It’s never too late to celebrate adult learning
Interrupted schooling, undiagnosed conditions which made previous learning too hard, and teachers who never gave up were threads which ran across all speakers at the launch of this year’s Adult Learners Week – with all living and breathing embodiments of the Week’s It’s never too late theme.
The event started with an evocative performance by Brent Watkins, didge player, before MC Brian Nankervis talked about how he has needed to be prepared to take on new challenges to stay in the entertainment industry. ‘It is never too late,’ he said. ‘It is always time to make a start, to have a crack.’
In addition to a beautiful Welcome to Country which included the importance of cultural knowledges and Indigenous languages, Mandy Nicholson, Wurundjeriwillam artist and Traditional Custodian of Melbourne and surrounds, spoke about her own return to study after a 10 year gap.
Coping with the inevitable age differences as a mature age student, Mandy also had to seek out subjects where she felt culturally safe. Mandy talked about the need for all education providers to ensure that any course relating to First Nations people draws on First Nations’ perspectives and educators. ‘That is one big gap that needs to be filled,’ she told the audience. Ultimately, Mandy said she kept on returning to study because she wants to ‘make a change and leave a legacy’.
Much-loved author, Jackie French AM, told attendees that she feels ‘profound joy’ that teachers today have the techniques needed to teach people to read ‘at any age’.
Diagnosed with dyslexia as an adult, Jackie said she doubts she would have even tried to be an author if she had not had the support and dedication of teachers willing to grapple with her inability to spell and, often, indecipherable, writing.
She ‘learnt to cope’ and, luckily for all her children and adult readers, went on to write more than 300 books, many of which have sold millions of copies and won more than 60 awards in Australia and internationally.
While becoming the inaugural winner of The Voice Australia in 2012 set singer and songwriter, Karise Eden, up for a long career in music, she continued to feel that she needed more education. Having left school at Year 7 because of family circumstances, and now the mother of two children under 10, Karise is studying online through TAFE Queensland.
Karise believes that her studies are also helping her songwriting. ‘I think it has helped me with the way I write, the way I express myself and it has given me confidence in who I am and what I’m doing’. Karise performed a beautiful version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, one of the songs which helped her to win The Voice.
After the launch, Karise and ALA CEO Jenny Macaffer spoke to The Guardian
Adult Learning Australia President, Kathleen Priestley, returned to study with a young child and another on the way after being retrenched two decades ago. Studying adult community and vocational education, Kathleen now manages eight public libraries across Tasmania and loves that she can be involved ‘every day in changing people’s lives’ through adult education.
Kathleen always encourages people to not be put off by previous negative educational experiences. ‘Learning as an adult is a totally different experience than learning as a child’, she said.
Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O’Connor, thanked everyone for their commitment to adult education and acknowledged the important role of Adult Learners Week in ‘highlighting the power of knowledge acquisition and opportunities available, particularly for adults who are thinking about re-engaging with learning after facing challenges and barriers’.
With the OECD estimating that 3 million Australian adults lack core literacy, numeracy and digital literacy skills, Minister O’Connor said that the Government understands the importance of such foundation skills. ‘Not only are they fundamental to education and work, they are fundamental to life,’ he said.
Adult Learners Week Learning Ambassadors
Three 2023 Adult Learners Week Learning Ambassadors also told their stories during the launch.
Sunil Abbott said he was ‘very proud’ to have been chosen as one of the ambassadors.
Sunil migrated from India to Australia with a strong grasp of English and long experience working for multinational businesses. He had, however, no hands-on experience of computers and technology. Taking up managing front of house of a restaurant where his children were the chefs, Sunil had never encountered an EFTPOS machine, for example.
After a short time, Sunil decided that he needed further study and found his way to the Wyndham Community and Education Centre. Initially learning basic and then more advanced computer skills, Sunil moved onto short courses in citizenship and health.
‘Because I was always passionate about education, I was always being invited to join other opportunities,’ he said.
Sunil now runs two busy restaurants, but has not lost his passion for learning. Having completed a Certificate III in Commercial Cookery, he is now undertaking a Certificate IV so that he too can work as a professional chef.
With connections and confidence from his learning, Sunil has also set up Club 60, which provides opportunities for older migrants to connect and learn about navigating Australian systems. More than 700 people have been involved with Club 60, which gives Sunil great joy.
English-born James was able to recover from addiction when he moved to Melbourne and went into rehab. Living in crisis accommodation afterwards, James decided he didn’t want to return to construction. Instead, he enrolled to study a Certificate IV in Community Services, fuelled by a desire to ‘use my own experience to help others’.
‘School wasn’t really for me,’ James said. ‘I was never really interested.’ So, when returning to study, James decided he needed to study something he would enjoy, as well as equip him for a new working life.
After struggling through school and being labelled below average academically, an adult ADHD diagnosis made a lot of sense to Deanie De Boer. It also gave her the confidence to try education again.
And that was very much the right decision for Deanie, who completed a Business/Administration course and then – with the help of her local library in Tasmania – successfully undertook an online Behavioural Studies Degree.
Deanie is now working towards a Master’s Degree, while running her own counselling business. She told the audience that she thinks the best outcomes from her adult education journey have been the ‘confidence building’ and the ‘lifelong friends’.
‘Leaving school left me with so many stories that weren’t true about myself and so I’ve been able to challenge those stories. For a long time it was tears driving to university, but then it was excitement.’
Read the full issue of Quest 3, 2023.