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.

IMG_8662 2

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.

IMG_8669 2

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.

IMG_8671 2

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.



Numeracy For ESOL Teachers: You Might Not Even Realise You’re Doing It

numeracy for esol teachers

This might seem like a challenge. But it’s not. The real challenge is to think about what ESOL teachers already do through a  different lens.

If you teach English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) or have Non-English Speaking Background (NESB) learners you might be surprised to realise that you are possibly already embedding numeracy into your teaching.

Here are some examples in different ESOL-specific contexts:

Everyday life in NZ

In an “Everyday life in NZ” or similar ESOL course, you might discuss and teach any of the following:

  • Telling the time including doing time calculations.
  • Reading a bus timetable or schedule of some kind. This can also include calculations if you have to work out when you will arrive at a destination.
  • Giving, receiving and following directions.
  • Reading maps; navigation tasks are all numeracy.

Even if you don’t deal with these, there are lots of tasks relating to time, space, and location that are essential for basic survival ESOL teaching.

Workplace literacy and ESOL

In a workplace ESOL environment, it’s even easier to make the connection to numeracy. Many workplaces require staff to undertake tasks involving measurement or do calculations. If you are a workplace ESOL tutor, you’ll already be aware of the numeracy demands. Here are some examples:

  • Understanding and working with weights and measures, The context here might include weighing flour using grams and kilograms on a metric scale with up to three decimal places, for example.
  • Understanding personal benchmarks for numeracy. This might include recognising key measurements or weights for specific purposes, e.g. knowing what 20kg “feels like”.
  • Using partitioning strategies for doing mental calculations. Here a worker might need to work out how many boxes are stacked on a pallet in a warehouse. Counting all the boxes is less efficient than understanding basic area and volume.

Academic ESOL

In an academic preparation course, you might require your learners to use numeracy skills for any of these:

  • Interpreting data in a graph or table and then writing this down in words. The demands here might relate to achieving an IELTS band 5 for writing with an attached set of descriptors, for example.
  • Conducting an informal research project which involves gathering data and presenting it back in some way.

Why is this relevant?

If you teach ESOL as part of TEC funded workplace literacy or as part of SAC 1 and 2 funded training, you are now required to gain the NCALNE (Voc) qualification. Also, if you teach ESOL as part of TEC funded ILN-targeted ESOL you may also find yourself under pressure to upskill in the same way.

Connection to the NCALNE (Voc) training

If you need to complete the NCALNE (Voc) qualification you will need to provide evidence that you have analysed the literacy and numeracy demands of your training. We’re working on an NCALNE (Voc) – ESOL option specifically to help with this. There’s a preliminary Q & A page here.

Knowing the demands

If you are an ESOL teacher, you might not think that your course has any numeracy demands. If you can’t provide evidence of any numeracy demands your assessor will not be able to sign off on particular aspects of the NCALNE (Voc). You won’t be able to pass in other words.

However, if you can take a fresh look at your work in the light of the examples above, you might find that, yes… actually, there are numeracy demands. And yes, you do embed numeracy.

Do you have any other examples of numeracy teaching occurring naturally within ESOL contexts? I’d love to hear about them. Please let me know in the comments.

7 More Trends In Education That Will Disrupt Our Work as Teachers


A while ago I wrote about 7 trends in education that will disrupt our work as teachers. Here are 7 more. There is some crossover between them. But 18 months is a long time in internet years and the situation in education is changing.

1. Consolidation

In New Zealand, there is a good trade in private training establishments (PTEs). Well, recently anyway. There is also a trend for public training providers to merge (at least the smaller ones). One of the organisations buying up PTEs is now a publicly traded company listed on the NZX.

It’s economics that motivates these sales, acquisitions and mergers. And hey, if you’re reading this and you’ve got the budget, then feel free to make me an offer…

Times are tough for some education providers. We are all expected to do more and more with less and less. The hidden side to consolidation is closure. Education providers will close if they can’t make a profit, sell, merge, or otherwise pivot. This includes non profit organisations.

2. Offshoring and outsourcing

Here’s how to do it. Develop and or buy a mix of face-to-face, blended, and online education products. Decentralise your training. Centralise your back office. Shift this back office (or most of it) to a cheaper offshore location. Others could handle customer service, compliance, accounts, administration, etc. In a completely different location. Like Manilla, for example.

Teachers and trainers could also be offshored and outsourced. This is harder though, especially if you’re funded to deliver training locally. But, there are ways of meeting this halfway. One way is to use a flipped classroom method or similar, with classroom based coaches and tutors.

3. Complexity

The education bureaucracy runs on rules related to compliance and funding. These rules become increasing more complex. This is just the nature of things. Compliance is a kind of taxation and inflation. Despite a few fluctuations, it always increases over time. This means that if you can navigate the complexity you can survive and thrive.

If you need someone to navigate this for you then you will always find yourself lower down the food chain. This complexity exists in all domains. So, it’s possible to learn the rules in one domain, but not understand them in another.

These rule systems are algorithms. And we should expect their administration to become computer driven and automated. This is why administrators and middle managers are being fired out of all bureaucracies.

4. Opacity

This is related to complexity. Humans are complex. So are bureaucracies as they comprise of humans (mostly anyway). Technology increases the interdependence of the parts in a system. And this increases complexity inside a system.

The 21st century education-compliance-funding-technology bureaucracy is a complex and bewildering beast. The increased complexity in the system makes it harder and harder to see the causes for the problems that we’re funded or paid to mitigate. This is opacity.

For example, in the field of adult literacy and numeracy education, the causes for low levels of adult literacy and numeracy are opaque. It’s hard to see what’s behind poor student performance. It’s a whole ecology of issues and it now seems impossible to separate these out with any coherence.

This is not a problem in practical terms as we can still see the effects and stage various interventions. But, discussion around causes (however interesting) starts to lose it’s meaning and value.

5. Automation

I’ve already written about the self driving car as a metaphor for 21st century educationMOOCs are another part of this experiment. I’ve written about our own experiments with this  including unbundling our training, how to improve MOOCs by embedding foundation learning. I’ve also done a podcast about it here.

But, automating education is fraught with difficulties. As it should be. Embarking on a course, doing a qualification, or even just learning a new skill is not the same as doing an online banking transaction.  Or watching cat videos on YouTube.

There are two barriers to automating education. One is that most of the automation models fail to have any real business model attached to them. In other words, they open source all the knowledge for free. This means that the perceived value goes down.

Participants often fail to complete since they have no skin in the game (e.g. money or other form of accountability).

Our solution to this problem is to lock up most of the assessments and the credentialing process, while keeping the content side open. So MOOC for us = “Mostly” Open Online Course instead of “Massively”.

The other problem relates to the need for human intervention in the learning process. People need coaching by people.

You can substitute videos and clever online interactions, but at the end of the day people want someone to tell them to do something, that they’re on the right track, and to answer questions and provide encouragement. Our solution has been to do this by txt, phone, and email.

As I’ve alluded to, automation of the complex rule systems that drive the funding and compliance machinery should be straightforward. I’m not passing judgement here. But in a system administrated by machines there is little room for fuzzy decision making, risk taking, or innovation. This means that innovation in education needs to come from outside of the existing funding and compliance structures.

6. Fatigue

Continual restructuring, closures, mergers, complexity, opacity, and increasing risk for those in education mean that people get tired. Particularly smaller players.

The education system is in danger of creating a kind of educational chronic fatigue syndrome where the troops on the ground are chronically fatigued due to overwork and the continual threat of job loss. Not to mention other pressures such as maintaining student numbers.

7. Risk

Education is a multi-billion dollar industry. Because of this investors including government, want to see a return on their investment. All investors want to get their money (or value) out as soon as possible. This is a rule.

This leads to short term solutions that fail to take into account the bigger picture. For example, are poor student outcomes a reflection of the larger national or even global economic success and failure cycles? Do these then impact on family situations, jobs, health, and other variables?

Risk is now shared all the way down through the system. Perhaps this is as it should be. I don’t know. But, it seems short sighted.

Organisations and people who are over-exposed to risk in the system will work to mitigate that risk once they are aware of it.

There are two parts here. One part relates to awareness. Education providers are only just starting to wake up to the inherent risks involved in having skin in the education game.

The other part relates to mitigating the risk. Managing the upside against the potential downside, for instance. It doesn’t make economic sense to have a million dollars in revenue if you are spending it all to stay afloat.

How to survive and thrive…?

I don’t have a solution. I do think there are some broad principles that apply. But, you’ll have to wait for another post.

How to win $15 million dollars for developing a literacy and numeracy training solution: Global Learning XPRIZE

If you could develop a scalable, tablet based, individualised learning solution for teaching basic literacy and numeracy to kids in developing countries, you could win $15 million dollars. It’s a competition and it’s happening right now.

You can read about it here on the xPrize website, and I’ve pasted in the details below as well. Got any ideas? Here you go:

The challenge

Develop new learning solutions to empower children and communities around the world

The $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE is a competition that challenges teams from around the world to develop open source scalable software solution that will enable children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic.

The $15 million dollar prize will be awarded as follows

Five finalist:  $1 million each will be awarded by the Judging Panel to teams with the best proposed solutions.

Grand prize winner:   $10 million will be awarded to the top performing team solution based on the field testing of the teams.

Need for the Competition

Grand Challenge

An estimated 250 million children around the world cannot read, write, or demonstrate basic arithmetic skills. Many of these children are in developing countries without regular access to quality schools or teachers.

In fact, UNESCO estimates that the world will need 1.6 million more teachers globally by 2015.  And that number is set to double by 2030.

The Market Failure

While programs exist to build schools and train teachers, traditional models of education are not able to scale fast enough to meet demand. We simply cannot build enough schools or train enough teachers to meet the need.

We are at a pivotal moment where an alternative, radical approach is necessary.  We need an approach that will eliminate the existing barriers to a quality learning experience, where the seeds of innovation can be imparted to every child, regardless of location or economic status.


The learning solutions developed by this prize will enable a child to learn autonomously. And, those created by the finalists will be open-sourced for all to access, iterate and share. This technology could be deployed around the world, bringing learning experiences to children otherwise thought unreachable, who do not have access to quality education, and supplementing the learning experiences of children who do.


The impact will be exponential. Children with basic literacy skills have the potential to lift themselves out of poverty. And that’s not all.  By enabling a child to learn how to learn, that child has opportunity – to live a healthy and productive life, to provide for their family and their community, as well as to contribute toward a peaceful, prosperous and abundant world.

XPRIZE believes that innovation can come from anywhere and that many of the greatest minds remain untapped.

What might the future look like with hundreds of millions of additional young minds unleashed to tackle the world’s Grand Challenges?

7 Trends in education that will disrupt our work as teachers


From our analysis of education in New Zealand and internationally, as well as from other sources including technological innovation, silicon valley ed-tech and other startups, we see the following as current trends impacting our work:

  1. Increased scrutiny around the economics of education: This applies both from the external position of funding agencies like the TEC who are moving to a zero-risk “investment” model of education as well as internally as providers continue to look at ways to do their work while slashing fixed costs. We’re addressing this by massively slashing our fixed costs this year. We expect government funding of education to continue to slow down. The next several years could see a massive reality check amongst education providers as fixed costs like rents continue to rise while funding slows or actually decreases.
  2. The hollowing out of middle management in education: Educational bureaucracies can no longer afford to pay for middle managers. Currently, providers still need tutors to deliver to students. However, management teams are becoming a luxury. We expect management responsibilities to devolve to a combination of technological solutions, increased tutor workload, and increased diversification of upper management responsibilities. In terms of our training, we can offer busy managers a professional development solution that helps increase tutor responsibility for delivering high quality outcomes.
  3. Technological solutions: The drive by TEC and NZQA to increase training providers’ efficiency and effectiveness externally combined with an internal drive by business owners to remain profitable will mean a shift to scalable technological solutions for education. In our field we’ve seen this trend in the massively scalable Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool which assessed over 100,000 learners. We are trying and capitalise on this trend by partnering with to create a massively scalable and open version of our training programme.
  4. A move to online business models in education: Over the next ten years we are likely to see a transition to post-industrial education where delivery is dominated by online platforms. This will cause an unbundling of education where the information and training content in an education course can be separated out from other aspects such as personalised coaching (including face-to-face, blended, and online modes), assessment, and credentialing. This in turn will open up new online business models.
  5. Unemployment and underemployment: It’s possible that there is a tension between recognition of the value of increasing literacy and numeracy levels of at risk groups in the population versus the relatively minor impact of this investment in economic terms due to an increasingly restricted job market. Currently, there is a drive to upskill at risk groups including Maori, Pacifika, and Youth. However, if graduates of these programmes such as Youth Guarantee fail to find jobs over the next few years, funding could be pulled away from these kinds of foundation-focused programmes.
  6. A greater role for industry: As some educational pathways become more expensive and education shifts online, industry may take a greater interest in training solutions that can be customised to their needs for cheap or free. This is also in line with government directives for industry to take a greater role as outlined in the latest Tertiary Education Strategy.
  7. Import export education: With the development of massive online platforms for education delivery and assessment it makes sense for the different players to collaborate and export their education products. Likewise, it makes sense for countries and industries to look at what is available internationally rather than reinvent the wheel when it comes to nationally delivered training. This will lead to import education as well as the current trend around export education.

Agree? Disagree? What do you think?



10 reasons why your adult education & training course has to go online or die a horrible death


It’s the economics stupid…! That’s my conclusion to myself at least.

  1. Education is expensive. This is because of high fixed costs like buildings, resources, managers, teachers. The technology for online education is now cheap.
  2. Educational bureaucracies are firing the middle layer of managers. In fact, traditional bureaucracies of any kind are firing the entire middle class. This isn’t an original idea to me. Just have a look around. If you are a middle class manager in some kind of bureaucracy you’d better start looking for a better job. Basically, you have three options. One is to look for a hopefully more secure job doing more or less the same thing once you get fired or restructured. The other is to become an entrepreneur of some kind. Or you can look forward to joining the under-employed.
  3. Funding for education is in short supply. Governments don’t have that much money to spend on education, so they want to reduce funding if they can. Or if they can’t they want to reduce risk. Large scale online education costs about the same as small scale online education, or at least once it’s set up the ongoing costs start heading towards zero. Who do you think they’re going to fund?
  4. Shifting education online opens up new business business models that didn’t exist before. Students paying fees works for traditional education. Online education wants to be free. It’s just information after all. Therefore, providers will need to think about new ways of generating income like subscriptions, consulting, pay-for-download products, advertising (yes, advertising), and unbundling the assessment and credentialing processes from the training side.
  5. Education providers that go online should be able to destroy their fixed costs by getting rid of buildings, physical resources, managers, and possibly teachers as well. Education providers that don’t destroy their expensive fixed costs will not survive the disruption. Providers that don’t change radically will be like publishing companies, record labels, music stores, bookshops, and newspapers – nice to have if you like them but not really necessary any more.
  6. Education is a risky business. Adult learners can be crappy to deal with. If they are not motivated or can’t see any relevance for your training they will vote with their feet. This means issues for you and your outcomes. The funders of public education actually want a zero risk environment and they’ll penalise the risk takers and reward those who can do more with less. By shifting online, education businesses can scale their training, deal with more people, and mitigate the risks associated with things like learner attrition.
  7. Education is traditionally geographically constrained which means your market is too small. You can only teach those people who can physically get to your expensive facility which you now have to get rid of. By shifting online you extend your reach to a much larger, possibly global market. That means your education niche should become a strength.
  8. Software will eat your education job. This is not really a separate point. But what do you need managers for if a learning management system plus a remote assistant can do their job online? In fact, what do you need a lot of teachers for if your learners can access the best teachers in your field by video online and anytime.
  9. The best teachers will become media stars. This is inevitable. Check out Sal Kahn online. He’s the model rockstar educator/entrepreneur for this moment. This is inevitable because of the next reason.
  10. The internet connects your learners directly to the best teachers. You don’t actually even need teaching institutions for delivering learning and training. Assessment and credentials is another matter. But think about print and music. The internet connects musicians to fans who can purchase music directly or through music platforms like Spotify and iTunes. The internet connects readers and listeners directly with authors and writers via platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct. When massive next generation global education platforms emerge they will connect learners globally with rockstar teachers and trainers the world over. Check out what’s happening with Coursera in the US for example.

These changes will benefit the learners, disrupt the establishment, and simultaneously make a whole lot of people both extremely happy and miserable. Agree or disagree? Let me know.

Kids need teachers because teachers are essential to education

Kids need teachers, right? So do adult learners, right? Well… what if they didn’t…

In New Zealand, current budget reforms mean that schools and training providers are facing tough times due to reduced funding. That means some schools will lose teachers and will need to have larger classes.

And the teachers are revolting. I mean, don’t get me wrong – there are some wonderful teachers who really care about what they do. But there are some that ought to pack it up and go home.

But regardless of the budget cuts and austerity measures faced by schools and education providers there are some other questions we should be asking as well.

For example:

  • Do we actually need the teachers?
  • Or the schools for that matter?

Regardless of what you or I actually think, education is due for major disruption about now. The received wisdom goes something like this:

Teachers are essential, and in fact, indispensable to education. Kids and adults can’t possibly learn without teachers.

Right… Now consider these timeless words of wisdom (a paraphrase):

  • People want to read books printed on paper. No one wants to read books on a device, especially not a phone or a cold slab of steel and glass.
  • No one will buy something they haven’t seen from a company they don’t know thousands of miles away by credit card. It’s just another fad.
  • You can’t beat vinyl for sound quality. Or… DVDs are here to stay. And people will always have to pay for the music they want to listen to.

It’s an assumption that schools and training providers will always look and operate the same as they always have. Just because we currently have a system where one teacher stands in front of 25 or 30 kids all day does’t automatically mean that this is what we will always have.

It’s also an assumption that education requires teachers to teach people – kids or adults. Most of us learned stuff in spite of the education system rather than because of it.

20 years ago no one would have imagined a world of digital print (e.g. Kindle), online retail (e.g. Amazon, Shopify), and essentially free online music (Spotify), let alone such innovations created by companies like Apple and Google among many others.

What we have at the moment is an example of “lock in”. Governments and schools are locked in to a particular way of doing education. It’s inconceivable for them to start again with a blank sheet of paper. Yet this is what needs to happen.

Imagine a world where the industries of retail, print, and music were government funded. Imagine then what would happen when the inevitable budget cuts roll around. All the shop assistants; magazine, newspaper, and textbook publishers; and record labels would be out on the streets protesting.

Meanwhile, they blinked. And software ate their jobs.