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Education for All

By Dr Marjorie O'Neill, Member for Coogee on October 9, 2020 in Other

The world is changing. Photo: Ed Ucation

There are few decisions in life with a more lasting impact than those regarding whether to engage in further education once we leave school. Very few of us are lucky enough to acquire the competencies required to pursue a fulfilling life while we are at school, so we need additional knowledge and skills to set us on a path that enables us to support ourselves.

We are all familiar with the idea that, in a rapidly changing world, the concept of entering a career at an early age and remaining in that space for the entirety of our working lives is now redundant.
The economic consequences of COVID-19 have intensified our understanding of how quickly and radically the job market can change. We have also come to see the value of adaptability, entrepreneurial, and resilience.
The strange thing about education is that it makes us better – nothing changes lives more than education. Not all education, of course, has to be formally acquired, and there are a great many self-taught exemplars. It is useful, however, to be able to demonstrate our competencies through formal accreditation.

That first decision regarding what to do after leaving school has long-term implications for us, but it doesn’t determine our futures. Although retraining throughout our lives is inevitable in a context of continual change, ideally we would build skills from our earliest studies that would provide a basis for further development over the years. This is why the University of New South Wales introduced General Studies subjects as core components to their engineering and other specialist degree programs as far back as the 1970s.

Understanding people, their sociology, history and psychology, provides a basis for being adaptive and flexible. Understanding the underlying principles, not just the formulated rules, helps us to be adaptive. Humanities, or the subjects offered by the Arts Faculty, should be a part of the education curriculum for all students. Given the fundamental role and pervasive significance of information technology in our society, it seems logical that its study should also be included in all courses of study.
The case for embedding the skills for adaptability and flexibility in tertiary education programs, given the extent of radical change in our social context, appears clear. Yet, somewhat oddly, the government has decided to radically increase the fees attached to studying degrees in humanities, law and commerce. The cost of humanities and communications courses will more than double, with a year of full-time study costing $14,500, up from $6,684 this year. It is very hard to see how these changes will help produce a better equipped and more adaptive workforce.

Moving forward, it is clear that we can build skills and facilitate adaptability, but how do we develop the resilience, toughness and capacity to recover from difficulties required to move ahead and adapt? My humble suggestion – and I mean this very sincerely – is that resilience comes from self-respect or love of others, or both; it involves a sense that defeat is not to be accepted.
In these times, resilience may be regarded as the golden quality. I would love to hear from people about their views as to how we should define, recognise, or build resilience.