By ERWIN CHLANDA
Friday’s graduation ceremony of the Batchelor Institute in Alice Springs was, as usual, a colourful occasion, with graduates in yellow gowns and the academic members in their regalia.
“The largest graduating class in Alice Springs on record for Australia’s only dual sector Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education provider” touted a media release.
“The 348 awards conferred at the Alice Springs graduation this year is an increase from 144 in 2016.”
But a closer look at the results is less impressive: 184 students received Certificates One – Cert One for short. Of these 102 – well over half – were in Access to Vocational Pathways (FSK10113), “designed for individuals who require significant foundation skills support to access a vocational learning pathway … reading, writing, numeracy, oral communication and learning skills at Australian Core Skills Framework Level 1”.
The course teaches, for example, to “read and name whole numbers and money amounts up to 1000 … and subtract whole numbers and money up to 1000″ and “read digital time … use a calendar to record information … use am and pm in reference to time.”
How much is 46 less 35 could be one of the course questions. Or what time is this: 11.35am?
It’s pretty well where education begins, yet most of the certificate recipients were adults.
But Batchelor Acting CEO Kim Jenkinson says of those 102 who graduated with FSK10113, 46 students also completed either a Certificate II in Family Wellbeing or a Certificate II in Construction.
It is not clear how students needing tuition under FSK10113 would simultaneously cope with Cert Two courses.
Mr Jenkinson has conceded that the Australian Skills Quality Authority is looking into the recognition of prior learning practices at Batchelor.
Chair of the board of the NT Industry Skills Advisory Council Don Zoellner (pictured), who has just published a book about Vocational Eduction and Training (VET) in the NT, says his knowledge is not sufficiently current about Batchelor to comment about it, but as a member of national decision-making bodies he is happy to make general comments.
He says it is generally accepted that at least Cert Three is required for mainstream jobs. Some Cert Fours are still needed – for electricians, for example – but in the cascading drop in VET funding by governments Cert Four was an early casualty.
With Cert Three being the benchmark, how did the Alice Springs graduates fare? Not well, if qualifying for a job is the target.
Says Mr Jenkinson: “Only half of the graduates have a home address of Alice Springs the remainder have a home location considered remote or very remote under ABS remote classification.”
Cert Threes – the ones most likely leading to mainstream work – went to just 24 recipients.
This means out of 330 certificates awarded in Alice Springs last week just 7.2% were for a level of education most likely to be required for skilled employment.
This invites a comparison of the statistics for the Batchelor Institute with the national figures quoted by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, for estimated completion rates in government-funded VET programs commencing in 2015.
We have asked Mr Jenkinson to provide these corresponding data and will report them when they are to hand.
Batchelor’s rate (in reaching Cert III) is against a background of more than 50 years in operation, recent upheavals resulting in the departure of the CEO, a Federal investigation and a bill for the taxpayer of $33m a year (Feds kicked in $16.6m, NT $16.4m in 2016).
What’s more, the highly attended starter course is an “approved course delivered through an approved institution [which] may meet the requirements of the work and study test for some Department of Human Services payments,” according to the department. This means if you enrol in Certificate I in Access to Vocational Pathways you may get unemployment benefits.
In other words the expectations from government of this cohort of students could not be lower. More reasonably the government could say: If at your age you haven’t bothered to get yourself the most rudimentary education, there is a job for you on the watermelon farm in Ali Curung, on Aboriginal land, picking melons, which is currently being done by backpackers from overseas. Don’t bother asking for the dole.
Dr Zoellner says VET providers in the NT have been reduced from around 150 to 44.
That reduction, in view of ongoing controversies over privately run employment schemes (google this site), and now a Senate enquiry into related issues, could well be interpreted as a signal that political patience with workforce entrepreneurs has run out.
Mr Jenkinson is doing his best to put a brave face on all of this. He says it depends on what you expect from education: “To us it includes not only employment but pathways to employment and opening up choices for students.
“Many of our students must overcome multiple disadvantages. [They] may come from the some of most disadvantaged and disempowered communities and regions in Australia, possibly even the world.”
He says Batchelor provides a “culturally safe learning environment that empowers them to begin or continue their journey to self and community empowerment.
“As one student at the graduation, who received a Certificate IV in ATSI Primary Health care stated, ‘this is just another step on my way to becoming a doctor’.
“A Certificate I is as important as a PhD for a people who are self empowering.”
As both Mr Jenkinson and Dr Zoellner are conscious of, data about education resulting in jobs are thin on the ground.
The Department of Education 2016 annual report says Batchelor “delivers training and higher education programs that support Indigenous workforce development”. It doesn’t go into detail.
Dr Zoellner says at least since the end of WWII, when there was a need to avoid swelling jobless numbers with soldiers returning from the front, politicians have been “conflating, confusing, interchanging employment and training”.
He says except by employing the unemployed, governments can’t do much about unemployment. But they can put up the school leaving age to 17 and “specify training as a viable outcome. If we can’t employ you we’ll train you.”
Vocational Education and Training (VET) Completions – 2016 Batchelor Institute
In the Further Education Sector (VET Qualifications) there were 1001 qualifications issued, of which 44% were at Certificate I level, 37% were at Certificate II level and 19% were at Certificate III level or above. These completions were spread over 65 VET Qualifications including 684 separate VET units.
Of the 1001 VET qualifications issued 334 were female and 667 were male, 62% of VET graduates live in remote or very remote areas of Australia.
In 2016 there were 3269 enrolled VET students, of which 31% were in full-time employment whilst enrolled and 18% were in part-time employment. Of our VET enrolled students in 2016, 62% speak an Australian Indigenous language as their main language at home and 74% of this cohort are aged between 24 and 64 years of age.
These were the numbers of people receiving qualifications at the Batchelor Institute Alice Springs graduation were Cert I: Agrifood Operations 3, Conservation and Land Management 25, Construction 5, Engineering 3, Food Processing 31, Skills to Vocational Pathways 2, Tourism (Australian Indigenous Culture) 3 and Visual Arts 11 (not counting the 114 in Access to Vocational Pathways) a total of 83.
Cert IIs went to 122 recipients: Business 1, Community Services 10, Conservation and Land Management 10, Construction 14, Family Wellbeing 52, Resources and Infrastructure Work Preparation 5, Retail Baking Assistance 27, Skills for Work and Vocational Pathways 1 and Visual Arts 2.
Cert IIIs – that the ones most likely leading to mainstream work – went to just 24 recipients: Business 1, Community Services 5, Conservation and Land Management 10, Early Childhood Education and Care 2, Education Support 3, Media 2 and Visual Arts 1.
These were the numbers of Cert IV: Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care Practice 3; Conservation and Land Management 3; Screen and Media 1; Training and Assessment 5 and Visual Arts 1.
There was one diploma of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care Practice and four for Education Support. 12 Certificates of Completion were awarded for Preparation for Tertiary Success.
Department of Human Services says: “The [Access to Vocational Pathways] course FSK10113 delivered by the Batchelor Institute, is an approved course delivered through an approved institution. This course may meet the requirements of the work and study test for some Department of Human Services payments. However, this depends on how the course is delivered by the registered training organisation and the person’s individual circumstances.”
For student payments, such as Youth Allowance, ABSTUDY, Pensioner Education Supplement and Austudy, this course would need to be delivered full time, that is at 11 hours or more per week, for a maximum of 11 weeks.
For Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses at the Batchelor Institute, 11 hours per week is considered full time study for student payment purposes.
Study at less than 11 hours per week may still satisfy the requirements for student payment recipients with reduced concessional study load requirements, for example, due to illness.
For job seeker payments, the course may meet or partially meet activity requirements, if it is an activity approved by the person’s employment service provider (jobactive) and entered in a job plan.