Second Reading Debate: Education and Training Reform Amendment (Senior Secondary Pathways Reforms and Other Matters) Bill 2021

I rise to speak on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Senior Secondary Pathways Reforms and Other Matters) Bill 2021, which basically is a bill that is going to provide transitional arrangements regarding the Victorian pathways certificate and vocational major within the VCE and enable the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority to extend the 12-month training period regarding a registered training organisation’s management for the transition from superseded training packages.

Basically it is a bill that we very much support, and you have heard it outlined in a detailed manner by my colleague the Shadow Minister for Education, the member for Croydon. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss some of the issues in the education system which I think this bill is trying to address, and I endorse that approach and I absolutely embrace this opportunity.

The Firth review, which the minister referred to in his second-reading speech, identifies that one of the principles that this change in the legislation will address is lifting the quality and perception of vocational education.

I want to highlight that point because I think what we have got is something in society that we seriously need to address, and I hope this bill begins to address that.

I think for the last at least four decades we have been going down a pathway of not celebrating the diversity of skills our children have when they are in an education facility. We have been very academically leaning, and we have been encouraging our kids to strive—and that is all very well—but at the expense, I think, of recognising that striving also includes the professions that require skills as well as academia to be successful in.

So what I am saying is that over the last 40 years I think we have gone away from celebrating and valuing people whose skills are around using their hands, being able to have great interaction with other people, supporting and helping them. We have used our education system as a platform to just make people think—children in particular, and parents—that unless you are academic, unless you are going to do very well in VCE and unless you are heading over to university institutions, you are not successful. And that is a real worry, because what we are doing is making those children who are not able to absorb information in a written form and then regurgitate that information, showing that they understand it in an exam technique format, feel like failures. That is what I am seeing: our children who are not highly successful in academia are falling out of the system and sometimes feeling like failures.

So this opportunity that we have here to embrace VCAL and to embrace vocational education and highlight it as equal to the academia of getting an ATAR score is highly important, and I cannot push this enough.

I remember when I was young, and of my two brothers and my sister and I—it was a family of four—the boys were deemed as dumb and the girls were deemed smart, because boys often mature later. Now, I do not know whether that is a fact or not, but it certainly seems like my experience. My brothers both became very successful, having left school, one in year 9at 15 and the other in year 10 or 11—year 11, I think. They were very much unable to cope from a reading and writing perspective too well. They would probably hate me saying that. Both went on to become very successful.

I remember my brother at 19 said, ‘I want to be a policeman’. He started learning to spell properly. He asked for my help. I used to ride my bike and he used to run beside me and I would say, ‘Spell hospital; spell whatever’, and help him along. He is a very successful detective today. So is my other brother, who ran a business, and left school at 15, as I said.

Now, I remember my eldest son coming home and saying to me at about the age of 15—and please excuse my French, because these are his words, not mine—‘Mum, if you don’t go to university, you’re a dumbass’. Yes, I know, he should not have even said that to his mother at such an age, but he did. I remember thinking, ‘Where did that come from?’. It certainly did not come from his parents, it did not come from our family unit, but it is the culture. Now, I absolutely am very proud of all people who do well in what they choose to do in life.

I always talk about the bus driver that got my kids home and to school safely every day, the most important person in my life. We should be celebrating these professions, and when kids in school want to become a bus driver or a personal care attendant and look after an ageing community in an aged-care facility, for example, or become that barista that you say hello to every morning that makes your day because they are bright and they are sparky and they are happy and they start your day off well, these people are incredibly important too.

I ran a farm for a very long time and spent a lot of time trying to encourage people into the profession of agriculture—and it is a profession, and it is a really important profession, to actually create food that is of a high quality and a high standard. People who want to become farmers often are very intelligent and very capable at recognising grass species and soil types, and you learn as you go. I mean, I just did endless education, and it was relevant, so it was interesting. And that is the theme we have got to give our kids that understanding of: you will love what you learn.

If you want to become a bus driver, you need skills to make sure you understand the road rules, to make sure you understand safety, to make sure you have a rapport with children. These are skills that we need to make sure we embrace. The schools through vocational education and training processes can really embrace this, but I think the culture we have in the schools—and I am not denigrating the teachers in any way, shape or form—is simply the culture as a society we have been going down the line of, so I hope this provides a fantastic opportunity to really change that, and I hope the government uses this opportunity to address that culture.

We have addressed diversity in the workplace. We have addressed bullying in the workplace. We have addressed family violence through campaigns. I actually think we need a campaign to embrace vocational education and training and show those children that do not want to go on to academia that they are valued and they are valuable, so our system then actually creates an environment of equality for all types of diverse learning skills.

In our region we have tried to embrace this opportunity through many things, like the Hands On Learning program that the Warrnambool College have, led by Leon Carey, a great tradesman in our area who is very community minded. Then at Brauer College we have got Bruce Miller, who also runs a similar program. They actually grab those kids who are falling out of the system, and actually getting into a little bit of trouble sometimes, because they are not engaged properly because what they like to do is not understood. They have created a program where they can build stuff, repair stuff, help our community by doing things like tables and chairs for community areas at the beach or the parks. These kids love it, but trying to get funding for those programs out of the Department of Education and Training has been nigh impossible. That tells me that the government have not really understood that we need to embrace that diversity of skills. So I hope we will also see these programs that have been created to fill that void, to fill that gap and to help these kids stay engaged really be embraced and funded properly.

The other program that has come about from the community recognising this problem is the program that is funded and called the Neil Porter foundation. It is run by a young man, Matt Porter, whose father was a teacher who it is named after, who really did recognise the importance of this sort of work. It is funded a lot and supported incredibly by David Hetherington from Pacific Materials Handling and many other companies such as Midfield Meats, and Dean McKenna has been a big promoter of this program.

They are going into the school, getting the kids and showing them the industries that you can get into and the careers. It is really helping, because the government are not funding the careers teachers in such a way that they can focus on career planning and promotion. It is sort of a secondary role that they have as a teacher, and then that is tacked on as a career teacher.

I hope the government takes the opportunity (a) to run a campaign to promote vocational education and the value of it and the value of the students who take that on, because I tell you what, I cannot fix my own toilet. I cannot tile my own roof. I cannot look after my elderly mum all the time. I need people in the community with those skills that are very valued.

So I commend all the people in my community who have also recognised this as a challenge, and let us get behind our kids and tell them all how valued they are because everybody has a role to play. And those ones we lose out of the system that end up sitting on the couch, that never go through the milestones of work—it is our responsibility, it is our fault and we can do better.

Now, I just want to finish by saying that does not mean I do not value the importance of academia, and I did talk about it being part of equality. We are about 15 days away from the end of the year 12 school year, and that means the English exam on 27 October is quite soon. So I want to take this opportunity to congratulate them all, who have done so well—good luck with your exam. It is not the be-all and end-all. It does not define you. Good luck.

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