Education, training and the experience of learning is and must become a lifelong process for the vast majority of people in our community. Jane Carnegie, Industrial Officer, ACTU
“Our belief is that an education system should offer education and training not just to the young but to people of all ages.
The modern world demands that education should not stop with the end of secondary school or college or university.
Increasingly, skill formation will be lifelong process”
Prime Minister Hon Paul Keating. January 1993 (Speech to Australian Teachers Union National Conference)
‘There is a growing convergence of work and of continuous learning; where learning becomes an increasing proportion of working life and inseparable from it, having its effect upon the whole of society…..”
ACTU Congress Policy. September 1991
“Education should last the whole life of each individual leading to the systematic acquisition, renewal, upgrading and completion of knowledge, skills and attitudes.”
‘Those organisations which prosper are the ones which are making the fullest use of their human resources by involving every member of their workforce in a continual process of learning. The community’s productive potential will be maximised when the potential of all citizens is fully developed….”
Commission for the future July 1989
‘The committee believes that there is a great deal of overlap between the requirements for an effective and satisfying life as an individual or as a citizen and the requirements for a productive and satisfying life at work in todays’ world….. The awareness that technological and economic restructuring will force most people to change their jobs and even careers, a number of times throughout their working lives requires a different approach to training. The ability to continue learning and acquiring new or higher level skills will be fundamental……..
Finn Report. July 1991
“We live in an age when the pace of discovery, of new knowledge is so great as to be overwhelming. The formal knowledge gained even at the highest levels of learning has an ever diminishing “intellectual half life”. Technological change may well make peoples’ jobs obsolete several times over before they retire, therefore it becomes critically important that ‘our universities’ import the skills and attitudes that prepare people to a lifetime of learning…….”
John Prescott CEO BHP – Speech to AGM of Business/Education/Round Table October 1992
These quotes suggest there is a shared and common position, encompassing business, the current Federal Government and the union movement, that education, training and the experience of learning is and must become a lifelong process for the vast majority of people in our community.
The exponents of this view also share common ground about the reasons for heading in this direction and the tenets which should underpin lifelong learning:-
(i) an emphasis on the relationship between work and lifelong learning;
(ii) the importance of imparting in people how to learn;
(iii) the acquisition of generic or enabling skills and qualities which allow the individual to adapt to new and everchanging work and life situations.
The concept of lifelong learning is not, of course, especially new. In a religious, spiritual and humanist sense the whole of an individual’s life is considered a learning experience.
Placed in an education or work context the parameters of lifelong learning for most people have been significantly narrower.
For the vast bulk of people learning was defined by the experience of compulsory schooling. They then went into the workforce and into jobs which needed no or very little further training.
The number of people who had access to jobs which encouraged lifelong learning has been extremely limited – the preserve of an elite – the realm of professionals and academics.
For large numbers of people in our community, especially women, adult and community education has been most widespread means of facilitating ongoing education. Many people have benefited from this involvement and have gone on to develop an interest and capacity to learn, elsewhere.
But these programmes, until recently, have been outside the mainstream, that is outside the education and training institutions which provide courses with national recognition. That is now changing.
Today, we are in the middle of what could be called a paradigm shift in education which is correlated to the changing structure of industry and work organisation and the economic imperatives facing Australia.
There is an ever increasing requirement for the population as a whole, across all sectors of industry and across all occupations to participate in ongoing learning.
2. A Paradigm Shift In Learning
The nature and scope of the change which has and continues to take place in our education and training systems is extraordinary.
I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the huge increase in year 12 retention rates and participation rates in tertiary education. We now all accept that three quarters of our secondary school students will go on to year 12 and approximately 40% of these will enter higher education.
But it is worth recalling that just 12 years ago the retention rate was just 35%. When I completed year 12 (which was somewhat more than 12 years ago) I was in a minority – when I went to university I became part of an even smaller minority – an elite group in the Australian population.
That is no longer the case – the expansion of tertiary education under the Federal Labor Government has been enormous – in the 9 years to 19,90 the number of individuals completing higher education courses increased by 42%. It is estimated this increase will leapfrog a further 33% in the three years to 1993.
Combined with the enormous expansion in post compulsory and tertiary education there has been a growing recognition that the front end approach to learning is no longer sufficient. This may seem in contradiction with the figures I have just quoted and certainly our approach to education is still geared to what Dr Alistair Crombie of the Centre for Continuing Education, ANU, calls the “haversack model”; that is where the 5 year old get a haversack strapped to their back Oust as I’ve literally done to my 5 year old who started prep) which is progressively loaded up over the next decade or more with what the previous generation think they will need for life.
But to quote Dr Crombie again – this model is becoming less and less useful. It is simply not possible to pack everything into the haversack.
This is not to say that emphasis should not still be placed at the frontend. What it does say is that the front end should provide the pillars upon which future learning can be constructed. It should aim to produce good learners – not people who can recite myriads of facts and figures.
It also says that we need an increasing emphasis on providing education systems which facilitate ongoing learning and which provide opportunities to people to participate through various pathways no matter what level they completed in secondary school.
The fact is that over 70% of the workforce in the year 2000 will be comprised of people currently in the labour force. We need education systems and processes that will enable the current workforce to meet the changing demands of work during that period just as we need education systems and processes that will enable young Australians to meed future demands.
3. Images Of Chance
Significant change has already occurred. Curriculum at senior secondary levels is changing and continues to change in ways which will imbue students with a capacity to learn as well as providing the foundations of general/vocational learning outcomes. The key competencies represent a key link in this process.
The vocational education and training system is undergoing a virtual revolution in its operation in terms of who is being trained, what is being learned and how it is being delivered.. These changes, I believe, are supportive of and facilitate the development of lifelong learning based on the principles that work and learning must increasingly converge into one continuous process.
Key developments (and I don’t intend here to go into the detail as I’m sure other presenters will cover the key points) include:-the key competencies which will provide underpinning and essential competencies necessary for lifelong learning;
The introduction of competency based training which emphasises the needs of the individual learner in the process of learning and which supports ongoing learning by emphasising what a person can do rather than the fact that they have passed or failed or are better than or worse than the next person;
Recognition for prior learning which emphasises what you know and therefore what further learning you need to undertake;
Credit transfer/articulation/NFROT which will enable individual learners to gain recognition for what they have already learned and encourage additional learning.
In higher education I have already referred to the massive expansion in availability. The point to note in the context of lifelong learning is that the proportion of mature age entrants is almost exactly the same as school leaver commencers (a ratio of 43% 43:1%) (1991 census).
However these figures should not be taken to mean that access to higher education from alternative pathways has increased significantly. Many of the people in the mature age category have actually got a qualification already. Indeed a recent analysis by Richard Sweet (Assessing, Shaping and Influencing Demands for Higher Education, November 1992) shows a 30% increase in the number of students in this category in the period (1989-1992). By contrast the number of student commencing from Tafe (with or without credit transfer) remains abysmally low at 3.9% (1991 census).
In context of lifelong education there will obviously be the need for degree holders to upgrade or extend their initial qualifications or even move into a completely new areas of study but in a world of finite dollars and places we need to look closely at whether universities really have extended the availability of places for people from alternative pathways.
This leads me to the final section of this talk and that is what I would consider to be the barriers to change and omens for the future.
4. Lifelong Learning – Barriers To Change – Omen For The Future.
Whilst is it unlikely the clock can be turned back completely, I am perturbed about the negative impact a number of key players could have either individually or in concert on the extension of lifelong learning in the future.
I will define these players as: –
(ii) educational institutions, in particular the traditional universities, led by Melbourne University under the direction of David Penington;
(iii) the coalition, if elected to government.
As I made clear at the outset many enlightened employers see lifelong learning of their employees as critical to their survival. They see education and training of their workforce as an investment in the future. Not surprisingly, those employers were also the ones who see the need for or have introduced work organisational change which will enable their employees to maximise application of the knowledge and skills they have acquired and to exercise enabling competencies such as initiative, creativity and problem solving.
Unfortunately these employers are still in a minority. There can be little point in reshaping our education and training systems to meet the rapidly changing requirements of our economy if the organisations within the economy aren’t reshaping their organisational structures to meet the requirements of the future.
It is imperative that work organisational change determined through participative structures continues.
(ii) The educational institutions
There is clear evidence of inertia to change amongst some areas of the education system.
If nothing else the national reform agenda has served to lift all sectors out of any overhanging lethargy they may have had that their spheres of influence would remain unaltered.
Whether it be the schools, TAFE directors or University Vice Chancellors we are seeing a backlash by certain elements within these sectors against some of the changes which I believe support lifelong learning. The resistance to change is most evident is higher education circles. Indeed, it should be made clear that enormous change has been accepted and endorsed already by the schools and vocational education sector. Resistance has been most evident by those who fear loss of power and influence.
The convergence of work and learning, the convergence of general and vocational education, key competencies, CBT and the increasing emphasis on outcomes regardless of sector (NBEET – Fitting the Need) all focus attention on the question of power. Like all other creatures of our society the existing educational sector are not in the business of giving away their power base easily.
Nowhere is this currently more evident that in higher education with the traditional elite universities, through their key spokesperson, David Penington, ramming their message home at every opportunity.
For example, Professor Penington sees CBT as representing “the most serious assault by government on the autonomy of professional and of education institutions yet to occur in this country” and “the competency crusade” as part of a “seamless web of control’ being foistered on the system. He and his supporters argue for ‘quality’ not ‘quantity’ in universities and that only universities are capable of providing the unique qualities of the graduate and the professional.
The trouble is Professor Penington and his supporters have lost ground in the last few years to the rising tide of educational reform around them. They’ve had to accept ‘lesser institutions’ into the university system. They’ve had to accept (and not without a fight) major changes to years 11 & 12 of the school curriculum so that it no longer suits their narrow academic interests. The CBT movement represents a major threat if the professions become involved. It would mean the universities would no longer act as the gate keepers of entry to the professions. It is no wonder the AVCC has rejected the Mayer competencies as having any role in University admissions or that we now see Professor Penington calling for a reassessment of whether we need “comprehensive” upper secondary schooling (The Age 12/2/93).
Opportunity for lifelong learning other than for the chosen elite is not in David Penington’s vocabulary.
The real threat now is that view of Professor Penington will prevail if the Coalition is elected on March 13.
There is no difference in what he stands for and what the liberals stand for in education and that is a return to the old binary system where university is the province of the wealthy elite.
The coalition’s policy of introducing vouchers and fees in both Tafe and University represents the most serious threat of all to lifelong learning. Education will become a commodity in a market like any other – a product to be bought and sold – if you can afford it.
For the higher education sector it would mean the powerful elite universities will regain the influence they have partially lost. Smaller universities and regional areas would be the big losers as would certain areas of curriculum which the market did not regard as competitive.
Such a system would only exacberate present imbalances in student choice of study especially towards the high profile professions which are already in over supply. The Liberals call it a policy of individual choice. I ask whether such a policy is in industry’s interest, the national interest, or indeed the individual’s interest.
David Penington and some of his colleagues have given their strong imprimatur to the Coalition’s policy. In a recent paper, (Coalition Policies for Higher Education, January 1993) this group of Vice Chancellors took the policy of the Liberals as a given. Their role was to fill in the substance and develop proposals for implementation. The paper makes no attempt to hide the allegiance of this group nor does it engender any sense of academic objectivity. At least the people involved are honest enough to name themselves.
Their proposals include permitting institutions to charge whatever fee is seen as appropriate; introducing a national selection process through some sort of testing for non-school entrants and regulating Research and Development to certain ‘advanced’ learning and research centres.
Who will benefit? Who will lose? The proposals of this group of Vice Chancellors operating in concert with the opposition would undermine much of the reform process which has made lifelong learning an increasing reality – especially in terms of entry to higher education.
Of course, not everyone should or can go to university but neither should we fall for the policies of the Opposition and their cronies in the universities which would see higher education become the province of the wealthy once again.
As John Prescott, Managing Director and CEO of BHP said to the Business Education Round Table in October, last year:
“A small population like Australia’s can only raise its living standards if it can mobilise the intellectual capacities of all its people – not just as minority.”
Jane Carnegie, Industrial Officer, ACTU. (Progress, Achievements and Omens for the Future). Speech To the National Conference on Vocational Education and Training Sydney 15-17 February 1993