…and the final piece of newly reclaimed work from the adult ed course in turkey, is a list of good stuff, illustrating the breadth of alternative and community education in australia. it’s a bunch of things i’ve come across, and now i have it back i hope to add to it with whatever other goodies i find about the place!
Alternative and Community Adult Education
In Australia, if you look hard enough, you can find numerous examples of adult alternative and community education. These are a sample I’ve been involved in. Most of the following exist outside of formal educational structures, but even those that are associated with such structures work to enrich the communities within the organisation, and are therefore worthy of consideration as adult community education entities. Some examples are even in corporate settings, which are often excluded from Community education. I believe this is an invalid distinction; we don’t have such a surfeit of community opportunities that we can afford to cut off half the world because of its primary purposes, especially when the sections of them that attend to satisfactory second purposes, offer more scarce resources than all the ‘authentic’ community organisations put together.
Fairwear is the NGO that looks after outworkers in the garment industry. After nine years they’ve finally won a code of practice that makes Australian retailers responsible for the whole chain of who actually makes their products, not just the first middleman. They’ve even been granted some loopholes in the shocking new Industrial Relations laws. Anyway, apart from their legal wranglings, Fairwear organises practical support for outworkers, including seminars about their rights, and help getting their established skills and knowledge accredited as TAFE qualifications.
The Fairwear coordinator also makes presentations in schools, but only those which invite her, which are usually catholic schools, state schools sadly don’t often bother.
In “Unpaid Work in the Home and Accreditation” (Chapter 5, “Culture and Processes of Adult Learning”, Mary Thorpe, Richard Edwards and Ann Hanson (eds.)), Linda Butler examines common aspects of being a ‘housewife’ and compares them to accredited courses. When ordinary tasks like cleaning the kitchen, managing household finances or care of children are broken down into their parts and compared to the same elements in paid work, it’s shocking how much a ‘housewife’ does without even noticing.
There are a number of handcraft guilds still running. The Tatting Guild of NSW is a room full of mostly old women who meet every fortnight in a hall, and sit around and chat while they tat. (Tatting being a form of lace made with a shuttle.) Sometimes a class is held on a particular point, but more often if you want to know something, ask and someone will be able to show you. They sell tools and materials cheaply and have a membership to cover costs of hall, tea, newsletter and stands at craft shows, but anyone is welcome to turn up.
Brüel & Kjær
acoustics workshops, ostensibly to sell their product, actually help form a community and educate both new and old hands in details of the field, both about their equipment, and other various matters. though this was not what I would previously have considered community education, it was remarkable that I, as a complete novice, could sit alongside engineers and designers needing to educate themselves on a field related to their own, and veteran acoustic consultants who you’d think knew everything there was to know, and we could all gain much from the day.
As a department of my university, Warawara our Aboriginal Education Unit is a remarkable example of Adult Education. Every university, though not every campus has a similar unit, and each one is different, but this is a run down of the one at Macquarie. Warawara runs undergraduate units in Aboriginal Studies as part of mainstream degrees, but it is also a support base, and community, for all Aboriginal students and staff. Warawara staff and volunteers tirelessly run workshops and seminars for the rest of the university community on Aboriginal issues in an attempt to make all classrooms more friendly, and make presentations to every class that invites them. They are a resource both for Aboriginal students and for everyone else. Above all of this, they run certificates and diplomas in Community Management. These are qualifications specifically for Aboriginal people who don’t have much education. Most of their students are middle-aged women in responsible positions within their remote or regional communities. These are very competent people who nonetheless have often not completed school and are understandably scared about white institutions. The courses are run on block release, so the students are flown to Sydney from their homes across the country, and put up for a week or two four times a year, in the university holidays. The rest of the year is run as a correspondence course.
An even more radical alternative source of education that has developed in the last 10 years around the world is Queeruption, a “free DIY gathering for queers of all genders and sexualities.” (www.queeruption.org/sydney) In February 2005, Queeruption9 was held in Sydney, and since the first organisational meetings a year previously, there has been a strong emphasis on community and on skill sharing within the queer and alternative communities of Sydney. A major part of the actual gathering was skill sharing workshops. Some workshops were arranged before the gathering starts by those who contacted the organising collective with proposals, but the majority of them were spontaneous. At the beginning of the week a large timetable was put up on site, and anyone who felt a desire to share a skill or hold a discussion, wrote a time and place and topic on the timetable. People wishing to learn a particular skill wrote messages asking those with the skill to help run a workshop. After the gathering, any locals who were involved keep the community alive by arranging other community events that are social, political and/or educational, such as reading groups and gardening days. The next Queeruption will be held in August in Tel Aviv, and connections have been made to hopefully share what we learnt in Sydney with the new organising collective.
The University of the Third Age is an organisation for people over fifty. Members pay an annual administration fee, and can then offer or take as many courses as they wish. My mother takes courses in French and Hebrew, both in small groups meeting in the teachers’ houses. The atmosphere is casual and flexible, and the groups are quite mixed in terms of backgrounds, levels, goals and purposes, but my mother doesn’t mind that they go too slowly for her, as it is a social occasion and pleasant as well as useful.
In Sydney these are independent organisations that offer short courses quarterly. They are advertised in shopping centres and libraries, and operate in schools and halls. Teachers are not necessarily qualified, and there are fees. Standards obviously vary.
A recent development in Queensland is the Gender And Sexuality in Schools Project, which held its first teacher education symposium in November 2004. This project, initiated by a group of students at the University of Queensland supported by their Student Union, seeks to educate teachers working in schools about the issues faced by GLBTIQ people in schools. By making teachers aware of queer issues, it hopes to equip them to deal effectively and sensitively with any issues that arise in their schools. The first symposium was extremely successful, attended by teachers from all over the state, and from both private and state schools. Lectures from leading Australian queer educators, a panel discussion on current government policies with members of Education Queensland, the government body responsible for all state-run education, and a session with a group of brave queer students who shared their experiences of being queer at school had a great effect on the teachers present. In the future the group hopes to be able to run short seminars in schools as part of the normal teachers’ professional development program. Unfortunately the future of the program is threatened by the recent introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism in Australia, which will make the union unable to continue to provide the same level of support, either financial or infrastructural, while the reception by the management of Education Queensland has been less than wholehearted.
The Parramatta Rail Link is being built under my suburb, and one of the terms they need to fulfil in order to receive state funding is to hold Community Liaison Groups. These are small groups of interested community members and some other stakeholders, who meet every fortnight with nice folders and nametags and notes and pictures and sandwiches and cake and juice. We have toured the worksites and tunnels and learnt about blasting and tunnelling and big machinery, noise and vibration and dust traps, town planning and environmental management.
The meetings are clearly held to keep us happy and stop us making trouble for the project, but as there are some very real concerns, it is also a way for people to find out what and who we need to know, to get changes made. The project runs under very strict controls, which they demonstrably abide by, and there are staff to ensure every concern we raise is attended to, which is a good thing when a railway is boring under your house.
Volunteer Literacy Tutoring TAFE course
this course is currently scaled back and still under further threat. Not all migrants are able to come in to the TAFE (Technical And Further Education, the public technical School system) to take up their free language course, either because they’re not at an appropriate level, or for mobility or family reasons. So volunteers are trained in a free certificate. half the credit is classes about tutoring and literacy, quite practical, and for the other half you are assigned a student and you go to them for ten weeks. most of the volunteers are retired women who want to ‘give back’ or do something useful.
The Association to Resource Community Housing sets up free seminars about all aspects of how to set up, run and live in community housing for means tested groups of people wanting to set up a cooperative. On completion of the course you get TAFE accreditation, and ARCH will recommend you to the government who will offer a new or renovated block of flats to live in for a quarter of your income.
Squatting Caretaker status
A few years ago a group of squatters won a landmark case for Caretaker status of their home and the right to live there until the owners definitively started work on the building. Part of the agreement was to be training for Caretakers, probably through TAFE. This has not happened, as the Broadway Squats were shortly evicted and noone else has yet won a similar situation, but it’s a start, and when it happens, education will be the factor that makes a revolutionary practice more publicly acceptable.
I don’t know much about education in Maleny, but it is a town in Queensland, where last I checked, there were above thirty running cooperatives. They run a credit union, collective schools, a pub, a food collective, an artists collective… I don’t think the schools are particularly special, but they can’t be too boring in such a place.