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The Yarramundi Lecture 2012 … Listening to Warren Mundine on education July 29, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Engaging Learning Environments, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Professor Steve Wilson

Recently I had the privilege of attending the 2012 Yarramundi Lecture and listening to Warren Mundine. The Yarramundi Lecture is an institution at the University of Western Sydney. Held each year in association with NAIDOC Week, it features a significant speaker each year who delivers a lecture on indigenous issues in Australia. This year, Warren Mundine spoke about his new project, becoming CEO of GenerationOne, a project established by Andrew (‘Twiggy’) Forrest and his wife Nicola with the vision of dramatically bridging the gap in indigenous education and employment.


GenerationOne utilises a coalition of employers, corporations, government agencies and small and large business people who provide training and subsequent employment for indigenous young people. The training is tied to jobs, a fact Mundine emphasised as a crucial difference to other training approaches. Mundine’s belief is that it is through young indigenous people gaining, and remaining in employment, that increased equity for indigenous people will be achieved. He commented on other approaches to training that have supplied some indigenous people “with more certificates than a Harvard professor, but who have never had a job”.

Mundine spoke passionately about how building a culture and an expectation of work across generations within families can provide the crucial circuit breaker from unemployment and welfare dependency, to independence and prosperity. He drew on examples from his own family to illustrate the power of work in modelling expectations for indigenous young people.

In subsequent questions from the floor, Mundine was asked about the role of education in contributing to breaking the cycle of dependency. In one response, he pointed to the critical role that pre-school education can play in preparing indigenous children for school, particularly by providing them with the building blocks of literacy and numeracy. He expressed concern that even by five years of age when they start school, the literacy and numeracy levels of indigenous children are well behind the Australian average, and that this is then compounded in the school experience.

I asked him two questions on the role of education: “What is it about schools that we should address to help turn this problem around? And if we were to introduce one fundamental thing into our teacher education programs here at UWS to help, what should it be?”

In answer to the first question, he said that the issue which currently impacts on indigenous young people in schools, particularly secondary schools, is a “structural issue”. Too many indigenous young people are perceived as lacking in talent and potential and are placed into the ‘lower classes’ in schools. These students are not engaged, challenged or extended. By year 9, having come to see themselves as failures in the formal education system, they often want to, and do, leave school as quickly as possible. This increases their possibility of facing extended periods of unemployment or becoming welfare-dependent. Mundine drew on examples from within his own family, where people had left school early, only to later succeed in formal education. In one case, one of his family went from leaving school very early to gaining a PhD.

His answer to the second question was, for me, very compelling. From all the things he could have chosen as a need in the production of new teachers, he said: “They need to learn to inspire”. Clearly, for many young people in formal education who do not do well, their journey through education becomes one of increasing failure, an increasingly poor self-concept, an increasing alienation from education, and perhaps even a feeling of hopelessness.  In suggesting that our new teachers need to learn to inspire, I felt that Mundine was emphasising the importance of the teacher who can meet young people on their own terms, encourage them to believe in themselves and their capacities to achieve, in school and in life, and to teach them how to achieve.

Mundine’s views are supported by a great deal of research over the past 30 years. Good teachers believe in young people and help them to achieve. They bring high expectations of their students to their teaching – even to students who seem to be performing poorly or who seem disinterested in learning. This is particularly important when their students are indigenous young people who may not have experienced academic success either in their own schooling or that of their families, and who may not come from an embedded culture of employment in their families. There is a wealth of literature to suggest that good teachers, who bring these high expectations to their students and who are persistent in demanding them, do make an amazing difference to the lives of those young people. These teachers are, as Mundine suggests they should be, inspirational, and they lift their students to succeed.

I came away from the Yarramundi Lecture glad that I had attended, feeling that the GenerationOne project is an incredibly worthwhile approach to an intractable problem, and agreeing with Warren Mundine’s messages about schooling. These messages are critical for the success and achievement of indigenous young people. They are also highly important for any schools and teachers who engage with young people from all backgrounds who are marginalised by the current structures of schooling, and who may be limited in imagining what they can achieve in their lives.

Steve Wilson is Dean of the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney. His previous posts on this Blog site include contributions on school leadership and networked learning.

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