Interview: As They Say In The Bible ...
Industrial: Just Doing It
Unions: Breaking Into the Boys Club
Activists: Making the Hard Yards
Bad Boss: In the Pooh
Unions: National Focus
Economics: Pop Will Eat Itself
Technology: Dean for President
International: Rangoon Rumble
Education: Blackboard Jungle
Review: From Weakness to Strength
The Locker Room
A Recipe for Conflict
After the Accident
Cuba - the Debate Continues
Greetings from Japan
Andrew Refshauge's blueprint for the future of education in NSW is a cynical document. Going under the heading 'Lifelong Learning' it is essentially an organisational restructure aimed at cutting out 1,000 jobs. PSA and Teachers Federation members will be seriously affected, but the longer term cost for Labor should not be under-estimated.
Education is a Labor issue. It is a Labor issue because its supporters see education as offering a way ahead and access to opportunity often denied. Education is seen as a way of broadening one's outlook on life. Today the concept of lifelong learning is one expression of education as something more than testing, testing, testing, or the pursuit of job-related skills.
The recent struggle between Crean and Beazley was just the latest reprise of the struggle by Labor to develop its vision for the future: a vision that can re-capture Labor, and non-Labor, supporters' hopes that the Party stands for something a lot better than Howard's cruel, stingy, and mean spirited society. Education is one of the key areas where people believe Labor can improve their lot and that of their children. And NSW is the state where Labor needs to make big gains to win government in Canberra.
This is a cynical document. It is unfortunately all too easy to picture the group in the Minister's or Director-General's office working on where the 1,000 jobs will disappear. Suddenly one clever dick smugly suggests 'hey what about we dress this job cut up as being lifelong learning' and sits back to chuckles all round.
Increasingly people distrust governments. Nearly all qualitative focus group research reports that people find it hard to believe what politicians say and don't trust their motives. This document isn't in the same league as the children overboard or the unfound weapons of mass destruction but it cynically uses Lifelong Learning. It confirms those distrusting views. It doesn't build support for Labor on education, it weakens it.
Lifelong learning supposes a broad and deep commitment to education and learning. It conjures up a progressive approach to learning for a contemporary society undergoing change. The wealth of documentation on lifelong learning from Europe, the UK, and Asia and from supranational bodies such as the EU, OECD, and UNESCO conceive of a new ecology of educational arrangements. Here education combines the formal institutionalised settings and the many informal sites, it supports early childhood, school, post-compulsory, adult and third age learning. It recognises indigenous knowledge and different traditions of learning while introducing positive strategies to support indigenous participation in mainstream education. It fosters workplace and community education and has a special focus on developing strategies to engage discouraged and disillusioned learners. It plays a leading role in promoting and understanding cognitive development, new teaching and learning pedagogies and the need for recognising and supporting learning in the workplace and in the community. In short it is lifelong and life-wide.
Its aim is to provide skills and knowledge for a changing economy, to equip people to deal with rapidly evolving technology, to understand the social and economic changes taking place, to appreciate the vital issues of ecology and Australian identity, and to use learning to foster community development especially in regional and rural areas. It conceives of education in a broad sense not in confining educational vision to the narrowest sense of formal educational institutions.
It has a view that education can play a key role in developing a vibrant society, with individuals skilled for the economy, prepared for civic participation and democratic involvement, confident in responding to technological, scientific and demographic change, supportive of an inclusive and multicultural society, and encouraging their children to have a positive view of ongoing learning. For the past fifteen years education has been too closely tied to narrow economic interests. Governments, planners and funding bodies have over-emphasised learning for competitiveness and productivity while neglecting its contribution to our quality of life.
Only that education contributing directly to economic productivity has been prioritised and learning for pleasure, social, civic or aesthetic purposes has been dismissed or downplayed.
Because it's harder to measure, the planners and funding bodies neglect education that builds communities and active citizens and which enriches culture.
Providing and maintaining high quality and well resourced school and vocational education must remain a priority. However there are many pressing educational issues that call for measures beyond administering the school and TAFE systems. They are essential issues of educational equity.
Three in ten kids don't complete high school making the availability of educational opportunities later in life critical if these individuals and their families are not to suffer ongoing disadvantage. More than 4 in 10 Australian adults don't have the levels of functional literacy and numeracy to adequately participate in modern Australian society and many, many others lack the skills necessary for progressing up the career ladder. More than one in five Australian adults say they don't think that education is for them, that they are finished with it. In every case indigenous peoples' educational experience and outcomes are worse than the community average.
Educational provision in NSW and Australia shows increasing rates of participation. But this progress reinforces the gap between the learning-haves and the learning-have-nots. Overwhelmingly people believe that learning makes a positive difference to their work chances, to quality of life, and to their children's prospects. Yet far too many believe that learning is not for the likes of them. Until we change those perceptions, and the responsiveness of the system to the needs of that quarter of the population then the educational equity gap will widen.
How are these issues dealt with in the restructure and the claim of promoting lifelong learning? What is the educational vision in this document? Instead of associating lifelong learning with the positive concepts of 'discovering', 'finding out new things', 'never being too old to learn', and 'working with others' , it is tied to job cuts and bureaucratic reorganisation. It has little if anything to do with promoting a new approach to education and learning.
One area in particular highlights the contradiction involved in the title and the reorganisation. The Government pays very little attention to the provision of adult and community education (ACE). A meagre budget and a small secretariat support community providers delivering education to more than 300,000 adults. Yet the most senior Departmental position for ACE is removed and the ACE unit slotted into Training Services. How can a policy that claims to be for lifelong learning remove the only senior position for adult and community education?
It would be much more honest if the Minister and Department just said we want to save money or re-direct money to other priorities. We won't be committing any additional funds so we are going to reduce the staff in order to pay for it. As a result we will be amalgamating regions, cutting out clerical positions, and spending more on online learning. But saying these changes are to promote lifelong learning treats the Department's staff and voters as gullible and therefore with contempt.
Tony Brown worked as a Senior Policy Officer in the vocational education policy directorate until 25 June. He now works as a Research Fellow in the Centre for Popular Education at UTS."
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