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July 2003   

Interview: As They Say In The Bible ...
One the movement�s great characters, Public Service Association general secretary Maurie O�Sullivan, is calling it a day. He looks back on his career with Workers Online.

Industrial: Just Doing It
Sportswear giant, Nike, is the first company to sign off on an agreement that purports to protect Australian clothing workers, wherever they labour, writes Jim Marr.

Unions: Breaking Into the Boys Club
For a 23-year-old woman who has never worked in the trade, recruiting young construction apprentices into the union has its challenges, reports Carly Knowles.

Activists: Making the Hard Yards
Mal Cochrane came to the smoke as part of an Aboriginal avalanche that redefined the face of Rugby League. Today, he serves his community through the trade union movement.

Bad Boss: In the Pooh
What do you give a boss who makes his workers labour in raw sewage? A nomination for the Tonys.

Unions: National Focus
In the national wrap Noel Hester finds a Victorian Misso delo who is redistributing lucre from Eddie McGuire into workers� theatre, South Australian unions taking that Let�s Get Real stuff seriously, an American unionist fronts up at a distinguished �meeting of the brains� in Adelaide and a look at the line up for ACTU Congress.

Economics: Pop Will Eat Itself
Dick Bryan wonders if we can be insured against pop economists promising financial nirvana as well as financial market instability.

Technology: Dean for President
Paul Smith looks at how the internet is helping one Democrat candidate to the front of the primary pack

International: Rangoon Rumble
Union Aid Abroad's Marj O'Callaghan looks at Australia's weak response to developments in Burma.

Education: Blackboard Jungle
Lifelong learning shouldn�t mean cutting jobs, but that's exactly what the Carr Government is proposing, argues Tony Brown

Review: From Weakness to Strength
Labor Council crime-fighter Chris Christodoulou catches up with his boyhood hero, the Incredible Hulk

Poetry: Downsized
Resident bard David Peetz pens the song the Industrial Relations Commission needed to hear


The Soapbox
Cleaning Up
Rabbi Laurie Coskey from San Diego adds her voice to the global campaign for just for cleaners in Westfield malls.

The Locker Room
The Name In The Game
In an age of the sportsperson as celebrity it seems that names are overtaking the games, writes Phil Doyle.

The Beach
Southern Thailand�s terrorist activities: facts or fiction asks HT Lee


A Recipe for Conflict
Without making any excuses, Tony Abbott�s hand wringing at this week�s airing of a secret video of picket line violence was a bit like watching Don King condemn boxing.


 Aussie Workers Cradle-Snatched

 Morris McMahon Workers Say Thanks

 Violence: Emerson Fingers Abbott

 Cowboys Face Contracts Ban

 TUTA Rises From the Ashes

 Teased Teachers Fight Back

 Labor Fails TAFE Test

 Coke Called on to Stop the Rot

 Bridgestone Drops Doughnut on Workers

 AIRC Locked in Dark Ages

 Maternity Breakthrough in Hotels

 Labour Rights: Even Bush is Better!

 Long Winter for Seasonal Workers

 Activist Notebook

 A Tribute to Brian Miller
 Orange Peel
 After the Accident
 Cuba - the Debate Continues
 Old Ted
 Greetings from Japan
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Blackboard Jungle

Lifelong learning shouldn�t mean cutting jobs, but that's exactly what the Carr Government is proposing, argues Tony Brown


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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