September 4, 2013

So here's the thing...

By Michael Zangmeister

So, here’s the thing.

I see, in TAFE, all around me, teachers who care, passionately, about what they are doing, are good at what they do, but who face losing their jobs anyway. I’ve seen them at Open Days and Careers Expos, talking earnestly with prospective students and parents, offering good study and career advice, which has satisfied those listening, often leading to a heartfelt “thank you so much!” from those listening. But those teachers might still lose their jobs.

Why? Because our governments believe in an ideology, not in us, not in teachers.

The ideology is the free market. The free market, in turn, eventually leads to distrust and suspicion, which leads to the rise of another sector: that of audit and compliance and bureaucratic mediocrity.

We are now judged primarily on how good our paper trail is, not how well educated or trained our students are. Our students are being pushed into debt, while the so called free market leads to an overpricing and commodification of education and training. It also allows the government to walk away from its role as supporter of public education.

I emphasise education, because that’s also what TAFE does; let’s not forget that the acronym stands for Technical and Further Education. TAFE has provided a tertiary education experience for those who (often) never thought themselves capable of such a thing – and then went on to a rewarding period of study at University too, made more rewarding by the solid foundations provided by their involvement with TAFE.

Now, I all I can see is the betrayal, by our government, of those who can least afford to be betrayed. I know that sounds a bit “ranty”, and if you saw me saying this out loud in front of the State Library, you might smile politely and back away, clutching your kiddies tightly by the hand.

But I really think that there is no other way of putting it.

TAFE really was the “People’s System”. It grew over a period of more than 150 years, out of the Mechanics Institutes and Athenaeum Halls (oh, and they’re being sold off too), into a proud and important part of education and skills building over the years.

And now it has been gutted, and left to swing in the wind:

  • $1.2 Billion ripped out
  • Institute Board Chairs sacked for speaking out
  • No more Staff and Student Representatives on Institute Boards
  • No wage supplementation
  • No more Community Service funding
  • No more maintenance funding

In addition, we have:

  • Virtually unfettered access to public tax dollars by private RTOs (some good or very good, but lots not)
  • A “we’ll clean the mess up later” approach to those who were ripped off by some of the less than ethical private providers
  • The forced de-registration of hundreds of those very same dodgy providers.

So, yes, I’m angry, and though I mutter to myself like Muttley on the Wacky Racers (now there’s an age-specific reference), I do think I have a point, and it’s not under my pin-wheel hat.

Governments are privatising education and training, and it’s not a good thing. Education is not a commodity, it is not a one-size-fits all, buy off the shelf object. It is not something only the wealthy and able-bodied should have access to. Teachers who have given their all for their students should not be tossed on the scrap heap because of an ideological fixation.

So please, don’t let this continue.

Talk and talk and talk about this with friends and family, and if you are really game, strangers on the street or in the shops. Write to your pollies. Meet with them. Let them know that TAFE still matters; because our kids matter, our students matter and we matter.