literacy training – hidden in a “healthy cooking” course
Rationale - Background
Employees in the province of Lower Saxony (and of some other provinces) in Germany have the right to take one week of Education Leave per year to attend courses. Employers are required by law to grant up to one week of paid leave for such purposes. Courses do not necessarily need to be directly related to work. They must, however, be officially approved by a public body set up for that purpose.
VHS Hannover offers various kinds of Education Leave courses. One is a course called “Reading and Writing Skills in Everyday Life and Work” (Lese- und Schreibkompetenz in Alltag und Beruf). It provides participants with an intensive learning week in the field of literacy and basic education. The peculiar thing is that this wrapped into a “healthy cooking” course.
The week is usually attended by people who also visit regular literacy courses at VHS Hannover. The healthy cooking topic helps participants ask their employers for Education Leave without exposing themselves with their low levels of literacy.
For the participants it is important that at the end of their educational leave they feel safer in reading and writing, and generally in using German language, as often participants come from a non-German background. Additionally they get acquainted with new cooking recipes and with principles of healthy nutrition.
The advantage of a cooking course is the automatic "casual" learning of German grammar, and the practicing of reading and writing skills in friendly everyday situations. Moreover, in the Education Leave setting, participants often feel more free to act and to express themselves than they would in a normal course with classes once a week.
VHS Hannover organises an Education Leave course in the area of literacy and basic education every winter semester. The official name of the course is "Reading and Writing Skills in Everyday Life and at Work”. The course includes a total of 40 teaching hours over 5 days. The number of participants is maximum 15. Trainers are experienced teachers in the field of literacy and basic education, usually hired from the pool of freelance teachers who regularly work for VHS Hannover.
The courses take place in one of the venues of VHS Hannover equipped with an instructional kitchen.
As for literacy training is related to the living situations of the participants. On the first morning, the trainer collects wishes and suggestions of participants for the course, makes participants self-assess their literacy skills, and thus establishes the concrete training needs.
The “visible” topic of the course is "healthy eating". All literacy and basic education training elements are grouped around this topic. This includes reading and writing recipes, calculating prices, and eventually creating one’s own recipe book.
Cooking courses in the winter semester are designed to suit the needs of more advanced students. For people with lower skills, VHS Hannover organises education leave courses in summer, which so far however do not use the cooking topic but concentrate on literacy straight on. The two different levels of education leave courses are used in order to set up learning groups that are relatively homogenous regarding their literacy skills.
Target group (Recruitment, Motivation)
Target group: Initially, these courses were set up to be open to everybody in need. Most participants were participants of regular literacy courses (weekly lessons). Since 2015, the concept has been extended to include also participants of workplace-oriented basic education courses. (VHS Hannover organises such courses for example for employees of the municipal building cleaning unit.)
Motivation and recruitment: Teachers of VHS Hannover who are in contact with the participants in other (regular) literacy and basic education courses, or in workplace-related basic education courses, contact potential participants and recommend them applying for an education leave. They also help filling in the paper-work.
An important element of motivation to participate is also the Education Leave programme: participants get five days extra holidays in order to attend the course (legal provision of the province of Lower Saxony.)
These courses are offered once a year, so it is difficult to speak of “average” numbers. However, a typical situation would be such a course to have 6 participants, mixed male and female, and aged between 30 to 60 years.
General characterisation of participants: Participants typically are adults in employment on „simple“ jobs such as facility management, gardening, etc. Usually they are attending other courses to improve their literacy skills, and their teachers at VHS Hannover recommend them to apply for education leave and attend the cooking course.“
Most participants are in employment (quite naturally so as this is an Education Leave programme). Occasionally, however, also retired people attend the course, e.g. in order to improve their reading skills in order to be able to read aloud for their grandchildren.
Prior to registering for the course, external participants are invited for personal education counselling with one of the literacy specialists of VHS Hannover. The counselling follows a method developed especially for people in need of literacy training in Germany (called “alpha consultation” / Alpha-Beratung). Only then registration is possible.
For internal participants, i.e. people who already have attended other literacy courses at VHS Hannover, their level of skills is already known to the educators, so no special skills assessment is necessary.
Validation of learning outcomes
After completion of the educational leave, students receive an a certificate of successful participation issued by VHS Hannover. This has an encouraging effect on the participants, but it is also needed in order to document participation to the employers who granted the leave.
The experience of the past few years shows that through participating in an educational leave course, employees increasingly start supporting each other, understanding the living and working conditions of the others, and start feeling less isolated from society because of their reading and writing weaknesses.
VHS Hannover also observes that employees who attend these education leave courses become more self-conscious and start overcoming the embarrassment they by default experience due to their low level literacy. As an effect, they also start to take part in their employers' training opportunities or/and responding to job vacancies.