Adult education vital for community

BY IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY
Last updated 14:00 29/06/2009

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Every year, about 200,000 New Zealanders enrol in Adult Community Education (ACE).

Almost three thousand people attended ACE classes in Palmerston North alone last year, and that number is tracking to be even higher this year.

When the Budget was announced last month, one aspect the Government was very quiet about was the cut in funding for schools to deliver ACE programmes. When she was found out by Labour's Maryan Street, Education Minister Anne Tolley described ACE classes as hobby courses, low-quality and low-priority compared to the Government's crusade for literacy and numeracy.

So just what courses are available in Palmerston North?

There's Accounting for Small Business, NZ Sign Language, Formal Writing, Digital Photography, Maori Language, Starting a Small Business, Geometry and Probability Study and Web Design for a start. These not only have very strong and obvious literacy and numeracy components, they are practical courses that have immediate and relevant applications. Anyone who took these classes would see their employment prospects improved, or may even decide to branch out on their own and start a business with the skills they have learnt.

A concept the Government just does not seem to have grasped is the need to develop people's skills during a recession. New Zealand should be making use of a time of lower employment to support people who have been made redundant to up-skill and make themselves more attractive to potential employers.

Remember, not so long ago, when the economy was running hot and jobs were plentiful, employers were crying out for people with the right skills for the job. The Government should be getting ready for the next boom time now, by investing in skills training and education of all kinds.

ACE classes may not provide the level of education all employers are looking for, but often provide an entry or re-entry point to the education system for people who, for whatever reason, have not been particularly engaged in learning. I have spoken to one Palmerston North resident who started with ACE some years ago, got the learning bug and enrolled in progressively higher level courses to the point that she recently completed a Masters in Business Administration (MBA).

Which leads me to some of the other courses that are available in Palmerston North like Acrylic Painting, Drawing, French Language, Indian Cooking, Garment Making, and Salsa. At this point you might say "Ah ha! Mrs Tolley has it right." But I beg to differ.

For a start, the way I have categorised the courses is my own personal choice. No doubt there are some you would interchange. What constitutes a practically valuable course and what is just a hobby is highly subjective and dependent on individual perspective, circumstance and opportunity.

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More importantly, all ACE courses serve the purpose of enhancing social cohesion. It might be your one night out with other people. It might be the opportunity to interact with people you wouldn't ordinarily meet. It might be the opportunity you need to practise English, if it is not your first language. It might be the chance to set goals, to have a project that you have to complete. Learning to cook and to balance a budget might be the foundation for creating a better home life for your family. It is often the people who need to develop these skills who get the most out of ACE.

Creating better communities is everyone's job and for the Government, that means it isn't just left to the Ministry of Social Development and Child, Youth and Family. Health, Justice, Arts Culture and Heritage, Sport and Recreation, every department including Education has a role to play and ACE is a pivotal part of that role.

The cuts that have been budgeted for will slash ACE funding by 80 per cent from $16 million to $3m. That means most courses will have to be fully user-pays if they are to remain viable.

Costs to students in Palmerston North will increase between 250 to 500 per cent, depending on the course. Many students will not be able to afford this. The courses will be lost, as will tutor's jobs. The impact will be devastating for those involved.

The money saved for the Government is miniscule, not even half of the additional $35m they will spend on private schools.

Lets show our support for our community and get right in behind them.

- Manawatu Standard

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