Building a just society



Senator Mehreen Faruqi, Greens Spokesperson for Lifelong Learning

From our first steps to retirement, the opportunity to learn and discover unlocks our potential and allows us to live a good life.

I believe that guaranteeing universal greater access to adult education will help us build a just society and prepare for futures we have not yet imagined. Lifelong learning enriches all our lives.

I’m proud to bring my experience as a student and teacher of civil and environmental engineering to the Greens’ lifelong learning portfolio. I’ve spent most of my teaching years in universities. My own experience, and that of hundreds of my students at all stages of their lives, has taught me the value of ongoing learning. It has also shown me the ongoing barriers to a truly world-class adult education system in Australia.

Everyone needs access to education no matter what stage of life they’re in, whether they’re seeking a second chance at education as an adult or simply have a passion for learning. Not for profit providers of adult and community education are essential parts of their community.

Any view of the landscape of adult education over the last decades indicates that the largest barrier to success for Australian education is insufficient and insecure funding. Both the Labor and Liberal parties have used our most respected educational institutions as piggy banks to be turned upside down and shaken out each time the government cries poor.

Universities funding has been cut under both parties, while students numbers have declined in a TAFE system starved of resources and forced to compete with for-profit providers. Even the seventy-year-old Adult Migrant English Program hasn’t been spared the scourge of privatisation.

Not only does a lack of funding threaten the quality of education, it limits providers’ ability to provide the flexibility and student-specific attention that makes adult education truly available to all, no matter our situation or stage in life.

In the nineties, a lack of childcare on campus led me to assist in establishing the first cooperative childcare facility at the University of New South Wales. I often think of this experience, and countless mothers who have had to leave their education because appropriate support wasn’t available, as a good illustration of the importance of creating and funding learning environments that are truly open to all. Regrettably, the present funding situation makes this standard of accessibility increasingly difficult for even the best of providers to meet.But it doesn’t have to be this way.

We need bold and transformational plans that shake up the status quo and reclaim education from the politics of austerity and neoliberalism.

We need a long overdue reset of adult education – one that places ongoing access to education throughout one’s life at the centre of how we conceive of the education sector. A reset that shifts the emphasis of education policy pronouncements away from productivity and career progression to the value of education and its immense social benefits.

In my view, the missing piece to Australia’s lifelong learning puzzle is clear: we have universal, public primary and secondary education, but have not yet taken the natural next step of extending a guaranteed free, well-resourced public education to the post-secondary stage of our lives. I believe it’s time that we did.

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