Valerie Braithwaite is an interdisciplinary social scientist with a disciplinary background in psychology.
This article first appeared in TAFE Teacher in Winter 2017. You can read the full article here on pages 18-20. An excerpt appears below.
“Supporting communities through a well-resourced, local TAFE is a smart government investment when economic and social turmoil strikes regional towns and cities.”
In a civilised society, education is an institution for starting over, for expressing loss and grief over a past life, and moving on to reinvent oneself and build a new life. Education is not just about acquiring sets of skills and competencies. It presents an opportunity to be someone else who also happens to have a set of skills and competencies that others will value.
It is in the context of human reinvention that Australia’s TAFE system has so often come to the rescue. The purpose of vocational education is not just to provide people with competencies and skill sets. Just as important is the way in which it can give people a sense of social worth and capacity to develop and adapt. This gift applies to both individuals and communities.
TAFEs can’t be fairly evaluated through templates that benchmark them against universities or other training organizations. The value of TAFEs lies in how their communities see them and use them, in the relationships that they forge and the opportunities they create for members of their communities.
TAFE teachers across the country who reflect on their professional contribution with pride do not do so in terms of the training packages that they taught for Australian industry groups. Rather they reflect on the people whose lives they touched and changed for the better. Students similarly do not reflect on the specific bits of knowledge they gleaned, no doubt obsolete after several years in the workforce. Rather they reflect on those who taught them and gave them a life changing opportunity, on a place where they learnt the value of social infrastructure, developed friendships and networks of support, and confidence to learn new skills and start again. Parents and families too express gratitude to the TAFE system, not so much in terms of adequacy of training packages, but rather in terms of giving their family member a new lease of life, an opportunity to learn, permission to make mistakes, a social network that offers support, and guidance to get their lives back on track.
Any discussion of TAFE and vocational education more generally is incomplete without open recognition of how communities suffer psychologically and socially in times of economic upheaval, and how important tertiary education is for re-igniting hope for a better future. Some individuals may be privileged with financial resources to enrol in boutique college courses. For others it is just about getting started on something: to put one step in front of the other, to manage anxiety and depression, to find meaningful activity and to think positively about the future. A caring TAFE sector with well trained, committed and appropriately remunerated teaching professionals meets this need. It always has. Supporting communities through a well-resourced, local TAFE is a smart government investment when economic and social turmoil strikes regional towns and cities.