The majority of our La Trobe-Didasko students are what we affectionately call the ‘lost tribe’, students that for a multitude of reasons didn’t take the traditional route of going from high school to university. I am a member of this tribe and this is my story.
This is something that’s taken a long time for me to feel comfortable about, as not having a ‘proper’ post-school education was a source of shame. I harboured resentment and frustration at not having the opportunity to go to university and felt ‘less than’. Over time, I’ve come to see this as a strength, as the long road travelled to achieve a postgrad qualification has taught me more about myself than participating in classes ever could.
Early in high school, family upheaval would dramatically change my life. Bankruptcy and a subsequent move interstate for a ‘fresh start’ meant starting again without the support of extended family and friends. Combined with the ever-present strain of financial hardship, it’s no surprise that my parents divorced in my late teens.
We absorb our parents’ and extended family’s experience and attitudes about education. Both my parents came from a trade background and they were firm believers in the importance of a good education, but didn’t see what the big deal about university was. The student cohort of ‘first in family’ face challenges other students don’t have (O’Shea et al. 2015). At the time, university was important to me, as I didn’t just want to prepare for a job, I wanted to improve my ability to communicate, connect with others, reflect, critically analyse and create. I was always asking ‘why’ and wanted to be challenged.
At 16, I finished year 11 and took the path of my older sister and went to TAFE to complete a certificate course in Business Administration. In Cairns, at the time, there was no university and few options outside of hospitality and traditional trades. Seventeen subjects later, I left TAFE prepared for a career as a ‘secretary’ (if you ask me what the most useful skill I have is, I’ll say it’s the ability to touch-type like a machine. What an underrated skill touch-typing is!).
I stumbled my way into a career in hospitality, which I loved, but ever-present was the self-doubt, restlessness and frustration I felt about unfulfilled potential. What was my purpose? And so the long journey began.
It started with completing two year 12 subjects at night school (English and Biology). What a horror show that was! No coursework, just one final six-hour exam for each subject (how could that provide any real indication of someone’s capacity?). Then came a partially completed Diploma of HR and two subjects on medical terminology and anatomy by correspondence (delivered by post). Have I mentioned that I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do? It was time to get serious and make a choice between Naturopathy, Teaching or HR/Management, but I never really made a choice and ended up doing them all to some extent. This is common, with most of us having several career changes in our lifetime (a report released by Foundation for Young Australians in 2017 claimed that ‘It’s more likely that a 15-year-old today will experience a portfolio career, potentially having 17 different jobs over 5 careers in their lifetime’).
All up, I’ve spent 12 years in night school. It came at a huge sacrifice, financially, socially and emotionally. It was sometimes a battle – a battle to enrol (some universities have a lot to learn about customer service), to make it to class after work, to fit study in around family commitments (for years, I studied as a single parent with two young children and would have to pay a babysitter so I could go to night class), to work out what the academic writing expectations were, to get assessments in on time and to make connections with other students and academics.
Why did I put myself through all of this? I passionately believe in the power of education to change our lives and open our perspective to others. It’s the solution to the world’s problems, it’s empowerment, connection, enlightenment, independence and financial freedom.
My role at Didasko is purpose-driven. It’s all about playing my part in providing a learning experience that removes the barriers that exist for the ‘lost tribe’. Higher education as a 100% online experience, when well designed and delivered, is equal to on-campus.
It doesn’t matter whether you choose TAFE, a private provider or university, it’s having the opportunity to improve yourself, regardless of wealth and other barriers.
What’s your story?
Naomi Holding is the General Manager of Education at Didasko and is responsible for the faculties of Business and Information Technology. She works closely with La Trobe University and all divisions at Didasko in the design, development and provision of world-class undergraduate courses, 100% online.
Naomi has extensive experience in lecturing, teaching, project management, writing and curriculum design and development across universities, TAFE and private registered training organisations. Her teaching experience and interest includes Human Resource Management, Organisational Behaviour, Leadership, Accommodation Management and Managing Diversity.
Prior to a career in education, Naomi worked in the hospitality industry in hotel management in various 4 and 5-star hotels in Cairns. A heavy involvement in the design and development of training programs sparked the interest for a career change into education.
Naomi holds an MBA, B. Ed. & Training, Dip. in Teaching, Dip. in Hospitality, Cert. IV in Training and Assessment, Cert. IV in Business Admin., and is a member of AHRI.
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