Learning to believe
Pip Giles’ return to learning as an adult is paying off. Pip Giles recently got a tattoo of a pair of wings with ‘Believe in yourself’ written underneath. It’s Pip’s motto now because with newly discovered self-confidence she’s found herself doing things she’d never imagined.
For Pip who left school in year 10, school was always a bit of a chore. But as an adult she’s been thrilled to discover how much she loves learning.
Pip was a childcare worker who loved her job but she decided in 2012 that she needed a change. But she was tentative about returning to study at TAFE. Her friends and staff encouraged her to enrol in a Diploma rather than a Certificate in Community Services but Pip was convinced it would be beyond her.
‘I cried a lot in the first three months, I was afraid I was going to fail. Once I started passing I was OK and then it became easy for me. I found my passion,’ Pip says. ‘I just loved it. I just wanted to put in 100 per cent.’
By 2014 with her Diploma almost complete Pip didn’t want to stop. ‘I enrolled in a further two diplomas in Youth Work and Child and Family Intervention and one of my teachers said “What are you doing back here and why have you taken on three diplomas?” She wanted to know why I hadn’t applied to go to uni. But I said “No way”.
Going to uni
‘Going to uni was something I never imagined in my wildest dreams. But she kept pushing me. She said, “Just apply and see how you go”. My TAFE classes were starting that week. When I looked at the Griffith website, entries had already closed and I was relieved. I put in an application so I could say that I had done it but on my first morning of TAFE classes I got an email saying I’d been accepted. But I didn’t want to go. It was definitely fear.
‘I always thought uni was just for the elite. There was no way someone like me could go there. No way.
‘I walked in to my first lecture and when I walked out I thought ‘Oh no I didn’t know what the lecturer was talking about.’ I was looking around at the other students who all seemed younger than me and they all looked like they were dealing with it really well. I thought something was wrong with me and I felt so overwhelmed. It wasn’t until later that I realised it was all a façade, and behind that mask of looking cool and confident a lot of them were freaking out too.
‘I worked and worked on my first assignment. I’d never written essays at high school. I was so overwhelmed I went to student services and said “I’m pulling out, I’m gonna fail”. The guy who saw me there said “Send it to us” and I did and he got back to me and said, “This is great!” When I got it back I got 85% for it.’
‘Once you find something you love and enjoy, learning is easy.’
Finding educational support
After that Pip attended weekly appointments during her first semester with the Student Success Adviser. By the end of semester she had completed 3 courses and achieved 2 High Distinctions and 1 Distinction and a GPA of 6.7.
‘No one I knew had ever been to uni. School was not a focal point in my life, I had fun there but I was never good at school. It was forced on you, you had to learn. But going to TAFE was like a spark. Once I knew I could do it, I could learn and I could do well, it just gave me this enormous drive. For me, doing well and getting good grades is a measure of me as a person. It’s not just about academic results. So I started to feel really good about myself and it’s given me this huge boost to my confidence. I just love researching and reading and thinking about how what I’m learning applies to the kind of work I’ve done and the work I want to do.’
‘Having people who positively support and encourage you to achieve your dreams helps you to keep the focus on your goal when you get overwhelmed or disheartened.’
As a mentor, Pip talks to adult learners in a range of community settings. I say “I was sitting in your seat once and now I’m doing really well”. My key message is to believe in yourself because that’s half the battle. But I also tell them about the tough times I’ve had where I’ve had to ask for help. A lot of people think they have to do it on their own but they don’t.’
Having people around who believe in her has made all the difference, Pip says. ‘Without the support and encouragement from my friends and university staff, I would have not been able to get through it.’
Encouraging adult learners
Di Mahoney’s typical week might involve visiting a class at a neighbourhood house, a TAFE or community college and a local private training provider. Her job is to inspire adult learners to think about further study.
Di is an adult learner engagement officer at Griffith University’s Logan campus and part of the university’s Student Equity Services team.
Griffith has a commitment to improving the participation of adult learners and in particular those from disadvantaged groups – early school leavers, parents of young children required by Centrelink to pursue work or training, and migrants from refugee backgrounds.
‘There’s a lot of misunderstanding and confusion about uni study. My role is to demystify and de-bamboozle people about university and help them make good choices.’
Education transforms lives
With a population of over 300,000 with people from over 200 different cultural backgrounds Logan is a highly multicultural area. But it’s also socioeconomically disadvantaged with high unemployment and high numbers of people with incomplete schooling.
‘You can see how powerful education can be in a community like that. By encouraging parents to study at uni we are influencing the next generation as well as their family and friends.’
‘We have an amazing bunch of people studying at Logan. The campus is full of mums in their 20s, 30s and 40s studying education, nursing, human services, social work. They juggle children and often have difficult family, health or social issues to deal with. They are going to change their own lives and their kids’ lives as well as the system. I find them very inspiring. These people are sometimes former clients of the systems they are training to work in so they understand the challenges; they bring their lived experiences to their studies and they will make great human services practitioners.