My sister Mary-Anne has spent a lot of years working with vulnerable young people. These were kids who had left education for various reasons and wound up in all kinds of difficulties.
She’s spent a lot of time getting some stability and direction back in their lives. More often than not, that meant re-connecting with education in some way.
Mary-Anne told me about a few of these young people in detail, and they were stories of real optimism — stories that kept her working in a tough field. She knew there was no way she could get all of them back into full-time academic study in Years 11 and 12, but the promise of practical skills with a job in sight was much more engaging.
And if we have to see everything in economic terms, it’s also cost-effective. Invest now — or pay later.
So not surprisingly, she was bloody angry to hear that the Baillieu Government planned to take $48 million out of VCAL, which is exactly the kind of program that reconnected the kids she worked with.
She told me that VCAL had a double advantage — it gave vulnerable young people a path towards worthwhile work; and it also connected them to their peer group.
VCAL helps keep about 20,000 Victorian students in school each year. These are young Victorians who would otherwise probably leave education altogether. Hands-on, practical experience for students in Years 11 and 12 is such a logical way to give vulnerable young Victorians real hope and real prospects.
My sister told me about young people who, getting a sense of self-worth and a skill they could use, felt proud of what they went on to achieve.
We hear lots of fine words about giving our youth a sense of direction and worth, but here is a program that does just that — and it’s under immediate threat? It’s baffling.
When she spoke to me about the cuts, Mary-Anne was off to hunt down some state MPs’ email addresses and let them know what she thought. She felt she owed it to the young people she’d worked with.
Michael Gurr is a playwright, author and speechwriter