By Afrodity Giannakis
SYDNEY — Teachers at the Adult Migrant English Service (AMES) in Auburn and Parramatta are campaigning to stop a threatened closure of English for migrants classes at Auburn.
AMES is administered by the state Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET) and is funded federally, by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (DIEA). In addition, some classes for long-term unemployed offered at AMES are funded by DEET.
DIEA has decided to stop funding English courses at the Sydney AMES centre of Auburn by the end of June 1996 and to move them to the Parramatta centre.
The proposed closure is part of a series of other threatened or actual AMES closures,, like the recent ones of the Rockdale, Enmore and Blacktown centres and the current threatened closure of the Cringila centre in Wollongong.
DIEA's motive for closing Auburn AMES is saving rent. Ironically, the move of Auburn classes to the Parramatta building could force many DEET classes to additional premises, with the possible result that the total cost of combined DIEA and DEET accommodation would end up higher than it currently is for the two centres.
Non-English Speaking Background (NESB) people make up 42.8% of the total Auburn population. This is the highest proportion in the area — compared for example to 23% of Parramatta — and the third highest in the Sydney Statistical Division. Auburn is also the first point of contact for newly arrived migrants/refugees, who often get initial accommodation in blocks of flats provided by DIEA.
About 80% of the Auburn AMES students live in the municipality of Auburn, which is four train stations from Parramatta. Given the special circumstances of newly arrived migrants/refugees, it is likely that a significant proportion of students would not travel to class.
According to studies of the area, Auburn residents are economically disadvantaged, NESB ones being the worst affected. The vast majority of students do not own cars, and many would have difficulties using public transport. Students most likely to suffer would be, for example, those who may not have the confidence to travel alone, and parents who take their children to and from school.
Women, who often have to look after children and are disadvantaged by lack of child-care services, would be even more discouraged from undertaking English classes.
In the case of a forced merger with Parramatta AMES, there will also be repercussions for AMES teachers, ranging from problems associated with relocation to another centre to loss of jobs caused by a possible decrease in student numbers.
Parramatta students and staff would also cop the consequences of a merger, as the building would not be big enough to accommodate the two centres. This would mean overcrowded conditions and could lead to leasing off-site premises for DEET-funded classes, greatly disadvantaging students and teachers with regard to educational resources, facilities and services, and working conditions.