UA is the peak body representing Australia’s 39 comprehensive universities. Universities provide education opportunities to a range of students at different life stages and backgrounds. However, universities are not specific foundation skills providers and, therefore, we have focused our response on the questions pertinent to our sector.
Universities, as tertiary education institutions, play a critical role in educating the nation’s future, and provide a range of programs and projects that build off and, in some cases, facilitate foundational skills development for adults. For example, universities provide pathways programs, outreach programs and other projects to engage students and potential students from a diverse range of backgrounds. Whilst universities are not specifically set-up to provide foundation skills development for literacy, numeracy and digital skills in formative years, they do provide opportunities for foundation skills development leading up to university and during university.
While the paper proposes aligned definitions with the OECD for literacy, numeracy and digital skills, we believe they could be better aligned to Australia’s context while reflecting other definitions currently in use within the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Australian curriculum. In particular, we would like to highlight the need to include an oral communication component within the definition of literacy. While the current definition limits literacy to a purely written component of communication, an oral component better captures the importance of effective communication and reflects diversity in different populations, particularly Australia’s Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Furthermore, JSA could consider a broader cultural and linguistic definition of literacy and numeracy that accounts for Australia’s cultural and linguistic diversity. While for the purposes of international comparisons, English language definitions will remain important, for domestic purposes a broader approach could be considered to realise the diversity of Australia’s cultural foundation skills more fully.
It is important to recognise the unique histories of Australia’s Indigenous peoples and Australia’s multicultural populations, whose cultures and histories emphasise oral history and oral communication as a core aspect of identity. Additionally, an oral component has already been implemented in the Australian curriculum, which reflects Australia’s learning environment and would provide a more holistic view of literacy for JSA to consider.