Talking about NZ’s embedded literacy and numeracy approach with Indonesian vocational teachers at AUT


Recently, I had the tremendous privilege and pleasure of spending a day at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) talking about literacy and numeracy with a group of vocational teachers and tutors from Indonesia.

The group was large. The image above shows half of the team and I need to paste in a second photo below so you can see the other half. Here we go…


My sincere thanks to Dr Adrian Schoone at AUT for inviting me to join these teachers for a day in their busy schedule. Adrian also deserves credit for the two photos above.

These vocational teachers and other support staff were here on a two-week study tour in October looking at how we teach trades and vocational education in Aotearoa New Zealand.

And as part of our introductions and whakawhanaungatana (getting to know each other), I asked them all to place themselves on a giant map I had projected on the wall.

As you can see below, they came from all over Indonesia – from the West to the East.

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For my part, it was a brief and hopefully fun introduction to literacy, numeracy and the embedded approach that we’ve developed here over the last 10 years.

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We had a play with some of the online tools that we have in New Zealand for literacy and numeracy as well. Luckily, AUT had a computer lab big enough to house us all for an hour or so.

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My students for the day were friendly, engaged and worked hard to transcend some of the language barriers between us.

One of the most interesting things for me was realising how integral approaches from Te Ao Māori are now to any discussion I want to have about this work.

Concepts like ako and tuakana-teina seemed to really resonate with the group and their own cultures.

In fact, some had questions about how they could incorporate aspects of their own indigenous ways of knowing and being into their teaching practice.

Just on that note, according to Wikipedia:

  • there are over 300 ethnic groups speaking more than 700 living languages across the vast Indonesian archipelago.

So these weren’t questions I felt could readily answer, but hopefully, they will open a door to further positive discussion back home.

This, in turn, should feed into the work these excellent teachers are doing to invigorate and reinvigorate vocational education in Indonesia.

Overall, it was an excellent day,  I loved spending time with this group and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

To my new friends and colleagues:

  • Assalam ‘alaikum. I wish you all the best with your work in Indonesia and hope our paths cross again at some stage.



Approaches: What is prior knowledge?

Approaches in adult LN (5)

Using prior knowledge

What is it?

In a nutshell, it’s the knowledge, experiences, beliefs, and attitudes you bring to any new learning or teaching.

Can we dig a little deeper?

Prior knowledge, also sometimes called prior learning, is the knowledge that someone has before they meet new information.

Every one of your adult learners comes into your teaching environment knowing certain things. Sometimes this is through experience. Sometimes this is through other learning or training.

Using prior knowledge means that you do something to find out what people already know (or do). Often the best way to do this is to ask questions or encourage discussion about the new content or skill.

How does this approach contribute to a learner-centred teaching environment?

This contributes to a learner-centred teaching environment because it allows you as the tutor to step back from focusing on what you know, to focusing on what your learners might know.

One learner-centred strategy could be that you guide your learners through a discussion about the new content in a way that is more meaningful to them, rather than lecturing them over the top of a set of powerpoint slides. Learners will often listen to other learners with useful experiences more actively than the would to your explanations.

This gives you some useful diagnostic information, but more importantly it allows your learners to connect what is being learned to what they already know in some way.

Another way that it contributes to a learner-centred teaching approach is that it’s part of the process of  training them to be independent, lifelong learners.

You can improve your learners’ understanding of new content by activating their prior knowledge before dealing with the new information.

In fact, it would seem that for adults, learning progresses mainly from prior knowledge. And only secondarily from the materials that we present to students. Think about that for a minute…

  1. Do you take the time to slow down and ask your learners what they already know about the content?
  2. What are some specific questions you could ask your group to get some discussion happening before you teach next?

Approaches: What is learner-centred?

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What is it?

Learner centred teaching is an approach that places the learner at the centre of the learning. This means that the learner or student is responsible for learning while the tutor is responsible for facilitating the learning. This is also known as student-centred learning.

This idea of the teacher as the “facilitator” means that the focus of teaching shifts from the teacher to the student. This type of teaching should put learners’ interests first.

Why is this important?

Taking a learner centred approach is important for adult teaching environment for many reasons. One is that it helps to develop learners who can learn and work on their own. This means that it enables life-long learning and independent problem-solving.

Another reason that it’s important is that by putting responsibility for learning in the hands of learners, we encourage them to be active and responsible participants in their own learning. Learner centred teaching is now seen as good practice internationally.

By contrast, traditional education is often “teacher centred”. This means that the teacher is in the “active” role while the learners are “passive”. Very few of us are good learners when we are in this kind of “passive” role in a teaching situation.

Many of our learners who have low adult literacy and numeracy skills struggle in teacher-centred environments. Anything that you can do to make learning more “active” for them is a good thing.

Here’s a quick comparison of what learner centred teaching might include versus a more traditional teacher-centred approach.



  • The focus is on both the learners and the tutor.
  • The focus is on the tutor who is the expert.
  • The focus is on how the learners will use the skills or content
  • The focus is on what the tutor knows about the skills or content.
  • Tutor models. Learners interact with tutor and each other.
  • Tutor talks. Learners listen.
  • Learners work in pairs, groups, or alone depending on the task.
  • Learners work alone.
  • Learners work without constant monitoring and correction. Tutor provides feedback or corrections as questions come up.
  • Tutor monitors and corrects.
  • Learners have some choice of topics.
  • Tutor chooses topics.
  • Learners evaluate their own learning. Tutor also evaluates.
  • Tutor evaluations student learning.
  • Learning environment (may not be a classroom) is often noisy and busy.
  • Learning environment (usually a classroom)  is quiet.

APPROACHES in adult literacy and numeracy education


Kia ora and welcome…!

This is the second of seven collections covering the knowledge and skills you need to teach better by embedding literacy and numeracy into your training.

By the end of this second part, you will have covered:

  • What you need to know to understand some of the approaches and concepts we use in adult literacy and numeracy education.

This next big content area breaks down into two modules. Here’s what’s coming up:

  • How should we look at teaching and learning?

We’ll take a look at some of the approaches that we use in adult literacy and numeracy education. Some of these are from adult teaching and others come from the world of Māori education.

  • What are other key ideas you need to know?

As well as different approaches for teaching, you need to know a few key ideas and concepts that we use to talk about adult literacy and numeracy learning. Again, some come from more general teaching approaches and methods, and others come from Te ao Māori.