Founding student shares journey

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One of Taranaki Polytech’s founding students, Lorraine Webber, was a guest speaker at WITT’s 50th celebration event held on Monday 17 October where she reflected on the role education has played in her life.

“I believe that in 1972, I was an exception in going into tertiary education - I was a ‘have not’ in a world where the ‘haves’ usually had that privilege. University was not an option, so having a local tertiary institution at my doorstep was vital.”

At that time only 40% of school leavers went on to further education and the proportion of women in fulltime employment was approximately 30%. Options for woman at that time were limited to teaching, nursing, retail, secretarial and hairdressing roles.

Lorraine’s first job saw her working at TSB. By the time she was 20 she had already seen a lot of New Zealand and lived and worked in Australia and was restless.

“It’s actually a blur now just how I came to be enrolled in the ‘senior business course for girls training to be shorthand typists and office secretaries’ but there I was, one of two ‘adult students’ in a class of around 20, slogging away at learning Pitman shorthand.”

“There were no student allowances so somehow my mother who had left school at 14, found the money to support me through this.”

“There were long days – an extension of secondary school – rote learning – very much about technical education and to that end that is what I received. It was not the experience that I see today - the exciting ways the teaching and learning experience has developed to cater for the individual needs and learning styles of students.”

At this time Taranaki Polytechnic had a fulltime staff of 10 with 210,000 student hours recorded and by 1975 it had trebled to 30 fulltime staff with 350,000 student hours recorded. Today (2021 figures), WITT Te Pūkenga has 4933 students enrolled and a staff of 340.

Other choices on offer at Taranaki Polytechnic at the time included; apprentice training, technical training, a senior business course for girls training to be shorthand typists and office secretaries, a dairy farm management course, professional accountancy, NZIM subjects, metrication courses, general subjects such as English for school certificate, retraining and training within industry courses and special seminars for management.

Only two of these courses were fulltime.

Despite there not being many courses for women, Lorraine’s time at Taranaki Polytech turned out to be the springboard for an all-encompassing career in adult and tertiary education that saw her career peak in 2007 when she and a group of five educators and professionals from the New Zealand polytechnic sector set up the Bahrain Polytechnic.

“When I left in 2012 we had 3,000 fulltime students and 500 staff from all around the world. This was undoubtedly the pinnacle of my career and planets away from the course I completed in 1972.”

Other roles Lorraine held have included Tutor at Taranaki Polytech, Head of Business Studies at Whanganui Senior Technical Division (forerunner to the polytechnic), Union President/General Secretary of the Polytechnic Teachers Union , NZ Nurses Organisation Waikato-wide Organiser (while studying for her Master’s Degree) and Director of Continuing Education at Waikato University. Today Lorraine can be found in the New Plymouth parliamentary electorate office providing local support for MPs Glen Bennett and Angela Roberts

Alongside her successful career in the education sector, Lorraine has remained a lifelong learner with her highest formal qualification being a first class Master’s Degree in Social Sciences which she gained in 2003. Today, her learning continues through the Parliamentary Service Learning and Development Centre’s wide array of programmes.

“Looking back, without a doubt that course I took in 1972 set me on an exhilarating journey of lifelong learning. It took that small town girl with limited options out on to the world stage, into a meaningful career of service through education.”

“So that is pretty much what happens when you provide opportunity – you unlock potential and possibilities – people fly.”



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