The focus of the conference this year was on helping to create responsive and accessible learning.

Keynote speakers

There were two keynote speakers, Professor Shirley Walters and the Hon Chris Hipkins.

Shirley Walters

Shirley Walters is professor emerita of Adult and Continuing Education at the University of Western Cape, South Africa, the founding Director of the Centre for Adult and Continuing Education and the Division for Lifelong Learning, and vice president for Africa on the Executive of the International Council for Adult Education.

In her keynote address, The Drought is My Teacher, Shirley talked about the devastating impact of the ongoing water shortage in South Africa, and the floods in Puerto Rico and southern East Africa. The people in these communities, across all social classes, are having to learn how to cope with trauma, and the life-threatening impacts of the climate crisis, including developing new ways of thinking and behaving.

A key aspect of the climate crises, Shirley said, is ‘othering’ – disregarding the rights of people of another culture and laying the groundwork for violence.

The elephant in the room is capitalism – promoting relentless economic growth to sustain consumer markets.

She concluded by suggesting ways that we can respond to the climate crisis: (i) Making deep adaptations – as educators we can help build resilience, relinquish problem behaviours and restore what might help us; (ii) Acknowledging that it is not ‘life as usual’, come to terms with loss and embrace grieving as part of living; (iii) Promoting lifelong learning which will help create a new economic system and question outmoded behaviours and beliefs; (iv); Addressing fake news; (v) Resisting authoritarianism; (vi) Working together and building capacities in the short, medium and longer term; (vii) Promoting local indigenous knowledge and strategies. Click here to read the full text of this inspiring presentation.

Hon Chris Hipkins

The Minister told the conference that in many ways the ACE sector is a leader in education – our educators know that learning does not happen in a vacuum, and acknowledge that personal issues affect people’s capability to learn.

We are, he said, in a time of rapid change. With a new industrial revolution impacting the nature of work, we need an education and training system that will help more people to adapt – to unlearn, re learn and keep learning – in a more flexible and organic education system which has multiple entry and exit points.

The government’s vision for the future of ACE is not to recreate the past: it will be learner-centred, rather than provider-centred. The Minister gave examples of people he had met who had used ACE, (from cake decorating to learning about Excel spreadsheets and welding) to rebuild their lives. These opportunities will remain important in the future where we can expect to see a growth in strategies like micro-credentials – as well as a regional hub approach to lifelong learning.

The Wellbeing Budget 2019 provided a $2m increase in ACE funding. That is a beginning, the Minister said. They will be doing more.

Other plennary speakers

Colin McGregor

The Director of ACE Aotearoa noted that there are currently a number of positive developments, including: ACE Aotearoa’s collaboration with the Ministry of Education on ACE policy; and the TEC budget increase of 1.8% which was announced in the Wellbeing Budget 2019. The future challenges remain funding, sustainability, capability and quality.

He also referred to an Environmental Scan of the sector which is currently being completed. All organisations will be receiving a copy in July this year. ACE Aotearoa plans to do a follow up in two
year’s time.

Panel of Peers

Five ACE practitioners responded to the question: What are some of the important community learning opportunities today? The following notes some of the key points made by these presenters.

Josiah Tualamali’i, from the Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation Trust suggested three changes to which ACE can contribute: acquiring a deeper knowledge of mental health and addiction and giving this the same priority in our workplaces as physical safety – to do this we need good skills in active listening and empathy; making sure our decisions involve people of all ages and backgrounds; and supporting Pasifika leadership: there are many skilled and committed young people, along with kaumatua, who can contribute.

Hine Flood from Tairawhiti REAP, Wairoa, said that while the deprivation index puts 80% of the Wairoa population in quintiles 4 & 5, tangata whenua would never consider themselves deprived. In fact this little rural town situated on the East Coast of the North Island believes its greatest wealth is its people – 61% of whom are Māori: “We see this as putting us on a privileged platform for sustainable change. What we do know is that previous governments’ social policy has not served us well and we intend to change it up. We are working on a wellbeing and whānau voice approach #wellbeing #whanauvoice.”

Simon Templeton, CEO Age Concern Canterbury, noted our rapidly ageing population and two challenges we face as a sector: the need to train people to work respectfully with older people; and the need to help older people to upskill and stay actively engaged. Loneliness is a huge issue as people are living longer – and ACE can help to address this problem. Also many older people need to work for financial reasons and there may be a role for educators to work with employers to change attitudes about employing older people. The population over 65 years is not a homogeneous group. They have different needs.

Maree Hanford, Learning Advisor for three Christchurch Prisons said that Corrections understands the importance of education. Many prisoners can neither read nor write. They often don’t respond to classroom learning, they need a different learning environment and teaching practices. She said that prisons need more volunteers to help with the education programmes. Training is important and provided. The ACE sector can also help with support for the prison tutors to upskill and develop innovative resources. As well as literacy and numeracy, prisoners can be taught life skills such as cooking, gardening and unit standards.

Nicola Sutton, CE of English Language Partners, noted opportunities for community providers to work together on key settlement issues for former refugees and migrants: access to ESOL programmes for migrants on temporary work visas who will likely remain in New Zealand, raising awareness about barriers to settlement such as racism, exclusion and exploitation and then working to reduce these, and support for migrant communities to maintain their own cultural languages (a national languages policy would help). ACE providers should ensure the content of their ESOL programmes helps newcomers to learn language skills and vocabulary to raise problems and communicate effectively.

Site visits

On Wednesday afternoon conference participants were able to choose to visit one of the following ACE providers: Te Pā o Rākaihautū; Tūranga Central Library; Avebury House & Richmond Community Garden; Hagley College; and Risingholme Community Centre. In a plenary following the visits groups reported back on what they had learned.

Defining the future

The final session gave people the opportunity to reflect on what they had learned, and what they might do differently – or try – in the future.