Our new Government seem intent on doing one idiot thing after another, many of which just infuriate me, but this latest craziness has got me writing:
More than 500 adults in basic literacy and numeracy classes have had their funding cut from the end of this year, despite Government assurances that literacy and numeracy skills would be spared from budget cuts.
… The cuts are separate from an 80 per cent cut in “adult and community education” funded through schools. That cut, from $16 million to $3.2 million, was said to exempt literacy, numeracy and foundation courses.
Did you spot that? There’s already been an 80% cut to adult and community education funding, and now they’re hacking in to adult literacy too.
I don’t have time this morning to write a long post about all of this, but here are some points from my own experience.
Kids who can barely write their own name
When I taught high school (kids aged 13 to 18) between 1975 and 1985 my English classes were usually the kids who could barely write their own names.
There were many reasons why 13 year olds were arriving at high school with few literacy skills — it’s a complex area. We worked with them to improve those skills, but some kids just aren’t going to ‘get’ it before they leave school.
Adults who can barely read and write or do sums
From 1985 to around 1995 I worked for the Adult Reading and Learning Assistance Federation (ARLA) in various roles. That organisation is now called Literacy Aotearoa. They’re the ones who’ve suffered the latest big cut.
Again, there are many, very complex, reasons why some adults can’t read, write or work with numbers.
These literacy and numeracy problems lead on to all kinds of other problems: lack of confidence, reduced ability to learn other skills, reduced ability to use the Internet or reference materials, to vote, to stand up and have their say. It also hinders them from helping their kids with education.
Adults with literacy problems aren’t ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’ or ‘losers’ — they just can’t handle reading, writing or numbers.
Many are very very skilled at certain things — they may be able to fix cars, build houses, cook fabulous meals, work with animals, grow plants. Their skills span the breadth and length of human endeavour, provided those endeavours don’t rely on literacy or numeracy.
From around 1995 to 2005 I taught hundreds of ‘night-classes’, mainly for the Wellington High School Community Education Centre. I also attended a few classes myself on topics such as Photography, and Photoshop.
Actually, the first ‘night-classes’ I taught were in the 80s, when I was a school teacher by day. At that time I taught German language classes mainly.
Between 1985 and 1995 I also had stints working with the Porirua Language Project Adult Literacy Scheme and the National Resource Centre for Adult Education and Community Learning. I’ve had a lot of involvement with community adult education and adult literacy.
Education benefits society
There’s one thing we know: education benefits society. We need to allow, encourage and enhance educational opportunity for everyone, starting with kids, and continuing all the way until we draw our last breath.
Adults need to learn reading, writing and arithmetic, and also sewing and crochet and art and photography and Tai Chi and Spanish and how to make Christmas gifts and all the other things that are taught in community education.
Attending any one of those courses may lead to friendships, connections, confidence, starting points, or ‘just’ a bit more fulfilment in everyday life.
Such classes may help someone feel more skilled, or more connected, or more confident.
The gift-making class may allow someone to be confident enough to show up at her kid’s school and talk with the teachers. Or it may lead on to a literacy class, and then to a trades class and then to set up a new business.
People attend community education classes for all kinds of reasons, but low cost and a ‘community’ feeling number amongst the important factors.
The doom of snobbery
There was a time when I taught a very successful 4-hour introduction to making websites. 4 hours is laughable, but I was able to pack in the basics and I know a couple of former students who have gone on to become very web-savvy people working with the web.
I taught the identical course in a couple of different venues. One venue was the Community Education course that cost around $45 for the 4 hours. Another was a ‘business’ training centre where people paid around $200.
Apart from the venue, there was no difference in what I taught.
Some of the participants on the expensive course would consider it beneath them to attend the Community Education course. They thought that what they would receive there would be somehow ‘less’, or inferior just because of the Community Education context.
I think this kind of snobbery is at play in the Government cuts.
The thing is, I didn’t care if some idiots wanted to pay 4 times as much as they needed to because it made them feel more important. I do care that the Government is endangering our society and possibly initiating a spiral of doom as they strip away access to learning options.
I said I wouldn’t write a long post, and now here I am, some 1,200 words later …
Have you ever attended any community adult education classes? How did you find them? What benefits did they bring for you? What was your experience? I’d love to know. Please leave a comment.