Punitive approach to keep teenage mums in school won’t work: Catholic Education Parramatta

06/05/2011

The Australian Government’s proposal to keep teenage mums in school by withholding welfare payments is punitive and will not work says Executive Director of Schools in the Diocese of Parramatta, Greg Whitby.

"We know that the best road out of welfare dependency is education, but we need to ensure education delivery is flexible, relevant to the needs and interests of teenage mothers, and engages them in learning, rather than punish them for not completing school," Mr Whitby said.

Mr Whitby said forcing young people to attend school by withholding welfare payments might make them turn up for school, but it won’t ensure they learn.

"We have to change our thinking from ‘making attendance compulsory and learning optional’, and instead ‘make learning compulsory and attendance optional’," Mr Whitby said.

"In a connected world, we are able to offer greater flexibility and choice in the online delivery of learning opportunities. We can’t limit education to traditional models of schooling, vocational or tertiary education.

"Learning now happens ‘anywhere, anytime’ and we can use today’s technology to deliver greater flexibility to young mums while allowing them the choice to stay home with their babies, particularly in the first three years."

Transforming the traditional model of schooling

Mr Whitby said the government needed to rethink the model of education delivery to see how teenage mothers, or any student at risk of not completing school can engage in learning, including the fathers of these children who are often still at school themselves.

"Why can’t our secondary schools offer a part-time HSC course over five years instead of two or provide classes via Skype or nightschool for stay-at-home parents who want to keep learning but also want to be the primary carers of their young children?" Mr Whitby said.

"We have a much greater capacity for virtual delivery of education than at any other time in our history and need to start thinking outside the square when it comes to keeping young people engaged in learning."

Loyola Senior High School in Mount Druitt is taking a lead in this area by enrolling mature age students who had previously not completed school, including young mothers.

Principal Robert Laidler said teenage mothers are often overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood, so a traditional model of schooling often adds to their anxiety.

"We have to make sure we tailor an appropriate package of study for each individual student that suits their domestic circumstances as well as their learning needs," Mr Laidler said.

"We have been offering for many years a flexible package of study towards an accumulated HSC, but with government support we could go even further and really transform the traditional model of schooling to meet the needs of these young people and their families."

Visit Catholic Education, Diocese of Parramatta

Visit Loyola Senior High School Mount Druitt


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