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Keynote – Tracey Ollis

Practice, habitus and Adult Learning in Neighbourhood Houses in Australia

Dr Trace Ollis, Senior Lecturer Adult, Vocational and Applied Learning, School of Education, Deakin University.


Neighbourhood Houses and Centres are found across Australia, the majority of houses are in two states Victoria and New South Wales. Neighbourhood Houses provide local community-based adult education. The history of Neighbourhood Houses commenced in the 1960s and 1970s. Historically and currently, women are the majority of participants in the houses. Neighbourhood Houses have a commitment to social justice processes and community development practices, however, practices vary across the sector.

Adult learning is central to the practices in Neighbourhood Houses. All of the houses across the nation run adult education courses of some kind. In Neighbourhood Houses, learning occurs incidentally and informally through the day-to-day activities and socialisation within the houses. Learning also occurs formally through pre-accredited and accredited training. Early practices in the houses were informed by feminism and the women’s movement with a focus on community development, anti-oppressive practice, advocacy and the empowerment of women. Issues such as women’s work in the household (unpaid work), paid work, domestic violence and childcare were drivers for these initial spaces of social inclusion for women.

In this keynote I present case study research on learner experiences of Neighbourhood houses, many who have had negative learning experiences of schooling in a neoliberal model which sorts, assesses and ranks students according to their performance. I outline the complexity of adult education and learner experiences that occur in this dynamic space of learning, and examine the importance of this social space and the relationships that occur between the learners and tutors and the learners and staff, many who have been volunteers and learners in the Neighbourhood Houses themselves. I argue the pedagogy and practices that occur in these spaces of education, enable learners to reconstruct previously held negative views of themselves as not being capable or successful learners.

The outcomes for participants vary but include less social isolation as friendships and networks are built. Other outcomes include greater mastery of English language, improved foundational literacy, numeracy and computer skills, as well as increased understanding of civics and citizenship and Australian history, culture and society. Participation in the Neighbourhood Houses also increased work and employability skills with some learners transitioning from the houses to employment or further formal education in the Vocational Educational  and Training system.

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