The contribution of family literacy programmes to the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities
Furness, J. A. (2012). The contribution of family literacy programmes to the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10289/6457
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/6457
Approaches to literacy education named as ‘family literacy programmes’ first emerged in Aotearoa New Zealand in the early 2000s amidst considerable enthusiasm. Such approaches involve adults, children, or both in literacy learning in the contexts of home and family life. They are part of a wider field, established internationally, of academic and practical endeavour encompassing studies of the literacy practices of family members, studies of parents’ support of children’s literacy development, and studies of programmes aimed at enhancing family members’ literacy abilities, and the evaluations of such programmes. It is a contentious field, with divergent views of what constitutes both literacy and family, leading to differing expectations of what programmes are for and what they might achieve. From a moral perspective, hopes for such approaches, which hold much intuitive and culturally-located appeal, must be set against the concerning disparities in wellbeing between different groups, evident and growing in New Zealand as elsewhere. The study set out to explore the effects of a range of family-focused approaches in New Zealand, and their characteristics that seemed important in achieving relevant and meaningful outcomes for participants and their families. An important aim of the study was to encourage the essential conversation concerning the ideological and research-informed basis on which policies and practices should be developed to best suit our contexts, and that have people’s overall wellbeing, as well as their literacy development, in mind. The study traced the experiences of nineteen mainly Māori, Pacific and Pākehā adult participants in four varying family-focused literacy programmes located in different kinds of communities, drawing on Kaupapa Māori methodologies in its approach. Conversational interviews with the adult participants, programme staff and others who knew the participants well, repeated over 18 months, as well as participant observations of programme sessions and programme documentation, formed an extensive data set for latent theoretical thematic analysis. I identified literacy and other changes in the participants’ lives; synergistic links between factors influencing the programme effects, ‘flow on’ of effects to wider aspects of the participants’ lives and to their families and communities, and links to the personal, relational and collective wellbeing of individuals, families and communities. The findings demonstrate that there are complex influences on programmes such that effects are highly individualised, but that there is nevertheless a tangible, discernable process in play as people journey from participation to wellbeing, in which literacy enhancement, familiarity with new literacies, and new uses of literacies, are involved. The study suggests a disjuncture between current literacy education policy and the hopes, aspirations and real lives of many people for whom the programmes are intended and who wish to contribute to their families and communities despite their complex and often fraught lives. It also demonstrates that a deep level of care and holistic concern is possible in a programme which also achieves literacy skill development. Recognition of people’s whole selves including their problems and their existing abilities in programme content and approach demonstrated the ‘respectful relevance’ that appears crucial to the involvement and the positive (useful and meaningful) outcomes that were observed. It demonstrated that a broad and inclusive evaluative lens offers the best hope for full appreciation of the contribution of programmes such as these, when the overall wellbeing of families, communities and society as a whole is placed at the centre of literacy work. The study offers new and urgently-needed ecological systems-based models within a wellbeing orientation to family literacy theory. These have implications for the future development of programmes in Aotearoa New Zealand and provide frameworks against which programmes internationally may consider their work afresh. The study calls for greater community relevance in family literacy based on local values and aspirations.
University of Waikato
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