By Linda Melrose, Director of Adult and Community Education – Onehunga High School and Aorere College; President of CLASS – Community Learning Association through Schools
Term one for our school programmes had been a steady one. Programmes filled up and school-based providers had rolled out their adult education courses for the term. This is traditionally our biggest term with adult learners keen to enroll in classes and optimism in the community. A new year, a new challenge and new opportunities.

However with the sudden announcement of a Level 4 lockdown we had to immediately cancel classes that were going ahead that night and every other day and night of the following weeks. It was heartening to see how school-based coordinators pulled together to support each other, to share information and knowledge and to do what we could to support the huge numbers of learners and students who attended our school-based programmes. Many hours of phone calls, virtual meetings and emails resulted in confidence in the sector to work through the issues and do what we could to support learners and teachers.

Every roadblock or challenge presents an opportunity and at Onehunga High School and Aorere College we have used this time to re-connect on a personal level with every tutor. Early on we decided that providing online, distance learning classes was vital for our marginalised communities. Many were facing weeks of isolation, uncertainty about jobs and families, loss of incomes, homes and businesses and most certainly challenges around anxiety, depression and mental wellness.

In the second week of lockdown we rolled out a comprehensive programme of adult learning courses via virtual classrooms. Every course provided learner access to free learning while in lockdown and within a few days the programmes were full with over 600 enrolments. ESOL classes, particularly Conversation and Business English classes, filled up with learners expressing a desire to stay connected. Business and Language programmes, First Aid and Music proved popular; far beyond our initial expectations. We had to close down all registration as the classes were full because of the unprecedented demand. A second round of online classes was rolled out the following week; proving that learners wanted to take the opportunity to upskill, learn something new, stay engaged, develop new relationships or to just take time for themselves when they lead such busy lives. For many it was a lonely time when they could tap into learning something. For others it was an opportunity to improve their employability or confidence.

What we have learned has shaped how we will adapt in the future. More and more learners want quick and convenient access to classes. They want short courses that equip them with the skills they need to compete in the workplace; either to progress through to management positions, or to seek new employment. We have learned what we can achieve by offering some programmes through virtual classrooms. However it has also been evident for many adult students, that face-to-face learning optimises their experience and they have a preference to be in a physical classroom setting. We will continue to work on creating programmes going forward that cater to different needs.

‘Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today’ – Malcolm X