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Budget bonus for adult learners as questions hover around preschool promise

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Funding for adult community education to help under-skilled South Australians will be boosted in tomorrow’s State Budget, as a row erupts over a pledge to provide preschool to all three-year-olds.

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Education Minister Blair Boyer told InDaily an extra $4 million will be allocated over the next four years to the adult community education sector to train people in “foundation skills” such as language, literacy, numeracy and computing to help them become more employable.

Boyer said the move would reverse “cuts” of $1 million a year made under the previous government.

“The previous government inflicted huge cuts to the adult community education sector and we’re returning every cent,” Boyer said.

“Ensuring accessibility and equality across education is imperative to ensuring more people are trained and skilled, including those who face social and economic barriers.

“We are proud to be able to support more people being trained so they have the opportunities to gain employment.”

It comes as the Opposition accuses the State Government of reneging on a promise to offer three-year-old preschool to “all” children in SA from 2026.

But the Minister this morning rejected that, insisting the Government will deliver on its election pledge.

Under questioning from the Opposition in Parliament yesterday, Boyer said the universal three-year-old preschool program would “begin” from 2026.

“There are a number of very big issues that we need to deal with first in terms of making sure that we have capacity in the system for those three-year-old children who we hope will take up preschool,” he said.

Boyer said SA’s program would be modelled on Victoria’s 10-year rollout of three-year-old preschool and “we will do it in stages most likely”.

Opposition education spokesperson John Gardner said “Labor has walked away from what was a central tenet of their election campaign, and in doing so has betrayed the trust of the South Australian people”.

“The Malinauskas promise was for universal access to preschool – that’s all children,” Gardner said.

Boyer today told InDaily “there is no change to our election commitment”.

“We are strongly committed to our policy of commencing three-year-old preschool from 2026,” he said.

“The previous Liberal Government had four years to commit to three-year-old preschool and they chose not to, and Mr Gardner’s comments are misleading and wrong about our policy.

“It is disappointing to see the Liberals choosing to play politics on this important issue.”

As part of its election pledge, the Government also promised to hold a royal commission to overhaul the state’s early learning system.

On the other end of the education spectrum, the Government said its commitment in tomorrow’s budget for adult community education would increase funding to the sector from $1.98 million a year to $2.98 million a year.

Budget papers show the previous government implemented “savings” of $1 million a year to the sector from 2020-21.

Gardner told InDaily that was part of “broader investments that were aimed at foundation skills delivery in South Australia”.

He said there were “diminishing numbers of adults choosing schools for their community education but instead choosing other institutions that were also offering qualifications – whether SACE or certificate of diploma qualifications”.

“The most obvious example is TAFE, which saw tens of millions of extra dollars invested in the 19/20 budget and more than $300 million over seven years added to its budget over the course of our four budgets,” he said.

One SA business to recently take advantage of adult community education programs is Mitolo Family Farms, which employs about 700 South Australians across multiple potato and onion farms and packing sites.

Many of its staff have English as a second language.

The Virginia-based business’s production training officer, Belinda Copley, said four staff had completed an eight-week training course in English and work, health and safety skills.

“This program was perfect because not only did it combine helping them to increase their English skills but also helping them to stay safe in the workplace,” she said.

“Once they’ve done this course, they might move ahead and do another course in something they never thought they could do.”

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