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Type: Journal article
Title: What is literacy? Thirty years of Australian literacy debates (1975-2005)
Author: Edwards, D.
Potts, A.
Citation: Paedagogica Historica: International Journal of the History of Education, 2008; 44(1-2):123-135
Publisher: Routledge
Issue Date: 2008
ISSN: 0030-9230
1477-674X
Statement of
Responsibility: 
Debra Edwards and Anthony Potts
Abstract: Australia is a federation of six states and two territories. Each state and territory has its own legislature, which may not be of the same political persuasion as the Commonwealth (Federal) Government. Under the Australian Constitution primary control of school education is with the State and Territory Governments, with the Australian Commonwealth Government having no specific constitutional responsibility for school education. However, this is complicated by a dual‐tiered funding system, whereby the Australian Commonwealth Government has responsibility for some funding of government schools and majority funding for non‐government schools. Since 1975 there have been moves by the Commonwealth Ministers for Education to acquire a significant role in identifying national priorities for education and constructing policies and assessment tools to achieve such goals. Financial provision and national policy formation have increasingly become the means by which Australian Commonwealth Ministers for Education have “shaped” educational debates and policies. In November 2004 the then Australian Commonwealth Minister for Education, Science and Training announced the details of the Australian Government National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy. The focus of the Inquiry was examination of research into reading, preparation of schoolteachers and literacy teaching practices, especially reading. The Inquiry may be seen as the latest move by the Commonwealth Government to influence the teaching of literacy in Australia. In this paper official notions of literacy, as outlined through the various Australian Commonwealth Government's inquiries into literacy and national policy documents for the period 1975–2005, are examined using metaphor analysis. Metaphor analysis provides a means of analysing discourses about literacy in each of the reports and policies in order to interpret the underlying ideology. These official constructs of literacy are briefly considered within the competing and wider notions of literacy in Australia academic debates and the tensions that exist in defining literacy. Why did the Australian Commonwealth Government become involved in the literacy debates during this time? In particular, how has the Australian Commonwealth Government defined literacy and why did it take a more controlling role in both the definition of literacy and the shaping of education for literacy? The reasons for the Australian Commonwealth Government becoming involved in the literacy debates remain largely unresolved. In this paper it is proposed that involvement in the literacy debates constituted a way for the Commonwealth Government, in a time of economic rationalisation, to change their role in educational reform from one of financial assistance to one of leadership in curriculum. It is also proposed that a metaphor analysis of the policy documents and associated reports indicates a move from a wide definition of literacy to an increasingly narrow and utilitarian definition of literacy, reflecting the predominantly economic focus of the Australian Commonwealth Government.
Keywords: literacy policy; language policy; educational debates; metaphor analysis; discourse analysis
Rights: © 2008 Stichting Paedagogica Historica
RMID: 0020109276
DOI: 10.1080/00309230701865496
Appears in Collections:Education publications

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