Igniting a spirit of discovery

Gerard Mansour, Commissioner for Senior Victorians

My current role as Commissioner for Senior Victorians is the most important role I’ve ever undertaken.

My career pathway was varied. As I reached the end of my time at secondary school, I had no idea what career I wanted to do, and so at 18 years old, I rode my motorbike to Sydney and lived there for two years. During that time, I had the chance to try different types of work and stumbled on the profession of youth work. My passion was ignited, and I completed my youth work course a few years later. This set me on a career that focussed on people, from youth work to community education, a decade in the trade union movement before becoming a CEO and running peak bodies in children’s services and later in aged care.

When I reflect on my own career pathway, there is a strong connection throughout to learning, education, study and research. I have been so lucky to have the opportunity to travel both in Australia and overseas too. It is so inspiring to travel to a new place, explore the history, talk to the locals and discover something more about the world in which we live.

The spirit of ‘discovery’ and ‘exploration’ are in my view key elements in the quest for a successful and fulfilling experience of ageing, of growing older.

In my current role, I have the absolute pleasure of being able to spend lots of my time out in the community, talking with, and listening to, the enormously diverse experiences of senior Victorians. In these conversations two things stand out to me.

Firstly, we are never too old to learn. There are just so many ways that senior Victorians can explore and discover, often within our own local communities, neighbourhoods or regions. Just think about how many neighbourhood houses there are, learn locals, libraries or museums where we can continue to broaden our knowledge and understanding as we age. There are key institutions that provide adult education, TAFE colleges and many other opportunities to continue to learn.

My own Auntie, as she approached 80 years of age, completed a Year 12 English subject because she had never had the chance to finish secondary school. How inspiring is her story and those of so many others who keep learning and re-discovering as they age.

Secondly, I have learnt from the stories of so many older people just how important it is to remain socially connected. The international literature now clearly tells us that isolation and loneliness can be killer experiences that take years off our lives. So many of our opportunities to continue to grow and learn involving connecting with other people. I don’t think it is any accident that over the last twenty years one of the rapidly growing grass roots movements is the University of the Third Age (U3A). I hear great stories about older people who join a U3A because they are inspired to learn a language like French. Or they want to understand more about history. Or join a book club. There are Neighbourhood Houses, Men’s Sheds, Life Activity Clubs and so many community groups and organisations who provide wonderful opportunities to build and maintain social connections – but I don’t have the space to list them here. Your local library or local council are great places to start to find out what’s on and available in your local community

So many older people are an inspiration to us all as they continue to learn, seek to better understand our world and explore life right throughout their seniors years!

And so, what will inspire you to try something different? For me, I’ve recently discovered Listening Books via the Borrowbox App that is available in many local libraries. I now combine listening to books with my local walks around the Maribyrnong River.

Let’s put to bed the myth “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. So, what will inspire you to ‘discover’ and ‘explore’ as you age?

We should hope for more

Associate professor Tony Brown

Associate professor Tony BrownAssociate Professor Tony Brown, University of Canberra

Elections focus attention on what we hope for in the immediate future, and what we aspire to become as a society.

My main underlying hope this year is that the atmosphere surrounding our national discourse will change. That the shrill tone and meanness of spirit that has dominated discussion on issues like immigration, security, energy and climate can be altered. If the tone and tenor of debate becomes more civil then we will all be better able to engage more constructively with each other, including those with whom we disagree.

What hope should we be looking for in education?

It’s easy to understand why governments focus on school funding, higher education, vocational training and more recently early childhood education. They are the big-ticket areas and they engender the most concern from parents, unions, sectoral providers and industry.

Policy has been dominated for decades now by a narrow concentration on education as a means to build competitiveness in the labour market. Will the next government simply continue on managing this policy setting, albeit with some important adjustments to the mix of school funding, restoring cuts in TAFE, higher education and research funding, ending the scandalous waste that accompanied the privatisation of VET, and expanding pre-school education?

Or could it set a new course?

We should ask if education, as currently configured, is meeting the needs of a complex society, beyond preparation for work. What if a new government set itself some more ambitious goals? Goals that recognise a broader set of educational needs. Goals that recognise that many learners don’t follow a neat linear path through education, and that one in five Australians are over the age of 60 and looking for different educational opportunities.

A more ambitious agenda would understand the need to foster learning throughout life and offer a progressive approach to learning for a contemporary society undergoing change. It would conceive of a new educational ecology that combines formal institutionalised settings and the many informal sites. It would support early childhood, school, post-compulsory, adult and third age learning, and recognise Indigenous knowledge and different traditions of learning while introducing positive strategies to support Indigenous participation in mainstream education. It would foster workplace and community education and focus on engaging discouraged and disillusioned learners. It would play a leading role in promoting and understanding cognitive development, new teaching and learning pedagogies. Its aim would be 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 climate change and sustainability, and to use learning to foster community development especially in regional and rural areas.

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. However, for the past thirty years it 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.

Learning for pleasure, social, civic or aesthetic purposes has been dismissed or downplayed. Because it’s harder to measure, 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, higher and vocational education must remain a priority. However, there are many pressing social, health and economic issues that call for measures beyond administering the existing systems. They are essential issues of educational equity.

Establishing a national policy framework around education and learning that provides the umbrella to support and encourage all forms of organised education, and to then provide the resources to deliver on an expanded vision would make clear that a new government is committed to something more than business as usual.

The question after May shouldn’t be ‘Can we do more?’ but rather can we afford not to do more?

Every election raises hope that things will improve; lets hope that this year an incoming government will expand its horizon and mark the beginning of something better.

A lifelong learning policy

Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash

Senator the Hon Michaelia CashSenator the Hon. Michaelia Cash, Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education

Lifelong learning is an integral part of living a full, active, contributing life.

The Liberal National Government understands that having a pipeline of skilled workers is necessary to fill the jobs of the future as our economy continues to prosper –– a skilled workforce is the greatest asset we have to build our cities and regions.

As Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education, I am absolutely committed to supporting all Australians to gain the skills they need to work and to thrive and participate in the economy.

Senior Australians are our most experienced workforce and their economic contribution should not be discounted. We want to make sure they can access the skills they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Our economic growth will suffer if we don’t ensure members of this generation have the skills and training they need to be engaged in the workforce of the 21st Century.

Our Government wants to ensure we create the right conditions to support people to pursue their goals, to work, acquire new skills, change careers, and continue to thrive no matter how old they may be or what their start in life was.

Many Australians will need to be working into and beyond their 60s or 70s to support the country’s need for skilled workforce. And many Australians want to both learn and work during these years.

To meet this objective, Australia’s tertiary education sector, encompassing both Vocational Education and Training and University, needs to be well placed to support students of all ages to obtain new skills, geared to the needs of Australian and international businesses.

Those, both young and old, who fail to renew and refresh their skills are at greater risk of being left behind: potentially competing for lower skilled jobs, becoming unemployed, or forced into early retirement.

And in today’s complex and changing world, with rapidly developing technologies, changing workplaces and work practices, our workforce is strongest when we have people of all ages engaged in work, and contributing to our economy.

Adult Learning Australia has been at the forefront of the lifelong learning philosophy for many years.

The Government has placed lifelong learning at the heart of various initiatives that support people to be active participants in the workforce for as long as possible.

The Skills Checkpoint for Older Workers Program is a Liberal National Investment of $17.4 million over four years into the Skills Checkpoint Program to provide up to 20,000 eligible Australians aged 45-70 with advice and guidance on transitioning into new career opportunities.

The program targets those currently employed but who may be at risk of unemployment, or those recently unemployed and not registered for assistance through an employment services program.

The Skills Checkpoint Program uses individually tailored assessments and referrals, to provide workers with advice on how best to use their existing skills in the workforce, or identify opportunities for upskilling.

It can also refer participants to educational and training opportunities to assist with transitioning to a new role in their current industry or switching to an entirely new career.

From 1 January 2019, older Australians will also be able to access up to $2,200 (GST inclusive) to undertake training opportunities identified through the Skills Checkpoint Program. The individual or their current employer must match the Government’s contribution, ensuring a joint investment in the skills development of older Australians. The $19.3 million Skills and Training Incentive, administered by the Department of Jobs and Small Business will provide funding for up to 3,600 places per year.

Career Transition Assistance is also providing a high quality and individually tailored service for mature-age job seekers, and will be rolled out nationally from 1 July 2019.

It will ensure mature-age job seekers have the opportunity to identify their transferable skills and areas for reskilling, explore suitable occupations and learn about their local labour market.

Importantly, it will build their confidence and improve their digital literacy – skills that are valued by potential employers.

We also want to ensure that every Australian has the opportunity to fulfil their potential – along the whole education continuum.

This is where micro-credentials could come into play.

They are shorter, more targeted credentials that could help Australians of all ages to upskill and retrain without undertaking lengthy studies.

The Liberal National Government has appointed an expert panel to review the Australian Qualifications Framework and whether a system for quality assuring micro-credentials and including them in the framework should be developed.

Our Government wants to secure a future for all Australians where their learning experience – from early childhood learning all the way through to Vocational Education and Training and University – gives each person the means to shape their own lives and to contribute to the wealth and the social capital of the nation.

Adult learning is a part of this continuum, it has an undeniably valuable place and through adult learning the contribution of many thousands of Australians to our economy and our way of life is enhanced.

The Liberal National Government has prioritised policies that recognise this, that equip people to adapt and respond to future challenges and change, and empowers each Australian to be able to make a contribution to our nation’s future.

From the cradle to the grave

Ged Kearney

Ged KearneyGed Kearney MP – Member for Cooper

Recently I made a speech in Parliament about the benefits provided by the discrete fourth sector of education in Australia – adult and community education or ACE.

I wanted to highlight the benefits to society when no-one is left behind. Only education can provide this. But it must be flexible if we are serious about lifting people out of poverty and providing them with the opportunity to be their best self. Learning in place, delivering life skills and vocational education to locations where we know will be accessed due to familiarity, is part of the flexible arrangements offered by ACE programs.

For instance, from the time children are born they are learning – and naturally rely on their primary carer, most often the mother. Teenage mums constitute a cohort of most disadvantaged people – those who will remain isolated and entrenched in a cycle of poverty no matter the incentives. Their children may escape a cycle of poverty through education but without supported education provided by the ACE sector, the mums will not.

We can choose as a society to provide innovative support for teenage mums and their children giving access to healthy lifestyles and healthy minds, or we can choose to ignore those who are disadvantaged by circumstance in the hope they can or will seek available programs. If we do not reach out and provide the education in a flexible and familiar environment, chances are we are setting up and supporting a system that is blind to the disenfranchised.

It is also important to recognise and provide for different ways of learning and learning abilities. In my own family I have witnessed the miracle of life skills education. My sister Hon has an intellectual disability. We worried she would never be independent or able to leave the family home. Thanks to education provided largely through familiar environments like Neighbourhood Houses, Hon has many friends, leads a full life with confidence in her ability to travel as she needs. This provides enormous relief and I might say, happiness, for families and loved ones. No-one need be left behind.

At the other end of the education spectrum is our ageing population with an increasing lifespan and growing isolation. For this cohort, lifelong education provides opportunity for social inclusion and active minds – Important ingredients to reduce the risk of loneliness and sustain good mental health. Learning for the sake of learning, for self-improvement and friendship are worthy endeavours, which help sustain an engaged and healthy society.

Education has always been a key plank of the Labor Party’s vision for a healthy society and a healthy economy. I am so proud that we have committed to rebuilding TAFE and vocational education, we will build innovative STEM and STEAM centres and importantly, we recognise the vital role the ACE sector plays in a suite of educational opportunities, which leaves no-one behind.

Watch Ged Kearney’s parliamentary speech.

Building a just society

Senator Mehreen Faruqi, Greens Spokesperson for Education and 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.

Read the Greens position on adult and community education.

Education transforms lives

Tania Plibersek

Tania PlibersekTanya Plibersek

Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Minister for Education and Training

Education transform lives. It builds societies and economies.

The reality is that in Australia today, educational opportunity remains uneven. Too many people miss out on education and too many Australians have literacy and numeracy problems that make them vulnerable to underemployment and social exclusion.

I want to change this.

A Shorten Labor Government will break down the barriers that prevent so many Australians from getting the quality education they need.

Of course this starts with parents as their child’s first educators, with a greater focus on the first 1,000 days. That is why I was so proud to have recently announced $5 million in funding for the new Centre for Strong Foundations – a new world-class research and maternal health hub at Griffith University focussing on supporting families with pregnancy, birth and the first two years of a child’s life.

Labor will support young learners by extending universal access to pre-school education to three and four year olds, as well as fully delivering a needs-based funding system in Australia’s schools.

With nine out of 10 jobs in coming years requiring a post-secondary qualification, more must be done to ensure Australians have greater access to high quality TAFEs, universities and apprenticeships.

That’s why Labor is committed to a major funding boost for both TAFE and universities, and equity programs to ensure post-secondary education is available to a broader group of Australians.

And of course, our education system must continue to have a strong, high quality adult and community education sector if we are to ensure no one gets left behind.

Everywhere I go people talk to me about the rapid change happening in our communities and workplaces – with jobs being destroyed because of disruptions like automation, globalisation and artificial intelligence, and new jobs being created that we couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago.

During this time of change, I want to ensure a just transition for Australians by making sure everyone can get access to quality education they need throughout their lives.

Labor has a vision for a stronger, fairer and fit-for-purpose post-secondary education system that meets the needs of our society and economy while helping to deliver fairness, address inequality and ensure equity.

In order to achieve our vision, we must reverse the slow decline that has characterised vocational education and training and adult and community education over the past few years.

We will secure funding for vocational education and ensure that at least two thirds of public funding for training will go to TAFE with the remaining one third of funding going to high quality, not-for-profit community providers.

We will waive upfront fees for 100,000 students to attend TAFE, and invest $100 million to modernise TAFE facilities around the country.

And we will provide 10,000 pre-apprenticeships for people who want to learn a trade and 20,000 adult apprenticeships for workers who want or need to retrain.

But we’re also focussed on the how to ensure the post-secondary education system is best able to deal with our future needs.

Earlier this year, Doug Cameron and I announced that in the first 100 days of a Shorten Labor Government we will establish a once-in-a-generation national inquiry into post-secondary education in Australia.

This inquiry will be independent and comprehensive.

We see adult and community education as central this Inquiry as we know that we won’t be able to deliver it without your expertise, practice and community connection.

I believe that if we work together to build a stronger education system, we will be able to meet the opportunities and challenges of the future so that no Australian is left behind.

I look forward to seeing the strong and positive role adult and community learning will continue to play in that process.

Beyond shallow neoliberalism

Barry Golding

Professor (Adjunct) Barry Golding AM

Federation University Australia

ALA’s goal of lifelong and lifewide learning is visionary in an Australia in which adult learning remains increasingly undervalued, misunderstood and eroded by successive governments.

The evidence for the wider value of lifelong learning in all its forms is clear and unequivocal. But the recent widespread privatisation of school-based education, and the systematic hollowing out and destruction of public vocational education and training, as well as adult and community education, is serving to reproduce and heighten existing inequalities.

The root of the problem is recent, rampant and shallow neoliberal government policies that deny people have identities, lives, families and communities beyond paid work. While acknowledging the desirability of a Northern European ‘cradle to grave’ model of learning, it’s unlikely to be adopted here. However, there are four challenging and distinguishing characteristics of Australia that, if we are as fair and ‘dinkum’ as we often make out, might be bright Southern stars worth ‘shooting for’ in terms of public adult learning policy.

Firstly, Australia is a huge land of notable demographic extremes. Despite the outback myth, we are now one of the most highly urbanised, multicultural countries in the world, with 90 per cent of people living in cities and 85 per cent living within 50 km of the coast. This raises issues of equity and access for inland rural and remote communities, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who live ‘on country’, as well as young commuters with families struggling to survive on the sprawling edges of all of our major cities. The urban/peri-urban, urban/rural and Indigenous/non-Indigenous contrasts in terms of access to and outcomes from education and training have worsened with increasingly inequitable access to both post-school learning and the new digital technologies. That most peri-urban communities are young and rural communities tend to be ageing adds to the urgency of making rural and remote, as well as outer suburban communities in Australia, attractive, productive and liveable for people of all ages.

Secondly, we are a land of diverse people, languages and cultures, both Indigenous and recently arrived migrants and refugees. Close to one in three Australians today were born overseas. On average migrant children from cultures where learning is highly valued and supported, are out-participating and outperforming locally born young people. There are huge, untapped opportunities to learn cross-culturally and inter-generationally, as well as to benefit globally from this rich cultural and linguistic diversity and talent amongst our recent arrivals.

Thirdly, there is extreme gender segmentation in Australia and inequity in terms of employment and remuneration. As a nation we have to ask why women have since the turn of the century been more highly educated than men, but are still inequitably paid.

Fourthly, despite our relative wealth and resources many adult Australians have low formal literacies and are relatively poorly educated and ill equipped for the inevitable challenges and changes through life. One half of Australians, including those currently in paid employment, have completed no accredited learning post school. The main thing adults say they want to learn about and achieve for themselves, their children, families and communities, is to stay active, happy, socially connected, well and contributing to the community at any age. Too few Australians have access to essential learning and the literacies necessary to engage in a healthy life to the full.

In summary, we have to get better as a nation at encouraging and providing lifelong and lifewide opportunities not only to ensure Australia is productive economically, but to radically improve health and wellbeing literacy, social and community participation and equity of outcome: by cultural background, by place, by age and by gender.

Of all the Australian learning sectors, Adult and community education (ACE), through its decentralised nature and community embeddedness, is best placed to provide this essential learning and address each of these challenges. It is now urgent that ACE’s role is acknowledged and properly enhanced and supported by national and state government policy and funding in Australia, including through new initiatives, programs, mechanisms and sites in states and territories where ACE has largely disappeared.

Recalibrating adult education

Bruce McKenzie

Bruce McKenzie, PSM

Despite the structural strength of our educational system, we are a long way from a lifelong learning society. This situation is not because of complacency, but because of deliberate policy decisions that diminished the value and the resources available to anything other than undergraduate programs at a university.

The history of lifelong learning in Australia – its rise and decline – is instructive. History can inform policy evolution.
I think lifelong learning began informally in Australia in the 19th century with the evolution of the Mechanics Institutes, where skilled workers voluntarily attended seminars and congregated in halls and other places to learn about the changes in equipment and manufacturing that accompanied the Industrial Revolution.

Early Mechanics Institutes offered adult learning in the sciences and technology at a time when there were no public libraries, or colleges and by current standards low literacy and numeracy levels. Despite this, Mechanics Institutes grew and prospered and in the latter part of the 19th century offered a wide variety of educational activities for both men and women; particularly in rural Australia.

Their success, in many ways was their downfall because there simply were not enough voluntary resources available to maintain them. The introduction of government funding led to the creation of more formal structures such as public libraries, technical schools and eventually the Mechanics Institutes fell away.

The greatest impetus in the modern era for the adoption of lifelong learning as a concept was the emergence of the Kangan report in 1974, which emphasised the centrality of the individual in a vocational context. However the Kangan report was a disaster for the lifelong learning movement in Australia. Despite being enthusiastically supported by the Whitlam and Fraser Governments it was derailed in the 1980s when Australia was beset by economic problems and high youth unemployment, and vocational education with its focus on the needs of individuals in a manpower context, was seen as a failure.

The Hawke Keating Governments saw vocational education as an instrument for industry with the needs of the individual as secondary. They removed educators from curriculum formation and created a variety of industry councils with industry as the client, unimpeded by any educational concepts. This is still the practice today almost 50 years after the Kangan Report was first released. There is unfortunately a disconnect between the needs of the individual, the needs of the economy and the skills needed for a cohesive and fair society.

Since the Kangan Report, other than unimpeded financial support for university education (at the expense of applied tertiary education offered by the advanced colleges) there has been little attempt to revisit the policy framework other than to introduce competition into VET and to drain the VET sector of its resources.

A lifelong learning policy can’t ignore the link between the world of work and education at the post secondary level. A fundamental tenet is that all post secondary education must deliver economic, social and individual student benefits if we want a fair and equitable society. Complex – Yes! But vital. If Australian society is to be a cohesive society then we must ensure that effective learning opportunities for adults whose learning needs have been overlooked are facilitated.

To this end, our system fails. Certificates 1 and 2, which deal with the most vulnerable in our society and are designed to improve basic skills have appalling completion rates. This doesn’t surprise me because Certificates 1 and 2 are a product of an industry driven system. But we have allowed this dishonest educational policy to persist for 20 years. The policymakers’ response has been to blame institutions, not the design of the system, knowing full well that the outcomes at best are appalling.

Our post-secondary education system is out of balance and for our society’s sake it needs rebalancing.

Learning is everyone’s business

Dave Crosbie

David Crosbie – Chief Executive Officer – Community Council of Australia

Improving educational engagement and year 12 attainment for the Australia We Want.

If we want stronger communities, a more prosperous, productive and happier Australia, inclusive education and lifelong learning must be a higher priority.

When Community Council for Australia (CCA) first brought sector leaders together to discuss the Australia we wanted to live in, agreeing the priority values we all supported was relatively straightforward. We all wanted to live in a just, fair, safe, equal, inclusive, united, authentic, creative, confident, courageous, optimistic, generous, kind, compassionate Australia.

Commitment to these values was shared. Agreeing how we would know these values were being implemented – the measures or indicators – was more challenging.

There was one area everyone in the room readily agreed had to be a priority indicator – access to education. Education changes lives, reduces inter-generational inequality, and creates opportunity.

It has been estimated that for each person who does not complete year 12 or its equivalent, the lifetime cost to the community is almost $1 million.

The issues, the problems surrounding educational disadvantage and disengagement are well-known.  When CCA brought together community, academic, education and business leaders together to talk about the outcomes we want from education, our focus was on solutions – and what we can do to make them happen.

Leaders united around two resounding messages. We need to create lifelong learners – children, young people, and adults motivated and equipped to learn, adapt and flourish in a fast-evolving world.  To get there, education – learning – must become everyone’s business.

We know learning does not begin and end at a school or a college gate. The factors influencing learning include; the attributes and personality of the individual, family characteristics, peer groups, the communities students belong to, the way schools, business and other institutions operate. We also know that students who experience socio-economic disadvantage, remoteness, or are from an Indigenous family are more likely to disengage with education.

Learning needs are as individual as each and everyone one of us.  Which is why the communities that we move within, that touch our lives in so many different ways are powerful when they take an interest in our aspirations, our future and our learning.

We can all make a difference just by valuing, nurturing, supporting and inspiring learning in our day to day interactions, across our community. It can start with something as simple as passing the time of day. A conversation… at the school gate, in the car, after work, over dinner, in a tea-break, waiting for the bus.  At CCA, we imagine the possibilities, the change in interactions, expectations, aspirations and support if all of us took an interest in education. ‘What did you learn today?’

Start a conversation on learning and make a difference in the life of someone you encounter. Today.

CBT is a bad model of curriculum

Leesa Wheelahan – Professor, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education – University of Toronto

Competency-based training (CBT) has been the model of curriculum in vocational education in Australia since the 1980s. The current model, called training packages, was introduced in 1997. CBT was introduced to align vocational education with the needs of the labour market, to increase the links between jobs and qualifications, and to support people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access vocational education by focusing on what they can do, rather than what they say they know.

Unfortunately, it does none of these things.

Training packages were then and still are a bad model of curriculum that restrict students’ access to the knowledge and skills they need to live productive lives and to support their families and communities. It leads to the fragmentation of work, results in graduates who are supervised workers, and makes students’ access to higher levels of education more difficult.

Training packages comprise units of competency that specify the standards of performance required in the workplace. Units of competency include elements of competency that break down the unit into ‘essential outcomes’; performance criteria to demonstrate achievement of the element; foundation skills (language, literacy, numeracy and employment skills); and, assessment requirements that include ‘performance evidence’, knowledge evidence, and assessment conditions (Community Services & Health Industry Skills Council, 2015a).

The focus is on work as it is now and not as it will be in the future.

This results in ‘[a] rigid backward mapping approach, in which the state of the art on the shop floor is the untouchable starting point for the definition of occupational competencies, leading to routinised job descriptions, in which the proactive and reflective worker is left out’ (Biemans et al. cited in Brockmann, Clarke, Méhaut, & Winch, 2008: 237).

Moreover, CBT contributes to the fragmentation of work and occupations. Rather than start with the notion of the person in the occupation, training packages start with discrete workplace requirements and qualifications are made up of discrete units of competency that are aggregated in this or that way for this or that occupation.

In 2016, only 33% of government funded vocational education graduates worked in the occupation associated with their qualification (NCVER 2017: Table 13). Only 18% of graduates who had a job before undertaking their vocational education qualification were employed in a higher skilled job after their graduation in 2016, and only 44% of those who were unemployed before their training had a job after training (down from 55% in 2007) (NCVER 2017: Table 5).

It is difficult to argue that CBT results in efficiencies by training people for specific workplace tasks or roles when most people will not be employed in those jobs. It is difficult to sustain an argument that VET qualifications directly increase access to higher skilled occupations if this is measured by transition from a lower to a higher skill level, and it is difficult to argue that VET provides access to the labour market for disadvantaged students. Yet these are the narrow purposes of VET qualifications as defined in policy, and these are how they should be measured.

But there is more.

In response to critiques of training packages over the years, there have been efforts to improve the definition of competency, particularly to include theoretical knowledge as a core part of units of competency. However, the theoretical knowledge to be included is defined by the requirements of the specific task, and not by the theoretical system of meaning. For example, the Knowledge Guide for CHC Community Services Training Package states that:

Knowledge evidence specifies what the individual must know in order to safely and effectively perform the work task described in the unit of competency. It is intrinsically linked to performance and like all evidence must be current.” (Community Services & Health Industry Skills Council, 2015b: 6)

By tying knowledge to specific tasks students are only provided with access to contextually specific applications of theoretical knowledge, and not the relationships between concepts that are the definition of theoretical knowledge. And, rather than providing students with access to the applied disciplinary knowledge that underpins occupational practice (as in the professions), they are only provided with contextually specific applications of knowledge. This is because knowledge is delocated from the applied disciplines and tied to specific workplace requirements. Students may be able to associate a contextually specific application of knowledge with a specific context, but it does not help them if they need to select a different application of knowledge, understand why they need to do this and not that, and creatively apply knowledge in new contexts.

Students’ lack of access to theoretical knowledge in vocational education is unjust. It makes it difficult for students to progress to higher skilled jobs and to higher level studies. It also makes it difficult for them to contribute to debates and controversies in their occupation, and in debates in society about what we, as a society, should be like.

It is patronising and simply untrue to assert that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are not able to engage in
abstract theoretical knowledge, or to use this knowledge to think about their lives and their communities.

Teachers who are appropriately qualified and supported by their institutions are able to support the most disadvantaged students through supportive pedagogic practices to engage in high quality learning.

In the mid 1990s I was teaching in community development and justice courses in TAFE, from certificate III to diploma. Many students in the community development course were refugees, and a majority were from non-English speaking backgrounds. In one subject, students were required to write an essay about which theory of community development they most supported and why. One student, a Vietnamese refugee who has spent years in refugee camps, wrote an essay in which she explained that in her heart she was a Marxist, but in her head, she was a liberal, because of her experiences as a refugee. I have never forgotten this essay. I also remember teaching students about feminism and the impact that this had on the lives of younger and older women in the course. Access to knowledge matters, and CBT denies students this access.


Brockmann, Michaela, Clarke, Linda, Méhaut, Philippe, & Winch, Christopher. (2008). Competence-Based Vocational Education and Training (VET): the Cases of England and France in a European Perspective. Vocations and Learning, 1(3), 227-244.

Community Services & Health Industry Skills Council. (2015a). Assessment Strategies Guide for CHC Community Services Training Package. Retrieved from Sydney: < http://companion_volumes.vetnet.education.gov.au/CVDocuments/CHC_Assessment_Strategies_Guide_2015_R3.pdf > viewed 15 June 2016

Community Services & Health Industry Skills Council. (2015b). Knowledge Guide for CHC Community Services Training Package. Retrieved from Sydney: < http://companion_volumes.vetnet.education.gov.au/CVDocuments/CHC_Knowledge_Guide_August_2015_R3.pdf > viewed 15 June 2016

National Centre for Vocational Education Research. (2017). Government-funded student outcomes 2016. Retrieved from Adelaide: < https://www.ncver.edu.au/publications/publications/all-publications/government-funded-student-outcomes-2016 > viewed 1 September 2017

Where to for lifelong learning?

Sally Thompson – Deputy Director, 
Sector Engagement & Capability Development – Future Social Service Institute

Before we decide ‘where to’ for lifelong learning. It is perhaps useful to reflect on ‘where from’. The dominant philosophy that has underpinned public policy in relation to lifelong learning in Australia, since at least the early 1990s is human capital theory. Human capital theory views learning as a rational investment in the self, resulting in a ‘return on investment’ in the form of higher wages for individuals and productivity increases for the economy. It finds its philosophical home in neoliberal economics and its products are outcomes-based funding and competency-based assessment.

The limitations of human capital theory are obvious to all who work in adult education and its adjacent fields. It relies on levels of measurability that are imprecise at best, ‘othering’ at worst. It reduces the complexity of working people’s knowledge, judgements and artistry to the most narrow, obvious and observable skills. It privileges work in the formal labour market and ignores the many other human experiences that require us to keep learning.

By ignoring the ‘life’ part of ‘lifelong learning’, it renders invisible the contributions of those (predominantly women) who labour outside the formal labour market – raising kids, caring for our frail aged, running sporting clubs and attending to neighbours. As my colleague Barry Golding would often say: ‘it is a sick, sad and sorry society that only cares about what we do for and with our money’.

Yet government interest in human capital theory since the early 1990s has resulted in significant investment in adult education, and therein lies the rub. Those of us old enough to remember a kinder, gentler period of adult education, before the era of competency-based assessment and outcomes-based funding, often forget how much of it was funded through bake sales and unpaid feminised labour. The not for profit Learn Local sector in my home state of Victoria, for example, has attracted record funding during a recent period of radical neoliberal policy experimentation. In neighbourhood houses, libraries and learning centres, adult education continues to transform lives, despite the attendant challenges.

Little wonder that governments sometimes look at the sector, scratch their heads and ask: what on earth are you people complaining about?

Lifelong learning in neoliberal times is an exhausting dance. Practitioners complain in private about Kafkaesque compliance, dehumanising measurement and ever-increasing workloads, while publicly thanking government for the funding that allows people to learn and achieve nonetheless. Those who manage to carve out spaces for innovation at the margins, urge the rest to keep quiet about the narrowness of funding frameworks. Teachers struggle every day to turn a system in which learning is often a reward or sanction in increasingly cruel ‘mutual obligation’ regimes into a meaningful learning experience for the most marginalised people.

ALA’s members have long advocated for a Northern European style lifelong learning policy, in which investment from cradle to grave in lifelong and lifewide learning allows all of us to pursue meaningful work and contribute outside the workplace, including into old age. I don’t believe such a thing is possible within the current neoliberal policy frameworks of both major political parties – which doesn’t mean I don’t think such a thing is possible at all!

The struggle for lifelong and lifewide learning for all must continue at the margins of Australian public policy for the time being. In the longer term, it needs to be one part of a bigger struggle for public policy that puts people and their needs first, and draws its information from the bottom of social hierarchies instead of the top.

We live in a world where neoliberalism and its attendant theories are running out of puff. There are emerging signs that people, and the governments who respond to them are looking for new approaches to learning in a way that was unfathomable only a short time ago. The challenge for us is to make space for new ways of thinking about learning while respecting the work of those who struggle every day within the parameters afforded by government policy today.

Digital-by-default government

Sue McKerracher – CEO – Australian Library and Information Association

There is a public library in most communities across Australia – more than 1600 in total – and each one demonstrates that there is not only a need for lifelong learning, there is also a keen appetite for it. Libraries run more than 250,000 programs each year, ranging from rhyme-time for toddlers to Tech Savvy Seniors classes for older Australians, with lots in between. You can build your own computer, learn coding and robotics, find out about keeping chickens in your backyard or how to research your family history, use a 3D printer, build new worlds with Minecraft – and much more. There are bi-lingual story-times for families whose first language isn’t English; there are Deadly Digital sessions for Indigenous communities and there are English conversation classes for new arrivals. These courses are free at the point of delivery, putting them within the reach of everyone; unlike formal education, where increased costs have priced out of the market those who most need the support.

Library programs attract all ages and participation is driven by a number of factors. Literacy is at the core, whether it is introducing children to the joy of books, or helping adults pick up the reading ability they missed out on at school. For some, it’s about updating or developing new skills, which will help them find employment or improve their career prospects. For others, it’s about keeping their brain active post-retirement. Many turn to the library to help them stay on top of the new technologies, which are changing the world around them.

It’s this latter point, which is of greatest interest to the federal government and gives the lifelong learning lobby perhaps its strongest lever. There are undoubted merits to improved literacy and work-readiness, but people’s ability to operate effectively online goes to the heart of the Australian Government’s agenda.

It is cheaper to offer government services electronically and there are exciting opportunities from the data generated. We have seen the move to digital-by-default for the Australian Tax Office, the Census, the National Digital Health Strategy, and from the Digital Transformation Agency’s 8 May 2018-2019 Budget statement:

$92.4 million will be invested in the next phase of work to build Govpass, our digital identity system. Govpass will provide a simple, safe and secure choice for people to verify who they are and access government services online, reducing the need to visit a shopfront. Over the next financial year, up to 8 high-volume government services will be piloted using a digital identity, giving more than 500,000 people the opportunity to test the system.

Digital-by-default government services will only work if the overwhelming majority of the population is able to engage in online transactions. Connectivity and affordability are part of the story, but if people don’t have the confidence and the skills, they will simply not be able to participate.

When we talk to the federal government about the need to invest in lifelong learning, digital literacy may well be our Trojan horse. As well as illustrating the necessity for lifelong learning, it responds directly to a government imperative.

As digital literacy is where the lifelong learning lobby and government interests coincide, perhaps this is where we should focus our initial energies. Whether it’s in TAFE, through a Neighbourhood House, or at the library, we are supporting current and future generations to develop the skills they need to be confident digital citizens – and that’s good for everyone.

Transforming the workplace

Michael Taylor AIG

Michael Taylor AIGMichael Taylor – National Policy & Projects Manager – Australian Industry Group

With technological changes across nearly all industries, regardless of current competencies, increasingly workers will need to reskill throughout their working lives. It has been estimated that some skills need refreshing every two years while others become redundant in a rapidly changing workplace under the influence of the expanding digital economy. In addition, technological change will demand higher levels of literacy and numeracy so there needs to be a significant focus on workplace literacy and numeracy within the framework of lifelong learning.

Lifelong learning applies to all forms of learning whether formal or informal, accredited or non-accredited. Companies need strategies that include a cycle of re-skilling for all categories of workers according to newly introduced technology and processes. This includes learning that applies existing capabilities in new contexts, including different ways to use higher-level soft skills.

Access to lifelong learning does not necessarily mean access to full qualifications, especially to the existing workforce. Rather, the acquisition of new skills and the refreshing of existing skills can be achieved through access to bite size training. The introduction of micro-credentials by education institutions to meet on-demand learning is increasing.

The growing emphasis by education and training sectors now on skills in enquiry, agility, adaptability, creativity and problem solving means we are better able to adapt to new situations and be lifelong learners.

A variety of learning experiences are required and not just those that are campus-based. Work Integrated Learning in the higher education sector and work-based learning in the vocational education and training sector are at the heart of these experiences.

The linkage of lifelong learning to workforce productivity is now essential. A 2014 UNESCO statement makes the direct link between lifelong learning and economic growth and prosperity. Without efforts by government, education and training sectors and companies to normalise cultures of continuous learning in the workplace the Australian economy will not prosper to the extent that is necessary for our future.

(Vale Michael Taylor – a significant contributor to national education and training policy, with a strong commitment to equity and workplace language, literacy and numeracy.)

A vision for lifelong learning

John Field– Emeritus Professor / Gastprofessor – University of Stirling / University of Cologne

Professor John Field marks the 20th anniversary of the UK’s visionary policy for a learning society.

The central argument and language of The Learning Age have become staples of today’s educational policy debate.

In his preface, David Blunkett set out a familiar agenda:

‘To achieve stable and sustainable growth, we will need a well-educated, well-equipped and adaptable labour force’.

Nothing unusual about that; similar phrases abound in policy texts from national governments and international organisations across the globe.

What marked The Learning Age as distinctive, and also provides a yardstick by which to judge its results, was its more visionary and humane perspective. Of course, this was a product of its time, following a long period of Conservative rule. There was a sense that things were possible.

With hindsight, there were probably too many initiatives – spread around like confetti – for all to survive the hard years of austerity and recession. And there might have been even more: with the comfort of hindsight, it is clear that The Learning Age underestimated the potential of digitisation and mobile devices, and focussed excessively on increasing provision rather than tackling the serious demand-side deficits of the UK skills mix.

Some key achievements remain, while the remarkable research programme on the wider benefits of learning has had international impact. But the question of adult learning and skills remains a live one. The challenges of inclusive and sustainable economic growth are as pressing as ever, and if anything the potential for adult learning in civic democracy is greater than it has been for some time. For those of us who enjoyed the vibrant discussions at Wolverhampton, the conversation has only just begun.

The Learning Age – 20 Years On

Sir Alan Tuckett OBE – Professor of Education – University of Wolverhampton

If governments in England had consciously set out to decimate opportunities for adult learning they would have been hard pressed to do better than the apparently accidental consequences of policy here over the last fifteen years.

In that time, almost 2 million adults have been lost as public funding of further education [Australia’s equivalent of TAFE and adult community education] swung to ever more narrowly focussed provision for the under 19s. In higher education meanwhile, 60 per cent of mature students have gone since student fees were tripled in 2012–13, and four in five of them were at sub degree level.

This was the background context for a conference organised at the University of Wolverhampton, to mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Learning Age, the 1997 Labour Government Green Paper that led to a cornucopia of new initiatives to promote lifelong learning. The paper opened with an inspiring foreword from David Blunkett, then Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

In it he argued:

As well as securing our economic future, learning has a wider contribution. It helps make ours a civilised society, develops the spiritual side of our lives and promotes active citizenship. Learning enables people to play a full part in their community. It strengthens the family, the neighbourhood and consequently the nation. It helps us fulfil our potential and opens doors to a love of music, art and literature. That is why we value learning for its own sake as well as for the equality of opportunity it brings.

It is just such a vision that is lacking from contemporary policy – so the event hoped to kick start discussion by reviewing critically the successes and failures of initiatives like the university for Industry, individual learning accounts, unionlearn and the Skills for Life literacy and numeracy strategy, asking what could be taken on board for a future lifelong learning policy perspective. The day was exhilarating – but will it make a difference? Watch this space!’