Writing courses

Dumping of TAFE writing courses silences the disenfranchised

TAFE 2015 has started. Thousands of students embark on an education that has the potential to change their lives.

This is not hyperbole – I’ve seen it, regularly. Although higher education is largely focused on universities, I think TAFE courses have a much bigger impact on the lives of many Australians – young and old; and all discussions about the future of higher education should have TAFEs at the center of the debate.

Skills: Writing and editing courses have given many people the opportunity to learn work-related skills and tell their stories. Credit:Catherine tremain

When most people think of TAFE, they think of apprenticeship and vocational training. My experiences are in a very different area, and it is an area that has been at the forefront of cuts in recent years.

Last year, the Holmesglen Institute of TAFE announced that it was ending its Professional Writing and Editing (PWE) course, one of the oldest professional courses of its kind in Victoria. The year before, the Box Hill Institute of TAFE had made the same decision. The year before, it was the Chisholm Institute.

“So what?” you ask. “Who needs such lessons? These are just indulgences. “

Well, they are not. On the one hand, PWE vocational education courses give voice to many disenfranchised and marginalized people. Many of those who enroll in PWE courses at this level, young and old, do not have the funds, confidence, or training to go straight to college.

Even taking that step was enormous. For some, they are the first in their family to have even crossed the entrance gate of a higher education establishment. For others, their old institution involved nighttime lockdowns and laundry duties. Some do not have a permanent home; many collect the prize to go to class.

Dyslexia, ADD, and Asperger’s syndrome are not uncommon among college students. A lot of them have mental health issues – and that’s probably what attracts them to a PWE course; after all, many of the most creative and artistic people in history have had similar issues.

Once in class, they are shown how to tell their stories. They are guided through the process of exploring their minds, researching their experiences and imaginations, and translating them to the page – whether in the form of a short story, novel, a screenplay or a poem. They learn sentence construction and are introduced to professional writers, editors and editors.

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