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Let’s Get Rid Of Those Superfluous Nightschool Classes!

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Sabine Schneider
Sabine Schneider

Nightschool is so yesteryear and shouldn’t be publicly funded, right?
So wrong! More than 200.000 New Zealanders enrol in adult and community education (ACE) courses each year, most of which will not be offered from 2010. This is because of the 80 percent cut in funding our new and not-at-all-improved National government has announced in their latest budget.

Although I'm frothing at the mouth about this stupidity I wasn’t surprised about the axe attack on ACE: National-led governments have never been interested in anything that doesn’t immediately benefit wealthy people's pockets. Least of all ACE, or what they like to call "hobby groups". I can see Anne Tolley  sniggering at Moroccan cooking and Upholstery classes – if the British parliament is anything to go by she and other members of our government can probably afford private tuition. Many people, however, have to rely on community education.

The institution of evening classes for adults has a long tradition in Western countries and most adults who haven’t had an university education take it for granted. But even those WITH tertiary education come to my classes and learn basic cooking and baking skills. Where else would they go! To Jo Seagar’s?

There are many reasons for attending nightschool. But generally it’s to gain some knowledge or practical skill, sometimes a combination of both. For example: The students in my current Baking for Beginners class are mostly from Asia. Some of them are using the class not just to learn the basics of baking, but also to practice their English in a relaxed and fun atmosphere. It's an affordable class and I'm so sorry for the immigrants who won't have that option any more. They and people on low incomes are the ones missing out – yet again.

In Germany (where I come from) the user-pays mentality for adult education is already well established and has had a variety of consequences:
a) ACE providers offer a very limited range of courses, most of which are supposed to impact immediately upon the ability of the adult student to find a job (which, as we  know, mostly doesn’t happen)

b) a range of private – and very costly – courses sprung up. They are of varied quality and designed for the few who can afford to pay.

c) private initiatives, for example many womens' education centres, were founded. Initially, they were affordable, but over time have been forced into the mainstream education system. Fees, of course, have been adjusted and are now out of reach for people on low and even middle incomes.

d) mainly in cities groups of individuals who share common interests teach each other for free or in exchange for other tuition or services in a kind of barter system. This, however, doesn't happen in a planned manner and information can often only be obtained by being a part of the subculture in question.

e) the only really positive outcome was the sprouting of a huge range of clubs and shared-interest groups (who are mostly registered as non-profit organisations and thus eligible for some kind of government subsidy).

After a surprisingly short time one result of the substantial cut in funding for most education in general and ACE in particular was the ingrained belief that education is only for the wealthy, which, in turn, led to a lethargic and pessimistic outlook on life, which, in turn, was responsible for a shift from an upbeat "can-do" attitude, for which Germans used to be praised, to a "whatever" attitude, which, in turn, is part of an overall downward mood spiral in which many, especially young adults are trapped. A big and costly problem caused by comparatively little money saved by the cut in funding . . . and the Germans are already re-thinking their actions.

I really wish New Zealand decision makers would occasionally peek out of the box to observe the consequences similar short-sighted actions had in other countries. But I'm German after all – I grew up with a big dose of scepticism and cynicism – so I won't hold my breath while the decisions are made, the dire consequences are measured and the decisions get reversed. I'm sure it will take a while – usually about 15 years as I’ve been told by equally cynical Kiwis.

Take action:
Even if you've never attended night school classes you've always had the chance of going. That'll soon be – pooof! – gone if we don't make our views heard.

Of course this is a highly political issue, but it's also personal – for us all as potential tutors and students. So please consider talking about this issue to your friends and colleagues, writing a letter to all and sundry (for example our newspapers) or ringing talkback radio (if you can get yourself to do this) or doing SOMETHING besides thinking "oh, what a shame – bored now" !!!

Read on: Here's a bit more info.

Open the (clean) attachment below if you want to know what YOU can do to get your voice heard plus a sample letter you can use.



What You Can Do 2009.doc50 KB

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