Tuesday, 9 June 2009

throwing away the ACE

one of the worst things to come out of the recent budget is the cut in funding to the adult and community education sector. it's a cut of 80% to services other than literacy, a total of $16 million. the result for the waikato region alone is a direct loss of 230 jobs, according to this article. this is because the services here do not believe they can survive the funding cut:

"With a severe cut like this we are not going to be able to survive," she said.

Mrs Ginever said the 80 per cent cut, leaving 20 per cent for numeracy and literacy courses, was a flawed plan. "At the moment our other courses are paying for literacy courses. People who want to do literacy haven't got money to pay for courses."

just think about the majority of the people who will be affected by this. it will be lower income earners who want to upskill themselves. it will be people who didn't do well at school when they were young, but want to turn their lives around. it will be women who have been out of the work force and want to retrain. these courses make a significant difference to the well-bing of many people. they provide value that is far beyond pure economics.

in addition to these cuts are the cuts to industry training organisations (halved from 2011), the gutting of funding for the training part of the 9-day fortnight proposal (which was the main point of the whole thing), cuts to scholarships, and much more. all this from a government that wants to improve productivity, which requires a higher skilled workforce (of course, the easier way to do it is by increasing unemployment and lowering output).

more on the topic here.


Cat said...

I've been discussing this with a few people, and our general consensus is that if people want to do the courses that are 'lifestyle' courses, then they should be willing to pay for them. If you want to learn about Tuscan cooking, why should that be subsidised?

I've done a couple of night classes (pottery and drawing) and in both cases the fee was very low for what it was. The drawing class was very good and I wouldn't have minded paying a bit more. The pottery class was more hit and miss, with the tutor not being much of a teacher, but with all materials provided etc. It wouldn't be an unreasonable model to charge closer to the actual cost for these courses, but they will need to make sure value for money is provided..

It's also worth mentioning that almost all of the people in the classes were either: youngish with no kids and a reasonable income, doing it to fill in the time, or: older, kids have left home, doing it to fill in the time and meet new people.

The courses which genuinely provide people with new skills that can move them in new career directions or give them a 'leg up' are the ones that would be sad to lose - but looking at the programme of a CE centre near you, how many of those are there... Looking at http://www.cecwellington.ac.nz/home the vast majority seem to be lifestyle courses rather than change your life courses....

stargazer said...

to which cat, i'll just copy my comment to the red alert post:

“Should the taxpayer be funding pottery classes?”

if a person takes that class, which then enables them to run a small business and therefore no longer rely on a benefit, i would say the taxpayer should be funding it. even if they were not on a benefit, and the person was able to supplement their income, thereby (for example) being able to afford better quality and healthier food which would reduce health costs, then the taxpayer should be funding it. even if the person received no direct income as a result of taking the class but it improved their interest in learning, and they went on to obtain useful skills in other areas, then the taxpayer should be funding it. even if the only result of a person taking the course was to increase their level contentment in life and meant they felt more positive about themselves (and given that good mental health has an impact on physical health), then the taxpayer should be funding it.

education is a public good, it has benefits way beyond the economic

and the comment after mine is equally relevant:

Night classes are much more than a hobby and I think adults have the same rights as children to learn new skills.
The primary school needs money of course, but putting people in the situation that everything you can learn is going to be in your early years of your life is very unfair.
You never know what you might need to learn to do in life.
When you are 8 you wouldn’t think of learning a foreign language but maybe in your 30s you get a really good job offer that requires it… if there are no evening classes at a reasonable price what do you do? Too late you should have thought of that when you were in primary school????
A journalism student might need to get some photography skills to be more confident in his or her work.
Evening classes are an amazing things and I think they should be kept going!!!

Cat said...

It'd be interesting to know statistics (whcih probably don't exist) about how many people follow up what they've learned in the classes in the way you mention..

And I guess the pragmatic, devil's advocate question is: what would you cut in order to keep funding for night classes? This assumes that there needs to be a cut *somewhere*...

It may not appear so from my comments above, but I'm in favour of keeping the classes, in their current form - but if there's no money, it has to come from somewhere..

stargazer said...

that is the easiest question ever. i'd cut the $35 million extra funding to private schools. if parents feel the state-funded public school system is not good enough for them, let them pay the full cost of private schooling. why are we taxpayers now subsidising private school pupils to the tune of $15,000 each, when pupils in public schools get only $5,000 each? (sorry, can't remember where i saw those figures just now).

another area you could cut is funding to the racing industry. the recession apparently doesn't require any cuts to taxpayer funded sponsorship of horse races, but it apparently requires cuts to adult and community education.

i'm sure there's much more if we go looking.

Hugh said...

So Anjum it's not appropriate for the state to contribute to the basic education of upper-middle class children (private schools), but it is appropriate for it to contribute to the non-basic education of upper-middle class adults?

Surely your logic of 'they can afford to pay for it' applies to retired women taking Tuscan cooking courses too?

stargazer said...

the point is hugh, that they don't have to pay for it because there is a public education system available for their kids. the taxpayer funding for private schools could be put towards those public schools so that there was better education overall for everyone. what i object to is that one group of kids is getting higher funding from the state (per pupil) than another group of kids.

that is not the case, as far as i know for ACE. everyone gets equal funding, there isn't a privileged group that's getting proportionately more funding which others on lower incomes will never be able to access.

in terms of public schools, all parents have access regardless of income, so upper-middle class kids who go to public schools are being funded by the taxpayer, and i totally agree with that.

Hugh said...

Anjum, I see your point, but you are calling for the funding to be withdrawn from private schools and put towards ACE, not public schools. So public schools will be getting more kids, but receiving no funding for it.

In my opinion ACE has the potential to become what you see it as - a way for people to up-skill so that they can find employment, or better employment - but right now it largely is as Cat describes it, an area for the reasonably well off to engage with their hobbies and meet other like minded people.

Obviously in the current context, where ACE funding is under threat, it's not realistic to talk about changing this. But it would be really nice to see some concerted effort put into getting people from less privileged socio-economic backgrounds to attend ACE classes.

I suspect this would be difficult for two reasons; poor people tend to have more mentally and physically exhausting jobs, which leaves them less able or willing to spend their evenings doing the hard work of learning when they could be relaxing. Secondly, middle class attendance might well fall away quite severely if the sort of people the average middle class hobbyist has no real wish to associate with in their free time start showing up.

stargazer said...

yes, it would be nice to see effort put into getting more lower class people involved. but the main thing is that funding should be provided so that it is open to everyone. another possible reason for them not being there in higher numbers (if they aren't, i still haven't seen data to support this and i don't do any classes so have no direct experience) is that the courses aren't entirely free, and if you can't afford the $100 fee for a 6-week course, then you're left out. for that reason, we should be increasing funding rather than cutting it.

homepaddock said...

I lose a part time job teaching Spanish night classes because of this.

That's a pity for me as an individual but I can't argue for continued taxpayer funding for what are in effect hobby classes when there are so many other pressing needs in education, not least literacy and numeracy where the ACE funding is being redirected.

Moz said...

Adult education is a useful thing to have. I but the argument that the more frivolous courses might usefully be trimmed, but have no idea how to identify the useful ones... so I favour keeping the lot, or trimming on a one-at-a-time basis. Just killing the whole sector is a dumb idea.

The private school argument is similar to private health care, private roads, private elections and so on. Why should the taxpayer fund anything that simply exists to partially replace an existing public good? If I want a nice road parallel to the main road from my house to work I can't get taxpayer funding for it, even if a bunch of my friends would all use it and help pay for it. But if it's a school, suddenly the govt will kick in extra money for every child we pull out of the state system. Not to mention that the private version gets to skim and dump - problem children/patients/drivers get booted back into the public system, which is worse off as a result. Rather than paying extra to subsidise the private versions, we should pay less per head since they should have lower average cost per person due to removing high-cost individuals.

stargazer said...

sorry homepaddock about your loss of job. but to say that pool of funding is being redirected to literacy and numeracy has no basis. it's the same as my saying that funding is being redirected to private schools. if it's not, there what else is being cut so that private schools can have the extra money?

Anita said...


Two points

1) They're not transferring the existing funding into literacy, they're cutting 80% of the total funding for ACE through schools, then cutting the TEI funding, and immediately cutting all the funding for ACE development, and removing inflation indexing for 1 July. The funding that helped your students gain skills will not go to teach anyone else anything else.

2) IMO learning a second language has enormous functional and professional literacy benefits. Having a variety of skills and knowledge available to individuals and communities has complex economic and community benefits far beyond the individual's immediate learning outcome.

Anonymous said...

ACE serves social purposes as well. When I worked at a university, there were quite a lot of people who studied as a form of 'occupational therapy' - often getting back into the workforce after a difficult life event or mental health issues. ACE is a much cheaper way of providing people a platform to get back into life than university study.