Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me to launch Adult Learners Week for 2017, and thank you to all of you for being here today.
I acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, and pay my respects to Elders past, present and future.
I also acknowledge all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.
Adult education is critical and necessary.
It’s a vital part of the spectrum of learning – and is as important as the formative youngest years.
Education in adult life can be transformative, and is a fundamental part of wellbeing.
The wonderful stories of people in their eighties and nineties who have earned their first university degree, someone in their 40s undertaking a trade apprenticeship, or the young mum undertaking a yoga training class – remind us that lifelong learning means just that.
You’re never too old to start learning.
Just as children can be excited and inspired by learning new things about the world – adults can also gain the same benefits from education and learning, opening our minds and unleashing our potential.
And Adult Learners Week is as much about reminding us of that as it is about promoting literacy and skills for the modern world.
Adult education and learning is a diverse sector, a sector that is wonderful and enriching, and gives so much to so many.
That’s why the Turnbull Government is such an enthusiastic and unequivocal advocate of adult education.
We’re very proud to fund Adult Learning Australia, and to support Adult Learners Week celebrations.
In fact Adult Learning Australia has been working hard for adult education for a very long time – over 55 years since its first inception.
It’s a privilege for me, and for the government to work with them to build on this legacy as we respond to changing times, and as adult education becomes increasingly important in our communities, and in our workforce and economy more broadly.
In launching Adult Learners’ Week 2017 in Australia tonight, I do so in the company of communities and organisations all over the world.
For Adult Learners’ Week is international – a UNESCO initiative, and built on the principles adopted by UNESCO over forty years ago, that, and I quote “adult education is an integral part of life-long education and can contribute decisively to economic and cultural development, social progress and world peace.”
The UNESCO Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (2016) highlighted the contribution that adult learning and education makes across many sectors of society, and that it is:
• an indispensable component of education, and a fundamental and enabling human right
• an integral dimension of a balanced life course
• an important factor in sustainable development.
The report found evidence that around the world Adult Learning and Education increases peoples’ participation as active citizens, contributing to social cohesion, diversity and tolerance.
At the heart of the adult education sector is the meaningful, grassroots community-building, the community development, the individual empowerment, and the stronger families.
And our partners in the adult and community education sector are the people and organisations that work at the forefront of what it means to be a community, and to support and be inclusive of every single person in our community.
Our Seniors groups, our Disability support groups, our Neighbourhood Houses, our English language classes and support groups for refugees, our Men’s Sheds, our Literacy support groups, our Women in Education.
These partners know, more than most, the needs of the community, not just for education but for belonging, for engagement, for skills and support.
And they play a vital role in developing social capital, building community capacity, encouraging social participation and enhancing social cohesion.
Adult Learners’ Week also incorporates International Literacy Day, which is celebrated annually on September 8.
And we all know that greater levels of literacy contribute to increased levels of social cohesion and inclusion .
It’s quite shocking to think that it’s estimated that 1 in 3 Australians have literacy levels low enough to make them vulnerable to unemployment and social exclusion.
Improving literacy levels can help end the cycle of disadvantage that impacts too many families and communities.
And the Australian Government is committed to improving levels of literacy in Australia by funding and supporting programs dedicated to adult education.
In this year’s Federal Budget, the Government allocated over $300 million to the Adult Migrant English Program to support refugees and other migrants learn English language and literacy skills to help them confidently participate socially and economically in Australia.
And we’ve also provided over $103 million for the Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program to improve eligible job seekers’ language, literacy and numeracy skills through the provision of up to 800 hours of free, accredited training.
For Indigenous Australians, the issue of low literacy is much more prevalent.
As Professor Jack Beetson, Executive Director of the Literacy for Life Foundation, says: “One of most basic human rights is the right to learn. To be literate is everybody’s right and it’s the responsibility of the literate person to attend to that.”
He estimates that low literacy levels in Indigenous communities are at a minimum of 40 per cent and in some communities up to 80 per cent.
No Australian should be left behind when it comes to literacy and numeracy, and initiatives like Adult Learners’ Week promote learning, whether for personal fulfilment or retraining, for all Australians, whatever stage of life they are at.
I would like to thank Adult Learning Australia for coordinating Adult Learners week 2017.
It is my pleasure to officially open Adult Learners’ Week is now officially open and we can commence with the special screening of ‘In My Own Words’ followed by a Q&A session.