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December 2009 - Issue #8

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Doors open to fresh start learning

Story by Melissa Branagh-McConachy

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A baby in a bassinet in the classroom, in high school … not likely. A baby generally means the end to education for teenage mothers, no matter how much potential and ambition they may have harboured.

And ‘exclusion’ from education tends to be the beginning of ‘social exclusion’ per se – as is exclusion forced by race, colour, creed, disability and other circumstances of birth.

The counterweight to this is ‘social inclusion’ – policies and practical programs that are designed to capture the human potential that is otherwise lost when people are marginalised.

The Australian Government has recognised social inclusion as one way to achieve its goal of attracting more people to higher education, and tertiary institutions are now laying down the practical foundations.

A new inclusive approach to higher education is driven by initiatives to reconnect with people who have fallen from formal schooling.

In the case of teenage mothers, Swinburne University of Technology has initiated childcare and personal development classes that teenage girls can attend with their babies.

Swinburne’s Young Mums/Childcare Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) Program recently won Diversity@Work and NAPCAN Safe Communities awards for its success in helping young mothers train and enter the workforce. The program was also acknowledged as the Victorian Training Initiative of the Year at the 2009 Victorian Training Awards. While re-engaging young mothers with the education system following pregnancy, it is also equipping them with parenting skills. Completion of the course contributes to a Certificate III in Children’s Services and provides pathways into other education and training programs.

Swinburne’s director of learning, School of Sustainable Futures, Sharon Rice says many young mothers become dependent on welfare when they feel they are no longer able to be a part of a conventional school environment. This program brings teenage mums and their babies back into an education and training community.

It is one of a range of programs introduced across Swinburne’s Victorian campuses in Croydon, Hawthorn, Healesville, Lilydale, Prahran and Wantirna to equip Australians generally to work and participate in community life.

Expertise in the delivery of dual-sector (university and TAFE) pathway programs gives Swinburne a particular capability for increasing under-represented groups’ participation in education, particularly students from Indigenous, remote, regional and low socioeconomic backgrounds, migrants and people with learning or intellectual disabilities.

Swinburne is one of few Australian universities whose responsibilities span the full range of programs from apprenticeships to PhDs, with well-defined pathways from TAFE into higher education or from TAFE-based senior secondary studies into full TAFE courses.

First Stop – a youth employment, education and training resource centre within Swinburne’s TAFE division – targets out-of-school or disengaged people between 15 and 24 years of age in Melbourne’s outer east, an area that has traditionally recorded one of Australia’s highest numbers of early school‑leavers.

Partially funded by the Outer Eastern Local Learning and Employment Network, the centre refers more than 600 students each year to pathway programs including: the hands-on Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL), which offers school-based apprenticeships; the youth-specific Certificate of General Education for Adults (Youth CGEA); the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE); and transition programs such as Next Step.

Ms Rice says First Stop works because these young people prefer an adult learning environment. “Over the past few years the number of drop-outs has fallen from 25 per cent to 10 per cent and we are continuing to improve retention,” she says.

Low educational aspirations in Victoria’s Yarra Valley have also prompted Swinburne’s Faculty of Higher Education (Lilydale) to connect with secondary students at key decision-making stages through the Making a Difference Project.

Under the joint initiative between the faculty and local schools, Swinburne undergraduates coach Year 9 students in social action assignments.

Education development coordinator Sue Kokonis says the project exposes young people to tertiary study while accrediting third-year Swinburne students in work-integrated learning – a project-based unit that provides experience in community engagement. “A number of secondary students in the pilot group who were not realising their potential have gone on to leadership positions at school,” she says.

The Supported Learning Network in Swinburne’s TAFE division delivers pre-vocational and vocational courses to improve social integration of students with learning difficulties. The curriculum is designed to develop individual skills across a range of occupational areas.

Swinburne TAFE also provides a broad range of programs specific to Indigenous Australians and has trained about 340 students through its Indigenous Business Governance Courses. In partnership with Aboriginal Affairs Victoria and the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations, the courses have recorded a 95 per cent retention rate and provide an entry pathway to the Bachelor of Social Sciences.

Other initiatives, including the Victorian Government’s Skill Up Program, are designed to help retrenched workers upgrade their skills following an industry downturn or workplace closure. Swinburne TAFE has worked with more than 20 organisations referred by Skills Victoria, and recently trained about 200 workers released from the Holeproof (Pacific Brands) Nunawading site to lift their employment opportunities.

Schools link lifts the covers on tertiary choice

Connecting with potential students from an early age is one way Swinburne is working to arouse interest in traditional and emerging vocational areas.

Through the Knox Innovation, Opportunity and Sustainability Centre (KIOSC) project – which involves Swinburne and seven secondary schools in Melbourne’s Knox area, in the city’s outer eastern suburbs – Swinburne is endeavouring to reach students, from the age of 12, in educationally underrepresented areas. Studies show that this is an age when aspirations for professional careers should be fostered.

The project acknowledges that raising the number of tertiary places is not enough to ensure more young people graduate with degrees. Instead, engaging students at an early age is needed to inspire an interest in higher education, especially in areas where parents who left school early are unlikely to encourage their children to seek a tertiary education.

The KIOSC Discovery Centre will work with students in years 7 to 9 and the KIOSC Vocational Education and Training (VET) facility will work with students in years 10 to 12.

Swinburne TAFE Strategic and Business Development director Sheila Fitzgerald says the KIOSC concept will establish a centre of excellence in ‘green’ education and training in areas such as environmental sustainability and associated management.

“KIOSC will expose students to the diversity of ‘green’ careers and higher education pathways in manufacturing, engineering, electro-technology and renewable energy,” Ms Fitzgerald says.

The centre will also provide opportunities for industry to participate in course program design and student skill development.

Tailored education widens involvement

Recognising that multiple career changes are increasingly common today, Swinburne’s new TAFE School of Sustainable Futures aims to adapt programs to meet individual and industry needs.

The school’s key objective is to broaden participation in education and training. Its executive director Louise Palmer says making education accessible and relevant is about finding new ways to engage and sustain people in the education system. “We are moving from a ‘one size fits all’ to a ‘one size fits one’ philosophy,” she says.

Ms Palmer says the TAFE School of Sustainable Futures is about adapting programs to meet individual and industry needs, and addressing contemporary social issues such as sustainability. It seeks to facilitate diversity that mirrors society.

“We recognise that people are increasingly having multiple career changes, so teaching individuals to assess where they are and what their needs are is very important to stay employable.”

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