Tuesday 23 June 2009
Legislative Council
Estimates Committee B  (David Bartlett)
Mr FINCH - Premier, I am wondering if you can apprise me of your developments in respect of Adult Education.  I know it became quite an issue.  You addressed it and gave some assurances in respect of the future of Adult Education and where it is placed in our learning community.  Perhaps you could apprise us of where we are at.

Mr BARTLETT - I appreciate the opportunity because I think there has been a lot of misinformation about Adult Education and that it is somehow under threat.  Yes, there are organisational changes around Adult Education but let me explain why those are occurring first and then give you some statistics to debunk this myth that people are trying to whip up here.

The organisational changes are as a result of a strategic approach that we took after I became minister.  I am happy to own these changes because they will make a significant difference to information, knowledge and learning available to all Tasmanians.  If you go back to the chart I handed out this morning, in this part which is about access to information, access to knowledge and access for second-chance learners in the community, that is what this section of Estimates effectively is all about.

What was happening before these changes is that we had 66 online access centres delivering online access centre programs.  We had a whole bunch of Adult Education sites delivering Adult Education - in very few sites, by the way.  We had 50-odd branch libraries delivering library information and we had Heritage and Archives offices delivering Heritage and Archives information.  All of the assets that those organisations have are knowledge and information assets that, in my view, should be available anywhere you want to get them in Tasmania - and this is the utopia - whether that is on your PC at home or on your wireless modem device you carry around in your pocket.

Mr FINCH - Web 2.


Mr BARTLETT - Yes, and via web 2 technologies at your local online access centre in your small town - in Beaconsfield at the online access centre, at Scottsdale at the new LINC we are building.  Indeed, if a school makes available a room for an Adult Ed class they should be available ubiquitously, in my view.  What we had was a bunch of organisations delivering in silos, so Adult Ed only delivered in Adult Ed sites, online access centres only delivered in online access sites, libraries only delivered in library sites, et cetera.  What we have essentially done and what the Community Knowledge Network does is take all of those knowledge and information assets that Tasmanians own - from library books to the digitisation of our convict records through to the project that you and I are both passionate about but unfortunately the global financial crisis has stopped us from doing it this year -

Mr FINCH - Oh no, surely there's money in here for that. 

Mr BARTLETT - in terms of Tasmanian story-telling and histories - all of those assets should be available to all Tasmanians, whether they walk into a LINC or online access centre or library or Adult Education site, in my view.  The Community Knowledge Network breaks down all of those silos and enables the best distribution network in Australia when it comes to information assets to access all of those information assets that we have rather than their just being delivered in silos.  That is the conceptual overview of what we are trying to achieve here. 

There are a number of factors affecting Adult Education quite outside of that, but I believe it is a good thing that Adult Education courses can be delivered in the traditional way, or might be delivered online through an online access centre, or in a primary school room setting somewhere in Winnaleah or somewhere or other, rather than simply only being available in an Adult Ed centre.  There is only an increase in Adult Ed.

What I would also say is that I am increasing the focus on adult literacy.  We have the worst adult literacy rates in Australia and we need to shift them.  So while we are maintaining the full suite and the full funding and are the only State Government in Australia to provide $1.8 million of public money - every other adult ed around the country is fully cost recovered by fee-paying students - for pottery classes to massage for couples to whatever other courses you have there in the Adult Ed guides that will continue to come out and be branded as Adult Education, we will also be focusing more attention but not detracting from those things on adult literacy, because adult literacy is what is going to transform the place, not pottery, frankly.  But pottery classes for Adult Education will continue.

Mr FINCH - I will be having a massage.

Mr BARTLETT - Correct.  Given that is the context we are working in and the $1.8 million is still going into Adult Education - nothing has changed there - what has changed in the adult education world over a number of years is that universities of the third age and schools for seniors are massively growing around the place, and many people are choosing to go to a U3A rather than enrol in an Adult Education course.  But despite that, the number of Tasmanians enrolled in Adult Education in 2008-09 rose by 10 per cent on the previous financial year, so anyone who tells you Adult Education is in decline or I am killing it or it is dying or there is less, the number of Tasmanians who enrolled in Adult Education rose by 10 per cent.  It went from 14 529 Tasmanians to 15 910 Tasmanians.  This should once and for all put to bed the misinformation that is being spread about this.  In the three and a half weeks since the launch of the winter course guide, more than 5 500 enrolments have been taken.  This represents some 65 per cent of the total enrolments in viable classes taken over the 15-week period of the 2008 winter program.  So within five weeks we are at 65 per cent of the 15-week equivalent of last year.  So good, strong enrolments through a good, strong course guide.  The winter program offers a range of programs from $11 courses, with 50 per cent of courses reaching required minimum enrolments or were full as of 17 June.  The important thing to note here is that some 30 new classes have been added as well.  I hope this allays any fears in anyone's minds about the demise of Adult Education in Tasmania.  It is a great frustration to me.

I will also add, because I listened to Tim Cox the other day rabbiting on about the web-based enrolment system, that that is an adjunct.  You are still able to send your cheque in if you want to, or enrol by phone if you want to.  But for years people like me who have enrolled in Adult Education courses have been saying, 'Where is the web interface?'.  Let us face it, 65-70 per cent of people now will be doing their banking via the web and will be doing their bookings.  If you want to buy tickets to a show in Melbourne, you would probably go online and do it these days.  If want to buy air fares these days you would probably go on line and do it. 

Mr FINCH - Get your seat allocation ticket.

Mr BARTLETT - Get your seat allocation, get your ticket and your boarding pass printed out - all of that.  What we have done is create this new service for Tasmanians in Adult Education bookings.  Somehow the people who are running this campaign have turned that into a negative, even though the existing channels are still there for those people who cannot or do not want to book online.

Mr FINCH - Premier, on reflection, where do you think you went wrong in not taking people on this journey with you?

Mr BARTLETT - On reflection, I think that the people who have been working in Adult Education have been not as exposed to change rigour and improvement as they perhaps should have been in the past.

Mr FINCH - So a good future for Adult Education?

Mr BARTLETT - Absolutely.

Mr FINCH - I hear what you say about the changing world and people needing to embrace technology, but I think it is a reflection here with Adult Education that there are people who are finding it very difficult to make that change.

Mr BARTLETT - But they do not have to make the change; they can still fill out the form and send a cheque; they can still ring up - this is misinformation.  I heard people ringing that radio show saying, 'I can't do all these other bookings any more'.  It is a lie; it is completely incorrect.

Mr FINCH - What I am probably suggesting is that the information -

Mr BARTLETT - Where do you enrol in Adult Education?  You pick up the winter guide.

Mr FINCH - But take the people along with you.

Mr BARTLETT - No, this is deliberate misinformation.  I believe it is being run by my political opponents - and I am not including anyone here necessarily in that - but it is deliberate and it is false.  The guide has not changed.  For two years now they have been accusing me of the demise of Adult Education.  But the guide keeps coming out with the same range and number of courses involved.  The number of Tasmanians enrolling is increasing, despite massive increases in the University of the Third Age and School for Seniors enrolments as well.