Adult Education

Domain House in Hobart, formerly the University of Tasmania, housed Adult Education headquarters for many years (AOT, PH30/1/5450)

Early opportunities for adults in Tasmania to extend their education were provided by Mechanics' Institutes, the Workers' Educational Association, the Board of University Extension (1913) and the State Library. By the 1940s there were demands for a more comprehensive system, and in 1944 Sir John Morris was appointed to chair a Board of Enquiry. This was followed by the Report on Adult Education by Dr WGK Duncan (1947), which led to the Adult Education Act (1948) and the establishment of a statutory Adult Education Board.

The first director of Adult Education was Leslie Greener, and with only three regional officers to cover the state the assistance of local groups was vital. While short, mainly evening, classes were the mainstay, a policy of touring visiting lecturers, as well as music and art classes, was quickly established.

The second director (Kenneth Brooks, 1954) built on this and became a driving force in the development and expansion of adult education over the next fifteen years. Some innovations included the development of The Grange at Campbell Town as a residential college for weekend and summer schools, the appointment of a drama officer to assist local groups and arrange professional tours, and the annual Sir John Morris memorial lectures which were published. There was a wide range of visiting lecturers, seminars, conferences, performances and exhibitions, and the book discussion groups which began in 1961 are still popular, with 142 groups in 2004. University staff regularly acted as tutors as well as giving a series of winter lectures, while Adult Education in Launceston arranged for first year university Arts subjects to be offered there.

Since the 1970s there have been gradual changes in emphasis. While enrolments continue to increase, many of the entrepreneurial and special activities have been replaced by a larger class programme. In 1971 there were 815 classes with 10,400 students. In 2002 there were just under 3000 classes with 31,000 students. Classes in art and craft, music, cookery and other practical subjects have always been popular, but more recently there has been a demand for more vocational topics like information technology. While The Grange is no longer available, activities now called 'weekend getaways' and 'adventures abroad' continue. There have also been a number of programmes for target groups (partly assisted by commonwealth funding) such as adult migrant English, adult literacy and basic education, and programmes for Aboriginal students and people in the workplace.

The first of many administrative, organisational and personnel changes came in 1976 with the repeal of the Adult Education Act and the replacement of the statutory Adult Education Board with a short-lived Advisory Board. Since then, adult education has come within the Division of Further Education, then the Department of Employment, Industrial Relations and Training, and is currently one of the programmes run by the Institute of Technical and Further Education (TAFE).

With retirement ages decreasing and life expectancy increasing, a number of non-government providers have arisen to complement the TAFE programme. These include the University of the Third Age, School for Seniors and neighbourhood houses.

Further reading: K Brooks, An affirming flame, Hobart, 1987; W Duncan, 'Report on Adult Education', Parliamentary Paper, 1947.

Graham Vertigan