptable form of `literacy' certification or accreditation. And it matters whether they understand how various constructions of literacy will be used hierarchically to stream and sift and sort them, not only in their schooling lives, but also in their future workplace, family and community lives.

Policy construction is always a pragmatic discursive endeavour. The production of the policy text is directly linked to its institutional and cultural contexts (Fairclough, 1989): to the voices who have been positioned to `speak'; to the knowledges allowed and valued; to the political and social agendas of government departments. And the production of literacy policy texts is particularly problematic. Literacy, as Hodgens, Green, and Luke (1996) remind us, is a `highly volatile and political term'.

   Literacy is the point at and around which interest groups stake powerful
   claims on schooling in general and the curriculum in particular. It is a
   key point at which media opinion--and with it, public opinion--comes to
   bear on schooling. (p. 10)

In this paper I plan to scrutinise the assumptions that underlie literacy syllabus construction for post-compulsory learners: to examine how syllabus documents attempt to build a coherent story about literacy, and the literate subject for whom they are designed, and how these stories and subjectivities then become politically and socially significant in young adults' futures. In particular, I want to unravel the possibilities of construction of various literacy syllabuses in the post-compulsory years in Queensland. …

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