Ged Kearney MP – Shadow Assistant Minister for Health and Ageing
The benefits provided by the discrete fourth sector of education in Australia – adult and community education (ACE), are visible all around us. They highlight the positive impacts on society when no one is left behind.
An education sector that is flexible enough to meet everyone’s needs is vital if we are serious about lifting people out of poverty and providing them with the opportunity to be their best selves. Delivering life skills and vocational education to people in local settings that are familiar and easy to access, is part of the flexible arrangements offered by ACE programs.
For instance, teenage mums constitute a cohort of most disadvantaged people – those who can remain isolated and entrenched in a cycle of poverty. From the time children are born they are learning – and naturally rely on their primary carer, most often the mother. 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 greater choices and opportunities, or we can choose to ignore those who are disadvantaged by circumstance. We must reach out and provide education in a flexible and familiar environment to ensure we reach 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 needs to be left behind.
At the other end of the spectrum is our ageing population with an increased lifespan and growing isolation. For older people, lifelong education provides an 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 for 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.
Ms Kearney is currently a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training. You can read Ms Kearney’s previous 2018 commentary here.