If you’re old enough, you’ll remember them: Rectangular sheets of rectangular stamps in the fold of magazines, accompanying adverts for correspondence schools. Printed on each stamp was the name of a course available.
For years I ignored them. I had a job. I had other opportunities to learn. I had no time for extra study.
But this time, I was stuck at home in a country that said that if I worked, my family would be deported. Courses for adults weren’t available – or affordable. And no child-care was available anyway.
So I tore off a rectangular stamp, licked the back of it and stuck it onto a piece of cardboard – and posted it in the post-box on our front porch.
Over the following weeks, I paid a fee, and collected my course books from the post-box.
After some time, I had an exam. I was provided with the questions and I could take as long as I needed to find the answers from the books. When I was ready, I picked up the phone, punched in the numbers for the answers to the multiple-choice questions, and earned my Diploma of Dressmaking for getting the exam 100% correct. I never stitched a stitch.
Several years later, in our own country, I enquired about becoming a Family Day-Care provider.
I’ve looked after children since I can remember. I was a qualified Registered Nurse – at the Children’s Hospital. I had my own four children who’d thus far survived childhood. But I lacked a piece of paper that I could obtain – for a fee and six weeks of study – that would tell the world that I was qualified to care for children.
I guess my stubbornness got in the way of me ever becoming qualified to care for children. My Nurse’s Registration dissolved when I had to make the choice between looking after my own children, or someone else’s: Part-time employment for nurses was not an option at that stage, and to keep your registration, you had to work the equivalent of one full-time year every five years. Living in the USA for three and a half years was the end of that.
So, when my youngest began school, I went to University. I had to begin a degree from scratch. I couldn’t even do a ‘Refresher’ course in nursing, because, apparently, anatomy and physiology change if you don’t keep up your Nurses Registration.
In the past few weeks, a local Nursing Home has been in the news for its abysmal quality of care of its patients. I wonder about the qualifications of those who worked there. I think of all of the former-nurses who, like me, are sitting on the side-lines watching on, experienced and caring yet unqualified, horrified that those being employed in caring roles may have earned their qualifications by paying for a piece of paper and ticking the right boxes.
If people were able to learn skills through training on white-boards or computers or by watching dvds, we’d all be MasterChefs and accomplished builders. But it doesn’t work that way, does it? Chefs and bakers do not master their skills by watching dvds. They need to cut and chop and measure and taste and mix and practice and fail and try again. Builders need to build. They can’t learn to hit a nail on the head with a hammer, by watching a dvd. Nor can carers learn to care by copying words from a white-board.
In our attempt to become a clever country, have we provided ‘Training’ without teaching skills? Ultimately, have we confused ‘Education’ with ‘Qualifications’ – some of which are not worth any more than a rectangular stamp on a piece of cardboard.