By Bernice Lepper, Manager, C.O. REAP
At the end of last year we celebrated 40 years of providing educational opportunities for rural people. At our afternoon tea for invited guests we reflected on REAP’s history then proceeded to deposit a time capsule and plant a tree to mark the occasion.

Looking back, we found that we have been a flexible and nimble organisation, changing in response to community needs and government funding priorities.

He aha te mea nui o te a? What is the most important thing in the world? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. It is the people, it is the people, it is the people. This whakatauaki sums up, perfectly, the value of REAP over the years.

As we start 2020 we face a new challenge: in the second half of the year we struggled to keep up our ACE numbers. In my time at REAP, it is the first time this has happened. It’s an interesting time to ask why are we ‘people/ learner poor’? The courses are being run but numbers attending the programmes and activities are well down.

We asked around our community and the response from many has been that there is virtually no unemployment in Central Otago and the Upper Clutha. Everyone is working and many running two or more jobs because housing, if you can find a home, is very expensive. Many of the people who would have attended our classes in the past are also moving out of this area because of the cost of living. Those staying possibly haven’t got the time or energy to attend.

Our aim is to find nimble and creative ways to attract the Millennials and GenZ generations, so that they can benefit from learning new skills and abilities.

However we all know in the ACE sector that learning makes the difference and so we need to work harder to find ways to reach those people who, with some encouragement, can learn new skills and therefore attain higher paid positions to support their whānau generally.

We have plenty of success stories to inspire people. Last year, for example, our local paper carried two such stories. One was about Malcolm Dillon, who successfully transitioned from wool presser to studying for his Certificate in Wool Technology. A few years ago Malcom had a serious arm injury and after time off on ACC felt he had to go back to wool pressing, against his surgeon’s advice. So his arm was injured again. This time Malcom came to our Choices Programme which provides literacy and numeracy support for anyone over the age of 16 who has left the school system. It’s free and there is an open entry policy so people can join the course at any time. With the help of his tutors Malcom’s numeracy and confidence improved and he was supported to take on further study.

Another story was about Jess, mother of two. Jess is determined to be a good mother and take up all the opportunities on offer. So she has done our Māori studies course, budgeting, first aid, self-defence, parenting and making gifts on a budget. At the time the article was written Jess was using our supported study space which is available on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s a quiet place where people can come, use our computers and printers and get the help they need while they are upskilling. Our Tutor, Penny Fitzgerald, is there to help with things like understanding academic terms, knowing how to research information using credible sources, setting our references and structuring assignments correctly.

But as well as letting people know about our success stories we need to reflect on our changing community and take action. Our aim is to find nimble and creative ways to attract the Millennials and GenZ generations, so that they can benefit from learning new skills and abilities. What we come up with may be quite different to how we ran courses 10 or so years ago.

One thing I have learnt and loved about being in the ACE sector is that change is constant and it’s about keeping at the centre the learner’s journey.

We wonder what the Learners in 40 years’ time will think of the items in our time capsule.