Written by Tricia Bowen
This VALBEC publication was launched on International Literacy Day – 8 September 2011 at Glenroy Neighbourhood Learning Centre.
During 2010, Tricia Bowen completed this project of recording the stories of adult literacy students across Melbourne and regional Victoria. The aim of the project was to gather stories which illuminated the lives and learning experiences of these students, while describing the challenges they faced, the events that had provoked their decision to return to ‘school’, and ultimately how their lives had changed and shifted following that decision to undertake adult education. Their stories reflect a changing sense of personal identity and growth in self confidence to engage with the world.
Everyone she spoke to suggested that improved literacy skills had rejuvenated and reinvigorated their sense of optimism about the future. They highlighted the important role that adult literacy teachers had played in ensuring they felt respected and listened to along the way. Many of them shared stories of new opportunities with work or study, all of which they saw as a direct result of their developing skills and confidence with literacy.
Each of these interviews was recorded with permission and from the pages and pages of transcribed conversations six stories have emerged. Each of these stories reveals profound insights into the power of literacy, the sense of powerlessness that exists when individuals cannot access the written word, and the sense of accomplishment and possibility that emerges when individuals are able to ‘read the world’ around them. As one of the storytellers suggested, being able to read and write simply means ‘you end up with such a fuller sense of self.’
Much thought, time and energy has gone into exploring the nature and scope of literacy, by researchers, committed educators and a host of government departments regularly offering definitions regarding literacy, and what it means to be literate in the 21st century. However, these explanations are generally provided by highly literate people, who are attempting to come to terms with representing what it means to be in the world, while not being able to read and write.
The stories in this collection aim to present an alternative view, told by those who understand the concepts of literacy and illiteracy at a very personal level. By offering candid and powerful insights as to the everyday impact of not being able to read and write, these storytellers have made a significant and thought-provoking contribution to our understanding of the meaning and reach of literacy.
Thanks to all those who so generously trusted Tricia with their stories, and for allowing VALBEC to bring them to a wider audience through the publication of the book and through these webpages.