Decoding the road code

April 2015


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Being licensed to drive can increase employment opportunities but improving literacy and numeracy may be a preliminary step for some learners. WAYNE ERB reports on a new

RoadCode.jpgFor a school leaver looking at a trades or service industry career, the ducks to get in a row include learning relevant tools and skills, gaining qualifications, gaining a driver’s licence and having the reading, writing and maths ability to pull off all the above.

The road code pathway is a new addition to Pathways Awarua, the Tertiary Education Commission’s (TEC) online literacy and numeracy resource. The addition is intended to help any adult learner prepare for driver licensing while strengthening their literacy and numeracy in an applied context.

Dr Gill Thomas, Pathways Awarua project director, says users of the road code pathway are likely to include people embarking on vocational training. Many trades learners are school leavers aged 16 to 18 who enter into certificate courses that begin on Levels 1 to 3 of the New Zealand Qualifications Framework.

“People studying at these levels sometimes face literacy and numeracy difficulties that stop them being successful in the courses they are studying,” says Thomas.

Pathways Awarua provides adult learners with nearly 350 modules. The modules contain a variety of multimedia and interactive activities that are marked automatically and users can track their progress. Use has spread across 270 tertiary providers, with 30,000 registered users. Some school students enrolled in secondary-tertiary partnerships such as Youth Guarantee are likely to be in that count.

“We’re trying to get people to want to improve their literacy and numeracy so they have greater opportunities,” says Thomas.

Real-life contexts

All modules are contextualised, meaning learners encounter vocabulary, texts and maths problems relevant to trades, service careers and situations in everyday life.

Safe road use is the latest real-life context. The road code pathway has modules on reading road signs, how to give way, driving at safe speeds, plus explanations of the stages of the graduated driver licence system.

Driving is a core skill to many blue collar careers, and there is evidence of a correlation between lack of a driver licence and unemployment. For example, the Auckland Chamber of Commerce found just 17 per cent of young job seekers in two employment skills programmes had a restricted or full licence, despite the impact on employment opportunities being “crystal clear”.

The Chamber cited cost and social norms among the reasons for lack of licences among these cohorts. Another likely cause for some people without licences is the literacy and numeracy challenges in driver tests and application forms. Thomas says feedback she gets from adult literacy tutors is that many clients enrol when the need to get a driver licence forces the client to confront gaps in reading and writing skills.

“Low adult literacy and numeracy skills are a major obstacle to young people achieving a driver’s licence,” agrees TEC tertiary education, strategy implementation group manager Frannie Aston.

Seeing the big picture

The road code pathway was jointly developed by the TEC and the NZ Transport Agency. Andrew Joel, senior education advisor at the latter, says when people do embark on gaining a licence, many prepare by doing online tests that imitate the learner licence theory test, rather than by reading The official New Zealand road code itself.

“They learn to answer the questions but they may not develop a deep understanding of the principles of the road code and why some things are the way they are, or how it all fits together,” he says.

The road code bills itself as “a user-friendly guide to New Zealand’s traffic law and safe driving practices” but Joel says the Code is acknowledged as having limitations as a learning tool.

“It has grown over the years and yet it’s still quite technical in the language, which means it’s quite a complex text for people to read. For anyone preparing to sit their learner licence test, it’s quite demanding.”

He says the NZ Transport Agency is developing a sequenced education programme to help people move right through the licence system. This will build on the Pathways Awarua resource.

Aside from helping employment prospects, more people able to move towards full licences is likely to
mean safer roads, says Joel.

“If you get people into the graduated driver licence system, that has been shown to be a very effective intervention in terms of improving safety.

People going through the licence system, sticking to the licence conditions and moving through to a full licence will be really useful for New Zealand as a whole in terms of road safety.” 

TEC-commissioned research shows Pathways Awarua is highly valued by educators and used on a regular basis as a teaching supplement, says Aston.

She says the TEC’s work in adult literacy and numeracy will continue to make use of relevant contexts, to ensure resources are useful to both learners and their educators.

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