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.