One in five pupils leaves the education system without basic qualifications

The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, branded the figures ‘shameful’ and suggested Government reforms might be to blame

Almost one in five young people in England is leaving the education system without basic qualifications.

A new analysis from the Children’s Commissioner for England found that 98,799 children — 18 per cent — left education aged 18 last year without achieving “level 2 attainment” — five GCSEs at A*-C or an equivalent technical qualification.

The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, branded the figures “shameful” and suggested Government reforms might be to blame.

She has written to the Department for Education calling for an independent review.

Growing attainment gap

Young people are now required to stay in education or training until age 18, by which time it is estimated that many will have had more than £100,000 of public money spent on their education. But despite young people staying in education longer, the number leaving without reaching level 2 has increased by 28 per cent in three years, after falling continuously between 2005 and 2015.

According to the analysis, the increase has been driven by more pupils from poorer backgrounds failing to achieve basic qualifications.

The attainment gap between children in wealthy areas and those in poor areas increased from 13 per cent in 2015 to 17 per cent in 2018.


And the gap between children with special educational needs (SEN) and their classmates has also increased, with 45 per cent of SEN students failing to achieve basic qualifications.

Ms Longfield said: “It is shameful that last year almost 100,000 children in England left education at 18 without proper qualifications.

“It is particularly unacceptable that children growing up in the poorest areas of the country and children with special educational needs are most likely to leave school without reaching basic levels of attainment.”

She added: “The Government must urgently investigate why the progress that has been made over recent years in closing the attainment gap has stalled and is now going backwards.”

Government reforms

A briefing note from her office says education reforms by the Government appear to have hit poorer pupils and those with SEN.Read MoreHeadteachers call for GCSE English Language to be scrapped as a third of students fail English

It explains that reforms which were supposed to raise the standing of technical qualifications actually put schools off providing non-GCSE courses which used to be a route to level two, leading to “two unintended consequences”.

“Firstly, they have particularly penalised disadvantaged children and those with special educational needs,” it says.

“Secondly, they have closed off access to further study routes including vocational education and apprenticeships for an increasing number of children.”

The Department for Education was contacted for comment.


School leavers may need ‘learning passport’ to prove their academic knowledge

School leavers may need to show their readiness for the workforce, under a review of pathways to the workforce.
School leavers may need to show their readiness for the workforce, under a review of pathways to the workforce.

Secondary school leavers could be required to gain a “learning passport” that would detail both their academic knowledge and so-called soft skills, such as creativity, problem-solving and collaboration, attained throughout their education as part of a push to improve the transition from study to the workforce.

A national review of senior secondary pathways into work and higher education, launched on Friday, will also consider whether there is a need for “mandatory, reportable minimum standards” for literacy, numeracy and digital mastery amid widespread concerns that young people are leaving school with poor foundational skills.

The options were flagged in a discussion paper released as part of the review, which will be conducted by Western Sydney University chancellor Peter Shergold, and will aim to provide federal, state and territory education ministers with recommendations on how senior secondary students can better navigate the transition into work, further education or training.

The review will also weigh in on the modern conundrum of what essential knowledge, skills and capabilities students should expect gain in order to succeed in life after school, which has become a topic of vigorous debate as workplaces are tipped to evolve rapidly as a result of technological advancement and the emergency of artificial intelligence.

While the discussion paper highlights growing recognition of the types of skills that future workplaces will require from employees, such as innovation, creativity, problem solving and collaboration, it also notes calls for renewed efforts on ensuring that the basics of school education, particularly literacy and numeracy, are transmitted to students before they leave.

“Although literacy and numeracy skills are widely recognised as essential for successes in learning and work performance, and most jurisdictions have minimum standards in place for obtaining a [secondary school certificate] there is continuing criticism from employers and tertiary education providers that senior secondary graduates are leaving school without adequate foundational skills,” the paper says.

“Students and employers have differing views on their preparedness to enter employment.

“While the majority of students feel they have good skills in areas such as team work, generating new ideas and problem solving, many employers are concerned by the low levels of literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills of school leavers in particular.”

Professor Shergold said young people needed to be better informed to make choices when they were still at school but were not being helped by a system where learning options, as well as information and advice, were fragmented.

“Some young people are left struggling to follow routes that do not suit their skills or aspiration, find themselves trapped in dead ends or spend time and money on gaining qualification beyond what they need for their chosen career,” he said. “This is not a new problem.”

Professor Shergold said the review would draw upon knowledge of recent reviews that sought to address elements of the problem and that potential reforms would hopefully enable young people greater flexibility to move back and forth between education sectors.

Education Minister Dan Tehan said the reviewers wanted to hear about the challenges young people faced upon leaving school as well as the views of parents, teachers, universities and employers.

Mr Tehan said the review was critical because young people faced an important decision of which options out of work, university or other training would best suit their strengths and help them realise their ambitions.

“The outcomes of the review will help senior secondary schools students better understand the wide range of available options and the best pathways to support their transition to work, university or training,” he said.


ACCC wins record $26m penalty against bankrupt education provider Empower

The Federal Court has handed a record $26.5 million fine to failed training college Empower Institute, as well as a demand it repays more than $56 million to the Commonwealth Government for funding it received to run courses.

Key points:

  • Empower was one of several training colleges that rorted the Federal VET-FEE-HELP loan scheme
  • Students were often were left with heavy debts, no diploma and no job, after paying around $15,000 for their courses
  • While Empower is unlikely to pay the fine, the ACCC says it is a warning to others and allows for the students affected to have their debts cancelled

However, the fine may prove academic, given the firm put itself into liquidation once the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) started action against it in late 2017.

It is understood the fine is unlikely to ever be paid, but lawyers are trawling through the wreckage to see how much the Commonwealth will be able to retrieve.

Unconscionable conduct

Empower — the trading front for a parent company Cornerstone Investments — was one of a number of education providers that failed during a Federal Government crackdown on rorting of the taxpayer-funded VET-FEE-HELP loan scheme in 2015.

At the time colleges were accused of targeting vulnerable people outside places like Centrelink with the offer of free laptops.

Many students were left with heavy VET-FEE-HELP debts, no diploma and no job, after paying around $15,000 for their courses.

Empower is just one of a number of actions the ACCC has taken against VET-FEE HELP providers

  • Productivity Partners Pty Ltd, trading as Captain Cook College
  • Unique International College Pty Ltd
  • Australian Institute of Professional Education Pty Ltd
  • Phoenix Institute of Australia Pty Ltd and Community Training Initiatives Pty Ltd
  • Careers Australia Group Limited
  • Australian Vocational Learning Centre Pty Ltd
  • Get Qualified Australia Pty Ltd

The ACCC also took action against:

  • Acquire Learning & Careers Pty Ltd, who marketed VET FEE-HELP courses.

Those that are still before the courts are:

  • Captain Cook
  • Unique International College
  • Phoenix Institute of Australia
  • Australian Institute of Professional Education (AIPE)

“The [Federal] Court found that Empower had engaged in a system of unconscionable conduct when it enrolled consumers in VET FEE-HELP funded courses, by marketing courses to consumers in remote communities, indigenous communities and low socio-economic areas, making false or misleading representations, using recruiters who were practically untrained and in some cases offering inducements such as free Google Chromebooks,” the ACCC said in a statement after the penalty was handed down.

Late last year, the Federal Court ruled Empower engaged in unconscionable conduct, misleading or deceptive conduct and breached the unsolicited consumer agreement provisions of the ACL.

Debts cancelled

Despite the unlikelihood of the penalty ever being paid, the ACCC maintains it is a significant win, given a court order was necessary to have students’ debts cancelled.

In all, the debts of more than 6,000 consumers enrolled in courses with Empower in 2014 and 2015 will now be cancelled.

The ACCC also argues the record penalty handed down demonstrates the serious nature of the conduct and will deter other businesses from engaging in similar conduct.

It is more than double the previous highest fines handed out under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) legislation, exceeding the $12 million We Buy Houses was ordered to pay last November and the $10 million Ford was hit with in April 2018.

All these penalties were all imposed before amendments lifted the maximum penalty for an individual breach of the ACL from $1.1 million to $10 million last year.

“Between June 2014 and December 2014, Empower enrolled more than 4,000 students, often using these appalling tactics,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“Empower misled many vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers who had poor English language literacy or numeracy skills, and others who could not even use a computer and did not have access to the internet.

“It should have been clear that these consumers were not likely to complete Empower’s courses, but would still be saddled with significant lifetime student debt.”

Message sent

Mr Sims welcomed the Commonwealth’s decision to cancel the student debts.

“It is important that victims are not saddled with a debt burden because they signed up to these courses as a result of Empower’s egregious conduct,” Mr Sims said.

“The magnitude of these penalties and the $56 million ordered to be repaid to the Commonwealth should serve as a serious warning to the vocational education sector, and all other Australian businesses, that engaging in unconscionable behaviour has very significant consequences.”

New legislation, which came into effect earlier this year, means that the Department of Employment may now cancel a consumer’s VET-FEE HELP debt if they have not completed a unit.

The Department of Employment will now be admitted as an unsecured creditor in the liquidation of Empower.

The ACCC sits somewhat lower on the list of creditors and will only be able to recover penalties if there are funds available after all other creditors have been paid.


School reforms should include a new focus on literacy and numeracy

A single system for running universities and vocational education,  putting literacy and numeracy first, business incubators in schools and individual careers advisers could be part of a radical overhaul of education.

The chancellor of Western Sydney University and former head of John Howard’s Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peter Shergold, said too many school leavers find themselves trapped in career “dead ends” and spend time and money on qualifications they don’t need.

Many school leavers find themselves trapped in “dead ends” and spend time and money on qualifications of they don’t need, says review chairman Professor Peter Shergold.  Glenn Hunt

As part of the Gonski 2.0 reform package the government wants a shake-up of the transition between school and work, training or university and the federal Education Minister Dan Tehan commissioned Professor Shergold to report back to him.

In his discussion paper released on Friday, the former top public servant said the demarcation between university and training was outdated and too many school leavers were making bad career choices from which there was no return.

He said a single system that gave money equally to skills training and university should be on the agenda. And he wants TAFE students doing certificate courses to get fee help which is now denied to them.

“Funding models with high upfront contributions may influence decisions about students’ skills instead of their passions or interests.”

Literacy and numeracy get a high priority and Professor Shergold said there should be mandatory, reportable minimum standards which should feed into a new type of secondary school education certificate, or “learning passport”, to which other qualifications could be added.

This would have to take into account skills that were in demand in the new economy, such as “enterprise, digital, technical, critical and analytical skills, resilience, active citizenship, emotional intelligence and self awareness”.

Director of the education program at the Centre for Independent Studies, Fiona Mueller, said Australia was coming from a long way behind in setting pathways for school leavers, especially on vocational education versus university.

There were problems setting national minimum standards for literacy and numeracy but it was good Professor Shergold wanted students to make choices that were in their interest without compromising learning basic skills.

Reform meant the states had to be given flexibility even though this was a “hugely expensive duplication of effort”, Dr Mueller said.

Meanwhile, duplication of effort looks likely to plague the training sector after a meeting of the new COAG Skills Council in Melbourne on Friday.

Skills ministers are deciding how to implement the Joyce Review of vocational training which deals with the same demarcation between university and TAFE  as Professor Shergold is considering.

But the skills ministers’ meeting broke up after agreeing individual states would implement the Joyce Review with variations that suited local conditions.

NSW skills minister Geoff Lee told AFR Weekend every state had reserved the right to “custom build” its own set of Joyce principles.

Other problems included delays in getting new courses approved.

“It can take up to six years  to develop some packages, by which time they’re out of date. We have to be more responsive to industry needs,” Dr Lee said.


What’s making education the golden spot for internet economy?

Students today need a personalised approach to learning that is based on their individual academic needs. This simply isn’t possible because of the very framework of coaching classes.

edtech industry, internet economy, global edtech industry, entrepreneurs, investors, coaching classes

By Zishaan Hayath

The edtech industry has been around since late-1990s, but the last six years have seen an unprecedented boom. Since 1997, the global edtech industry has received a funding of close to $38 billion, and over 60% of this has come in the last three years. So, what is it about e-learning that has made it such a lucrative opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors?

After-school learning solution

A few years ago, coaching classes were the primary after-school learning option. Sadly, they didn’t solve the problems students face. Most pack students into large batches, and teach them using a one-size-fits-all approach that does more harm than good. Students today need a personalised approach to learning that is based on their individual academic needs. This simply isn’t possible because of the very framework of coaching classes. In the end, coaching classes were just an expensive but mediocre after-school option. There is a genuine need for edtech apps that personalise learning for every student.

A large, untapped market

There are 250 million schoolgoing kids in India. Parents look for better learning solutions for their children, and e-learning apps fit their needs. Since the e-learning industry entered India just a few years ago, companies have a lot of untapped opportunities and a large market to capture before it’s even close to saturation.

Increasing access to the internet

Internet accessibility has seen a huge improvement even in small towns and villages. That means e-learning apps have the potential to reach out to every child across the country. As long as the child has access to the internet, he/she can learn better.

Lower company costs

Unlike coaching classes, edtech players don’t have to maintain monthly overhead costs of infrastructure, like classrooms and furniture. At a far lower cost, edtech players can scale to a larger level than coaching classes. When it comes to learning content, edtech players can create high-quality lectures just one time, enabling millions of children to access them at a low price. Most online courses are about 50% cheaper than their offline counterparts. This improves the affordability of the product.

Besides the need to solving challenging student learning problems, the market size of the edtech industry is reasonably large. According to a Google-KPMG report, this industry is set to touch $1.96 billion by 2021, from $247 million in 2016. With a well-designed product, incorporated with advance technology and built on millions of learning pieces, the stage is set for massive growth in the edtech world.

(The author is CEO & co-founder, Toppr, the learning app. Views are personal)

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TDA Newsletter-Former TAFE NSW chief Jon Black to head NSW RSL. Read more….

The power of TAFE – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

For those at last week’s TDA Convention, I figure you’ve had enough words. Here’s just a few.

Opportunities for all
Wherever one is
Educationally and physically
Requiring local
Offerings designed by TAFEs built on a
Foundation of
Anchoring confidence and quality
For a world-class vocational
Education sector once again


Enough said! Other reflections from the convention in future weeks.

Minister urges TAFEs to get closer to universities, business as part of VET reform

The Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships Steve Irons has urged TAFEs to examine closer links with universities and businesses at the local level as part of a “once in a generation” effort to reform the VET sector.

Speaking at the TDA Convention in Brisbane, Mr Irons said everyone in the sector would need to be “open to new ways of working and being ready to collaborate across traditional boundaries.”

For TAFE, he said this may entail stronger links with universities and larger employers in the regions, as well as bringing together small business, community groups, and different levels of government to devise local solutions to skills gaps.

He said the recent COAG agreement by the Commonwealth, states and territories should be seen as “a once-in-a generation opportunity to strengthen VET.”

“I cannot overstate how important it is that we now have this top-level agreement across jurisdictions on the future direction of VET in Australia,” he said.

He noted the key elements in the planned reform process to date – the National Skills Commission, National Careers Ambassador, National Careers Institute and new Skills Organisations.

“These organisations will benefit greatly from practical input from TAFE representatives, and this in turn will make them more useful to you,” he said.

See the full speech.

Our thanks to everyone who supported Power of TAFE

TAFE Directors Australia would like to extend its appreciation to everyone who attended and supported the TDA Convention in Brisbane – delegates, speakers, workshop presenters, sponsors and exhibitors.

The Power of TAFE attracted 310 attendees, 22 sponsors and exhibitors, 82 speakers, with all states and territories represented as well as attendees from UK, China, Canada, New Zealand and Fiji.

Decline in apprentice commencements continues

The number of apprentices and trainees commencing fell by 2.7% to 157,880 in the 12 months to the end of March, compared with the corresponding period in 2018, according to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER),

Commencements in non-trades were down 4.5%, while trades were down 0.6%.

By industry sector, some of the biggest falls were in sales workers (down 18.4%) and construction trades (down 7.4%) while there were increases in electrotechnology and telecommunications (up 7.3%) and community and personal service work (up 2.1%).

The number of apprentices and trainees in training stood at 276,250 at the end of March, down 0.9% from March 2018.

Apprentice & trainee commencements
Source: NCVER

See more.

SuniTAFE takes top prize at Victorian training awards

Sunraysia Institute of TAFE was announced as the Large Training Provider of the Year at Victoria’s training awards on Friday.

As a leading training institute in north-west Victoria, SuniTAFE was recognised for its technologically innovative 30-hectare SMART farm that has attracted international attention.

A partnership between Holmesglen and the Royal Children’s Hospital that enables young people with a disability to gain employment was presented with the Industry Collaboration Award.

The Inclusive Training Provider of the Year went to Victoria University Polytechnic, with the judges noting VU’s catchment includes areas of extreme disadvantage with associated chronic mental and physical health issues, yet students are supported in programs that encourage independence and skills development.

The Lynne Kosky Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement went to Patricia Neden, a highly respected leader in Victoria’s vocational education and training sector and the former CEO of Innovation & Business Skills Australia (IBSA).

The Teacher/Trainer of the Year went to GOTAFE’s Jodi Rechsteiner-Sanders for the passion and enthusiasm she imparts teaching in GOTAFE’s hospitality and VCAL departments.

The Apprentice of the Year was Jake Carter, who studied a Certificate III in Electrotechnology and credits Holmesglen’s Futuretech for laying the foundation for his success.

Vocational Student of the Year was Rachael Hilder (Diploma of Community Services and Diploma of Justice), trained at Kangan Institute.

See all the award winners.

TAFE SA partnership earns industry training award

An innovative partnership helping people with low self esteem gain training and employment in northern Adelaide has seen TAFE SA named a joint winner of the Industry Collaboration Award at the South Australian training awards on Friday.

The other partners are Datacom Connect, Service to Youth Council, and Workskil. They have joined to develop an innovative model of collaborative recruitment, job screening and pre and post-employment training.

The VET Trainer or Teacher of the Year is Gina Dal Santo, who is employed by TAFE SA and manages the Artisan Cheese Making Academy.

The Apprentice of the Year is Kate Jansen, trained by TAFE SA (Certificate III in Commercial Cookery – Cook) and the head chef at Windy Point Restaurant.

Trainee of the Year is Sarah Mills (Certificate III in Beauty Services) trained by TAFE SA.

Vocational Student of the Year is Shaona Imaru (Certificate III in Health Services Assistance) trained by TAFE SA.

School-based Apprentice of the Year is Sophie Nuske, (Certificate lll in Agriculture) who attends Cleve Area School and is trained by TAFE SA.

The VET Innovation for Schools Award went to Edward John Eyre High School which, in partnership with TAFE SA, offers 18 courses across Certificate II and III, and offers an innovative week-block delivery model.

See all the award winners.

TasTAFE scores with top apprentices, teachers and industry partners

The Tasmanian training awards on Friday saw TAFE feature in the top award categories. TasTAFE was in the winner’s circle with:

  • Apprentice of the Year, Marek Porter, pictured, (Certificate III in Electrotechnology)
  • School-Based Apprentice/Trainee of the Year, Daniel Ragg (Certificate III in Electrotechnology)
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student of the Year, Djuker Willis-Hart (Certificate III in Guiding)
  • VET Teacher/Trainer of the Year, Darren Scott (Drysdale South – Butchery)
  • Industry Collaboration Award, St Lukes Health with TasTAFE and MEGT

Also, TasTAFE’s Quality and Compliance Manager, Lyndene Bowen was recognised for her contribution to VET with the Trevor Leo Medal.

See all the award winners.

International study show the limits of TVET privatisation

A comparative research study that examines TVET in seven countries including Australia has published the findings of privatisation of the market in the West African country of Ivory Coast.

The University of Toronto study is part of a larger project in seven countries: Germany, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Australia, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia and Taiwan.

The study compares education systems and assesses the degree to which they give individuals the means to flourish and achieve fulfilment, while supporting social justice objectives.

It says that in Ivory Coast, about 60% of TVET students go to private institutions, largely in response to learners’ perceived needs for training leading to jobs.

But the study shows that the private sector does not meet these expectations.

“In fact, the private sector largely operates in the large urban centers; it offers only courses requiring modest investment, such as those associated with bureaucracy and accounting; it recruits a large proportion of the teachers from public establishments, which means they have to divide their time between two training centers; and it demands high tuition fees from its students,” the study says.

See more.

Former TAFE NSW chief Jon Black to head NSW RSL

The former managing director of TAFE NSW, Jon Black, has been appointed as the CEO of RSL NSW.

The Acting President of RSL NSW Ray James said Jon’s experience in leading a range of complex organisations with strong knowledge of governance practices was exactly what was needed at the organisation.

Mr Black had a 20-year career in the Australian Army and also headed a number of Queensland government departments

ASQA grants extension to property services qualifications

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has approved an extension to the transition period for a number of qualifications and units of competency in the property services industry.

The extensions apply to:

  • CPP40307 Certificate IV in Property Services (Real Estate)
  • CPP40507 Certificate IV in Property Services (Business Broking)
  • CPP50307 Diploma of Property Services (Agency Management)
  • 80 CPP Property Services units of competency that lead to licences in the property industry across Australia.

ASQA will consider applications for a longer transition period where it can be demonstrated that there would be genuine disadvantage to a cohort of learners if an extension was not approved.

The extension applies until September 30.

See more.

Diary Dates

2019 National VET Conference
Velg Training
12 &13 September 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane
More Information

Community Colleges Australia 2019 Annual Conference
18-20 November 2019
The Stamford Plaza Hotel, Brisbane
More Information

Australian Training Awards
21 November 2019
Brisbane, Queensland
More information

Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group
5th Annual Conference on VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education
9-10 December 2019
Charles Sturt University Wagga Wagga Campus
More information

Australia’s international student bubble enters Twilight Zone

Australia’s international education industry is clearly operating in a parallel universe.

Last last month, the Centre for Independent Studies released an alarming report warning that Australia’s tertiary education system has by far the highest exposure to international students in the world with a per capita intake that dwarfs other developed nations:

Australia ranks third in the world in the number of international tertiary education students, trailing only the United States and the United Kingdom…

Australia has more than twice as many international tertiary education students as eighth-ranking Canada, which has a population 50% larger than Australia’s. Measured on a per capita basis, Australia now hosts more international students than any other major country in the world.

Just when we thought the concentration of international students could not get any more extreme, the Department of Education this week released its enrolment data for the June quarter, which revealed that total international student enrolments hit a record high 712,000:

Turning to the sub-sectors, the explosion in international student enrolments has been driven by both higher education and vocational education and training (VET), whose enrolments have surged by 92% and 113% respectively over the past six years:

The three major sources of international students are all non-English speaking nations, namely China (204,000), India (104,000) and Nepal (52,000). Growth has been extreme for each nation, with Chinese enrolments growing by 96% over the past six years, Indian enrolments growing by 198% over the same period, and Nepalese enrolments ballooning by 428%:

As expected, New South Wales and Victoria dominate Australia’s international student trade, together accounting for 71% of Australia’s enrolments. As shown in the next chart, there were 272,000 international students enrolled in New South Wales as at June 2019 and 232,000 in Victoria:

Both jurisdictions have also experienced explosive growth in international student enrolments of 94% (NSW) and 108% (VIC) over the past six years.

The composition of students differs, however, with New South Wales’ boom driven by both China (78,000) and Nepal (34,000), whose enrolments have surged by 37,000 and 28,000 respectively over the past six years:

By contrast, Victoria’s international student boom has been driven mostly by China (70,000) and India (49,000), whose enrolments have surged by 38,000 and 32,000 respectively over the past six years:

Whichever way you cut it, Australia’s international student boom is unprecedented and world-leading. It also looks like a bubble, given it has been built upon eroded tertiary entry and teaching standards, which are now under the spotlight.


Adult Learners Need Their Own EdTech Tools, Ed Department Report Finds

To help adult learners, edtech tools should be designed for their needs and goals, support them in virtually communicating with instructors and classmates and offer them a smooth mobile experience, according to a new report published on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education.

Called “Changing the Equation: Empowering Adult Learners with Edtech,” it’s the culmination of three years of research commissioned by the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education through its Power in Numbers initiative.

The goal of the project has been to better equip instructors with techniques, tools and open educational resources that will help them teach adults the advanced math skills needed for modern jobs, says Christina Ward, engagement manager at Luminary Labs, a consulting firm the government hired to oversee Power in Numbers.

“People tend to have ‘math trauma,’” Ward says. “It’s a sticking point for a lot of adult learners that we elevate in the reports.”

Luminary Labs hosted summits, interviewed educators and reviewed more than 100 educational resources to inform its four reports, handouts and a video series about making adult learning opportunities more effective and appealing.

Edtech developers have focused more on building tools for children than adults, according to the Power in Numbers research. While grown-ups may be able to adapt children’s resources, these may not adequately address adult circumstances, like the competing time demands of education, job duties and family obligations.

Many online classes and tools suffer from low student retention. The research suggests that participation is improved when digital education systems integrate communication tools that help learners collaborate and get feedback from their instructors. The extent to which learning tools “contextualize” instruction with real-world and job-focused applications matters too.

Case Studies

The Power in Numbers final report highlights studies of two institutions that have used edtech interventions to improve outcomes for students—the University System of Georgia and Wake Technical Community College in North Carolina. Although the studies didn’t focus on adult learners or math education in particular, Luminary Labs researchers believe the results should be relevant to that population and subject.

The universities in Georgia have seen improved grades since the widespread adoption of open education resources, while Wake Technical saw better online course completion rates among minority students whose instructors communicated with them via text message and virtual meetings software.

The University System of Georgia has made textbook affordability a priority with its Affordable Learning Georgia initiative, which provides grants and training to help professors adopt open education resources for in-person and online classes and requires registration materials to flag which courses have low- or no-cost texts.

Not only has OER adoption saved the system’s students money (an estimated combined $55 million since 2014), a study published in the International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education found that students, especially non-white and part-time students, who got free course materials at the beginning of a class performed better academically than those who didn’t.

“We’re not just looking to make costs go down in the USG. We’re looking at ways to increase equity in the classroom,” wrote Jeff Gallant, program manager of Affordable Learning Georgia, in the report. “This is very important as time goes on and vendors start coming up with solutions to reduce costs. Ask yourself, are these solutions in the best interest of all of your students?”

One lesson learned in Georgia is the importance of preserving academic freedom by encouraging instructors to select and adopt their own materials. For example, biology professor Peggy Brickman worked with OpenStax, a nonprofit OER publisher, to create a “UGA Concepts of Biology” textbook. Professors in the program also drew on the copyright and research expertise of librarians, which leaders say has been helpful in gaining widespread participation..

Wake Technical Community College used a Department of Education’s First in the World Grant to run a pilot program intended to help students of color improve their academic performance and completion rates in online classes.

The courses were designed to be both “high-tech and high-touch,” in that they didn’t sacrifice interpersonal communication, despite the physical barriers inherent in remote education. For instance, instructors recorded high-quality videos designed to convey their facial cues to underline key material. They also made themselves available to converse with students via text messaging and virtual meetings software, and they participated in trainings to learn more about the needs of minority students.

Results from a randomized controlled trial of two popular classes, introduction to psychology and introduction to business, showed that the use of these strategies improved minority student course completion by 11 percent. The community college is now developing training and a professional development program to teach the model to more of its online instructors.

Adult Learners Week 2019: Tasmanian draft paper released for public comment

LEARN: Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff with Tascoss chief executive Kym Goodes and Launceston Community Legal Centre literacy coordinator Beylara Ra at the official launch of 26TEN chat in February. Picture: Paul Scambler

 LEARN: Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff with Tascoss chief executive Kym Goodes and Launceston Community Legal Centre literacy coordinator Beylara Ra at the official launch of 26TEN chat in February. Picture: Paul Scambler

The draft, which has been released by the Education Department for public comment, outlines new goals the government and department hope to achieve to improve access to education for adults.

The paper was released last month, and the public comment period coincides with Adult Learners Week, which runs this week between September 2-8.

“Adult learning underpins the success of our lives as individuals and as a community: it supports the Tasmanian economy and it supports the health and well-being of our people,” Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff wrote in the foreword to the strategy.

“We are no longer in a world where a person can finish school or gain a post-school qualification and expect that their need for learning has ended.”

Goals set out for the strategy include expanding pre-apprenticeship programs and incentives for business to employ an apprentice over the age of 21, establishing an adult learning fund for job seekers to access subsided training, establishing an online adult education portal to consolidate learning and expanding TasTAFE and Libraries Tasmania’s digital literacy volunteers programs.

The draft adult education strategy outlines the role libraries have in digital literacy and other education support.

 The draft adult education strategy outlines the role libraries have in digital literacy and other education support.

These goals are only phase one of the adult learners strategy, which aims to provide a holistic approach to adult education over three main goals.

Adult education is becoming an increasing cohort of learners, with 19 per cent of University of Tasmania students over the age of 35, and 40 per cent over 25.

Almost 70 per cent of government-funded vocational education and training (VET) learners are over 25 and about 72 per cent are employed at the same time as studying to acquire new qualifications.

Digital literacy forms a big part of the strategy, with the paper demonstrating the growing digital divide between Tasmanians and their mainland cohorts.

“There is a growing digital divide between Tasmania and the rest of Australia, with Tasmania having the second-lowest digital inclusion index level of all states and territories, although it has shown the most improvement of all states from 2014 to 2018,” the strategy read.

Libraries Tasmania Elizabeth Jack said this week the library and public schools were celebrating national eSmart Week, which focuses on the safe and responsible use of technology for learning and communication.

“We not only connect people to the internet and their community whether it be local, national or global; but we do it in a way that helps them understand they need to connect in a responsible, ‘eSmart’ way,” she said.

In the last 12 months, Libraries Tasmania’s statewide visitors and members connected to our wi-fi 764,100 times, which equates to an average of 2,500 sessions per day.

“That means a huge number of people are using our free service to connect online; and we want to do all we can to make sure those people are connecting safely, which is why we offer courses, guidance and support in safe internet use,” Ms Jack said.

National eSmart Week runs September 1-7.

Drop in public VET student numbers makes a mockery of National Skills Week

The plummeting numbers of students enrolled with nationally-recognised Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers is yet another pointer to the funding crisis facing Australia’s TAFE network.

According to an NCVER report released today:

  • students enrolled in nationally-recognised programs decreased by 5.9% to two million people in 2018, compared with 2017, and decreased by 16.2% between 2015 to 2018
  • students enrolled in subjects not delivered as part of a nationally-recognised program increased by 4.9% to 2.5 million people in 2018, compared with 2017
  • overall student numbers decreased by 1.5% to 4.1 million people in 2018, compared with 2017

Australian Education Union acting Federal President Meredith Peace said that the drop in the number of government-funded VET students was a direct consequence of the Morrison Government’s campaign to undermine TAFE.

“The Morrison Government should be ashamed by what it has done to TAFE,” Ms Peace said. “That a drop in the number of VET students should be announced during National Skills Week, of all weeks, is scandalous.”

“The reduction in publicly-funded VET student numbers is no surprise given that Liberal/National governments are slashing and burning TAFE funding across the country. Fewer public VET students being enrolled is a direct result of the $3 billion that the Federal Coalition has pulled out of TAFE.”

“Our TAFE system has been systematically undermined by profit-driven private providers advocating for a system that provides no clear qualifications, no national consistency and no guarantee of quality or qualified teachers,” Ms Peace said.

“Since coming to power in 2013 the Federal Coalition has failed to invest in high-quality public vocational education to provide Australians with a pathway to real skills and long term careers.”

“These figures highlight the need for nationally-recognised qualifications to ensure that VET course quality is maintained.”

Ms Peace said that the private-provider VET model being touted by groups such as ITECA would see public VET student numbers slashed even further.

Ms Peace said that TAFE must remain a strong public provider of vocational education in Australia. She called upon the Morrison Government to:

  • Guarantee a minimum of 70% government funding to the public TAFE system. In addition, no public funding should go to private for-profit providers, consistent with other education sectors.
  • Restore funding and rebuild the TAFE system, to insure continuing confidence in the quality of the courses and qualifications and the institution.
  • Abandon the failed student loans experiment, and cancel the debts of all students caught up in private for-profit provider scams.
  • Re-invest in the TAFE teaching workforce and develop a future-focused TAFE workforce development strategy in collaboration with the profession and unions.
  • Develop a capital investment strategy in consultation with state governments, to address the deplorable state of TAFE facilities around the country.
  • Support a comprehensive independent inquiry into vocational education VETincluding TAFE.

“Any proposal which undermines the importance of the Commonwealth and state and territory governments working together to build a strong, vibrant, fully funded public TAFE will be fiercely opposed by the AEU,” Ms Peace said.

/Public Release. View in full here.