Thursday 18 June 2015

Are you smarter than a 6 year old?

Gotta love these questions...  Apparently this problem is giving adults' headaches right across the internet.  It's an entry leveled child's question.  That should be the clue right there...  Good luck.  Oh - you only have 20 seconds :)

The question is - What is the number of the parking spot the car is parked in?

If you struggle go here.  It explains what may be the problem. 

Friday 5 June 2015

Why it matters...

Into the deep. 

I spent 10 years tutoring adult learners in literacy and numeracy.  In that time, I can tell you, I witnessed some tragedies.  Stories and situations that break your heart.  

The tragedy usually comes down to a single theme.  People with dreams, ambitions and hopes that are snuffed away because they don't have the basic skills to either complete the qualifications or meet the demands of the workplace.

Many of us know the academic version - stats on a power point.  But how about the real face to face level.

For example:  
Imagine this real scenario I have experienced.  You have a meeting with a 22 year old woman, who since she was 14 has dreamed of working with children, and tell her that she will not be able to meet the basic demands of the ECE programme. Therefore, she is not being accepted onto the course,  She cries, and argues, gets mad, and blames you, and you feel like dirt.  But you know she would not have lasted the first round of assessments and would have wasted thousands of her dollars.

But, you set her on an interim literacy programme.  A pathway.  A hope.  She will spend six months improving her skills and then return.  Then with new skills she will get onto the programme.  

But I know, its probably not true.  She probably won't dramatically improve her skills.  Because the instruction will not be good enough, intense enough, or diagnostic enough.  And in the last 20 cases, the improvements weren't enough.  But there is nowhere else to send her. 

What about a young male learner - who comes to me after class with tears in his eyes because of the utter frustration at not being able to learn the algebra necessary for aspects of the course.  I know what he needs; one-on-one instruction, one hour a day for two months - I know that I could help him.  But I don't have time.  

Instead I introduce him to websites, resources and literacy services.  But I know, that that won't really help him, in this immediate point in time - which is when it counts.  He needs the knowledge now.
He leaves the course.

I have hundreds of these.  I could go on and on and on.  Piles of people unable to continue on their journey toward self fulfillment, reaching their potential - happiness?  And the bodies continue to pile up.

Here is a positive one:  A young chap in my class had just been released from prison (20 years old).  A likable guy, who was easily led.  He had never read a book, and never had a book read to him.  Could not read a word.  A friend of mine committed to working with him everyday.  Every day.

One day he looked particularly happy.  I asked what had been happening.  He said, that my friend and him (together) were reading 'Wild pork and watercress'.  "It's really good", this was the first thing I think he had ever 'really liked' that wasn't artificial.  The two of them spent weeks in that book.  They became good friends, and he made progress on his reading.  In fact they ended up going hunting together.

He learned to read.  He got a job.  Today he has a family - who he makes sure does their homework.  It happened because of buckets and buckets of help from people, but particularly one special guy who committed.  It took time, but damn if I don't look back and feel encouraged at that.

Unfortunately, if I add calculate the stories, one side outweighs the other.  And on the wrong side of the ledger.  

Soon, the Government, the TEC, and the Tertiary Sector are going to discuss the outcomes of international surveys, assessment results, economic inputs and outputs and make some decisions. Part of the decision will be made based on 'how it looks to the public', part by economics and part by a misinformed cost to benefit ratio.  The decision will be made by good people, but people who have never seen the tears - or understood the problem in the first place. 

But it doesn't actually matter because they all missed the point.

You see this is a very personal human problem, and the solution is personal and human.  Poor literacy and numeracy is no respecter of ethnicity, or of social class, or of gender, or of age.  It's equally damaging to all.    

It's a case by case personal issue.  The thinking from above is to improve systems, assess, fund, not fund, fund on performance, fund on credits, fund on assessment.  Never in my now 18 years in the sector, has this been the difference that made the difference.

No matter what happens however, the pile of bodies on one side of the ledger will keep growing. Because the answer is real people, making real relationships, with real commitment.  This cannot be produced by any funding model - and today; funding rules all.  What we need are people who care, and then train them until they are world class.  We need to pay them enough to allow them to stay doing what they are doing, as most leave to make up for the financial loss they have taken to do the work.         

So, in conclusion, why does literacy and numeracy matter?  Because it constrains an individual's ability to take part in the great human endevour - self determination and self improvement. To prevent this leads to a degradation of the human spirit.