A national stocktake of numeracy provision in enabling courses in Australian Higher Education

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A national stocktake of numeracy provision in enabling courses in Australian Higher Education

This Report describes the findings from an AALL-funded project seeking to map academic numeracy provision in enabling programs across Australia.

Authors: Evonne Irwin, Sally Baker and Ben Carter

This Report describes the findings from an AALL-funded project seeking to map academic numeracy provision in enabling programs across Australia. Enabling education in various incarnations has been offered as a pathway to Australian higher education for many decades. It is available to people who do not meet traditional entry requirements and yet wish to prepare for and enter university studies. For many years, enabling programs have been offered at no or very little cost to students, yet, as we come to the end of writing this Report, that situation is under threat.
In this Report we draw attention to the context of enabling education in Australia as being free from the obligation to conform to national quality standards or curriculum frameworks. We do not draw attention to this context as a criticism of the field—we have witnessed and learned about many innovative, caring and robust pedagogical practices as we have carried out this study and our previous study (Baker & Irwin, 2015) into Academic Language and Literacies (ALL) provision in enabling programs. Rather, we seek to highlight and celebrate the affordances to respond to local contexts and student needs via curricula that can move freely and flexibly. Such conditions are rare in a higher education landscape that is increasingly dominated by an imperative to streamline (or reduce) in the name of efficiency and heightened accountability.
However, along with the affordances and minimal accountability to national standards comes marginality. In other words, while there is freedom in ‘flying under the radar’, there is also lack of recognition and misunderstanding. At a time when the shape of enabling education is under threat from government funding policy, it is important to raise the profile of the social and pedagogical triumphs occurring in this space and to reveal to policy-makers and university senior managements the importance of enabling education as a critical layer of Australia’s tertiary education landscape.
This Report adds to our previous study (Baker & Irwin, 2015) by illuminating further the contexts, content and shape of enabling programs in Australia. We conducted a desktop audit of publicly available information pertaining to numeracy and mathematics provision in enabling programs and interviewed enabling educators from 27 programs in 23 higher education institutions. We asked our participants about the positioning of numeracy in their programs and about how it is assessed, ‘diagnosed’ and supported. We found that numeracy is considered an essential part of preparation for university in most programs and that there is an emerging consensus about what constitutes suitable numeracy preparation for university.