Reflections upon attending an indigenous world gathering for peace October 10, 2016Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Education and the Environment, Social Ecology, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
Tags: aboriginal education, ecopedagogy, environmental education, indigenous education, social ecology
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21s t Sep 2016 INDIGENOUS TRIBAL NATIONS – GATHERING
On International Day of Peace 2016,
INVITATION to all indigenous tribal nations, to participate in a world gathering of:
❣ Chieftain’s / Grandmothers convening in global council;
❣ All respective Indigenous Nations of Mother Earth tending sacred fires, on their sacred land with community.
In this sacred way for Mother Earth and all her children, in solidarity:
Kia Ora, Talofa, Malo e lelei, Nisa Bula Vinaka, Namaste, Taloha Ni, Aloha, Fakalofa lahi Atu
Last month I participated in a delegation to attend this Peace gathering in Seoul Korea, and since returning to Sydney have decided to put pen to paper in an attempt to understand some of the outstanding issues raised by my colleagues in that forum. I also want to take a brief moment to present my own observations about some of the underlying problems to emerge when Non-Indigenous helpers attempt to organise Indigenous people.
Let me begin with two key issues discussed in depth during our assembly. The first was the degradation of papatuanuku, or earth mother, and the seas that surround her. On the very first day of discussions a representative from the Kiribati nation highlighted their plight with rising sea levels and the consequences of a sinking island or the loss of their home. He noted that this issue had been on the United Nations agenda for some time and wondered why very little had been done to date. The urgency, he explained, was such that my people are close to becoming like a homeless coconut floating in the Pacific Ocean.
I thought about my own home and what it might feel like to lose the place where we gather as a family to eat, laugh and love. My heart sank as I thought about the rising tides and the effects on the children and grandbabies of these Kiribati people. Actually, I could not even begin to fathom the loss to the families and the generations to come.
As the days progressed many more stories of horror and environmental destruction were shared. The Rena oil spill off the coast of Tauranga in New Zealand was another stand-out for me. The lack of accountability fuelled outrage, sadness and sometimes despair in me as the local people told of the lasting effects this oil has had on their food, water, health, and surrounding seas and land. And to think that the company pays a fine and then gets back into their boat and leaves the local people with an ongoing problem to fix.
This is outrageous! How can this occur? Corporate shipping companies who use our backyard as a highway to take their cargo from port to port with no real regard or accountability to the people whose lives depend on that sea and the land around it to live. It is ironic these companies are granted government approval to traverse our waters risking the food source and livelihood of many. Governments, in my view, are just as destructive and guilty as the shipping companies.
All that aside, my reflections about this dialogue and in particular, how it aligns with peace, left me somewhat perplexed as I struggled to find a composed resolve to an issue that forces such destruction on others. Moreover my intellectual brain started to think about the ongoing conversations we have in the academy; like the over production and never-ending need of humans to keep taking natural resources from earth mother, the sea and even our own species. I also thought about the people who are privy to knowledge about this global situation, and I realised just how vast the gap is between who know what is happening and those who do not.
This has left me in a state of continuous reflection and thought about how I may contribute, to at least let the people from the Pacific know what is happening beyond their beautiful paradise. The decision to write and tell this story is for now my resolve, and perhaps nowhere near as grand as a United Nations report, but at least it is a genuine attempt to make a change for the better.
The second and final issue I want to raise is the divide between non indigenous and indigenous peoples’ realities. This Korea trip taught me that we are still a very long way from understanding each other, because in some parts of the world there are non indigenous people whose intentions and purposes still operate within a bubble lined with romanticized ideologies. The thought that one can invite elders and leaders to travel halfway around the world where the biggest and strongest typhoon is causing havoc just a stone’s throw away from the gathering place is absurd to say the least.
And what about the missiles fired outward by North Korea only a few months earlier in the direction of Seoul? If that is not enough to get a person wondering, then how on earth does one respond to the hullabaloo antics of an organiser linked to the United Nations and academia who promises to transport our elders to the gathering place. Many travelled long distances and at their own cost to the allocated pick up point, only to be told at the 11th hour there is no plane. In my ‘cranky me’ voice I asked for a please explain. I soon saw how easy it was to disconnect an email, skype, telephone or communication link to suit one’s needs. It is these sorts of shenanigans that intensifies the divide between “us and them” and keeps the collective from bridging the gap in a time when there is an urgency to work together.
As I sat thinking about my world peace experience and the different emotions and lessons I found along the way, I can’t help but feel very blessed to have been taught by some beautiful grandmothers whose wisdom brought me full circle. They watched with great interest and curiosity as people including me shared stories of fear, frustration and despair. They listened with an open heart, and one by one each nanny spoke to an issue with clarity and wisdom. They also offered a solution to the problems we face. This response I shall ponder a little longer.
The multicultural pedagogies of sports August 29, 2016Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Engaging Learning Environments, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
Tags: Education and community, health and physical education, sports education
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As Australia receives new intakes of migrants, many from refugee backgrounds, government, non-government and community organizations take part in supporting the settlement of these new arrivals and their families. As such, across Greater Western Sydney and other places, we have seen the proliferation of sports programs offered to young people in order to help their transition into their new country.
Sports has long been considered an arena that can bring social cohesion to society. ‘Common sense’ understandings of the role of sport therefore take for granted the idea that as long as people are playing organized sports, issues of collective and peaceful coexistence magically emerge through the ‘power of sport in bringing people together’.
However, sports are not immune to wider problems in society. Despite the spectacularization of sports within all types of media and the uses of sport as a supernatural tool by politicians, cultural and educational research have pointed out that sports can also be a field for discrimination and social exclusion. We just need to look at Adam Goodes’ troubles during the 2015 AFL season to still see the prevalence of racism on the sports field; and on school playgrounds, we can still perceive young children being ostracized in sports practices based on gender. These issues will exist in sports as long as they exist in society. It is not possible to think that social and cultural discrimination will somehow disappear because people are together on a sports field.
So, what are the practical implications of cultural and social diversity for sports practitioners such as coaches, players, managers and referees? Is it possible to draw some pedagogical guidelines that assist people on the field to negotiate cultural diversity? How can we be assured that sports coaches, teachers and instructors who work in the frontline of sports education will be equipped with culturally inclusive pedagogical views and tools so sports will really deliver the positive social outcomes that they are meant to?
Currently, very little is known about how young people from culturally diverse backgrounds interact in the context of their sports practice. Notwithstanding the importance of sports training and competition in the lives of Australia’s diverse populations, until now little research has been undertaken in Australia to understand how cultural diversity is experienced in the everyday lives of thousands of young sports persons within their growing and diversifying multicultural communities.
The socio-cultural space of sport provides a key public educational site for young people to actively participate in civic life and engage with different cultures. Education is seen here as a ‘cultural pedagogical practice that takes place in multiple sites’ (Giroux, 2011:141). Hence, cultural pedagogical practices developed in and through sport training settings raises fundamental questions of public life in order to produce more inclusive communities where conflict is not denied but constantly negotiated. These pedagogies may contribute to young people developing understandings for engaging with others and to transform their world. In the current global content these capacities seem critical (Giroux, 2011).
Currently in the School of Education we have been trying to understand how young people and their sports coaches and instructors develop their training strategies during their daily sports practices to deal with cultural diversity on and off the sports fields and courts. This knowledge will be central in the development of new pedagogies that really support the inclusion of people from different backgrounds and with different identities without undermining any culture/gender/sexuality in favour of maintaining hegemonic practices. The awareness of current pedagogical practices in several sports venues across Greater Western Sydney will contribute to the formulation of a pedagogical framework to support conviviality within high culturally and socially diverse communities: the design of the multicultural pedagogies of sport will be fundamental in the development of real inclusiveness in the diverse sports field within Greater Western Sydney.
Giroux, H. A. (2011). On critical pedagogy: Bloomsbury Publishing USA.
Young people, “radicalization” and schooling October 26, 2015Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Engaging Learning Environments, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
Tags: curriculum, democracy and education, education and transformation, indigenous education, national curriculum, teacher researchers
from Carol Reid
The recent events in Parramatta and subsequent ‘threats’ on social media located at two south-western Sydney high schools has brought to the fore the role of schooling in developing and countering threats to social cohesion. This is not the first time that the relationship between schools and terrorism and crime have been raised and it is not just in this part of Sydney, which is home to the most diverse number of first and second generation immigrants in Sydney. For those of us who have worked in and with schools around these matters for a number of decades there is little surprise. Before discussing what might be done it is critical that we comprehend what hasn’t been done, or rather what has been erased.
In the culture wars over school curricula Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire argued that critical approaches in high schools were ideologically driven and took the place of what really ‘ought’ to be in the curriculum. Donnelly was the ‘non-ideological’ choice of government for interrupting what was seen as left-wing tendencies among teachers and reforming ‘tainted’ curricula. This article does not want to waste space recounting the debates as arguments can be found elsewhere, but it is important to outline what this has meant for schools and young people.
The attack on critical thinking skills (including critiques of government policy and our history) by conservative educationalists leads to schools becoming places where ‘touchy subjects’ can’t be raised. They are taboo in schools. This means that they find space in subterranean places. This happens in schools in part because that is where young people gather. Schools are therefore important sites for airing and challenging views, no matter how extreme. It is not surprising that fellow students of the Arthur Phillip High School student involved in the Parramatta shooting had not heard him mention anything untoward, nor is it surprising that he also silenced discussions of religion or appeared disinterested. This concealed two things – his own complicity with unspeakable texts, but more importantly the related silencing of different views of the world by conservative forces surrounding schooling.
If we are not blind we can take this opportunity to reconsider what schooling is and how marginalising some forms of critique only serves to deepen disaffection but more critically drives some young people to commit acts of terror. The new Turnbull government is beginning to soften the tone but often points to factors such as mental health issues, isolated young people or poor family relations as factors that leads to anti-social behaviour at school or by young people of school age. But this begs the question given all the mental health opportunities provided for young people. Assistance for this kind of anomie is off the radar. It cannot be spoken.
In the rest of this short article I would like to outline what might be done and in doing so stand in solidarity with commentators such as Yassar Morsi who said:
It maybe counterintuitive but the answer lays in less authority – a space for young Muslims to politically dissent in their own language, rather than more policing of their dissent. Less parenting, more growth and a space to criticise the west and Australia, without an Islamophobic or generational backlash and without the hysterical fear and suffocation that surrounds everything they do and say.
Indeed, the first response to the Parramatta shooting by the NSW State Government is to monitor more closely ‘prayer’ groups in schools and while not clearly stated, this appears to be only Muslim prayer groups. Dr Anne Aly – who works with Muslim youth and adults who are already radicalized – similarly argues for dialogue. But what can schools do? In the remainder of this article I provide an approach that builds on young people’s capacities to know, and to trust them to articulate this knowing and emerge with new understandings that enrich them, their peers and their teachers.
In late 2006 I was invited by Larissa Treskin, then the NSW Department of Education Liverpool Education Director of Schools, to consider a project working with public high schools in Liverpool on racism post-Cronulla riots. Apparently there were still simmering issues bundled up with everyday competitiveness by school boys about girls and turf; the usual spatial dynamics that have been around for a long time. Six high schools were approached and I invited two of my colleagues (Drs Les Vozzo and Debra Costley) to work with me on the project, which was funded by a competitive ‘Living in Harmony’ grant for 2007, managed by the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship (now the Department of Immigration and Border Protection) with a contribution by my university, now Western Sydney University (WSU).
The project began with selecting the age groups to be involved. Year 9 and 10 students (14 to 16 year olds) formed two groups. The first (47 in total) spent a full day at WSU where we discussed the media representation of young people involved in two riots – Macquarie Fields and Cronulla. We were careful to approach the issue as one where the construction of young people was at the heart of the matter and thus to evoke a sense of ‘needing to understand’ different perspectives from and about their own peers. The objective was to explore and document through youth voices the causes of youth tensions in a context of rapid social change. We provided them with workshops on how to interview, carry out focus groups and ethical research practice. We argued that the main concern was to understand racism – whether it was indeed an issue, thoughts about the Cronulla riot and whether another might occur.
At the end of the day’s workshop we all co-constructed five questions (eight teachers included) that would be covered in their research. The students then left and with their teachers developed plans to interview a group of students and teachers at another school after a pilot focus group at their own school and an interview practice with a teacher or two volunteers. They also interviewed community members such as parents and local business owners. Staff workshops were also held.
A second group of students worked with a theatre group led by Kaz Therese on a creative representation of the issues, and also findings from the first group’s investigations. The youth theatre group decided to use a narrative approach so that the students involved could use theatrical forms to narrate stories of migration, indigeneity and everyday teenage concerns, along with a song they developed around the rejection of racism. The production was called ‘Pieces of Harmony’ because the students felt that while harmony was a fair enough aim it was a little naïve, but that in the act of aiming for harmony a rapprochement could be attained in pieces of harmony. The performance was held at the Liverpool Catholic Club and was attended by community, parents and dignitaries with a DVD produced.
What happened to those doing the research? The students were slightly apprehensive; pleased they had got the questions agreed on before leaving the workshop, but feeling intimidated about talking to parents due to cultural mores about respect and obedience among many second generation students. So, we had a mock focus group to prepare them. Students interviewed 301 other students in total across the six schools. Initially they were concerned about going to other schools but the evaluation of the project revealed that collaboration with other schools was the aspect they enjoyed most.
Furthermore, when they were asked about what they had learned, the greatest number of comments related to how doing the research had shifted their thinking about issues of cultural difference, race and harmony. A number had held negative constructions of students from other schools based purely on ethnicity or reputation rather than knowledge of their perspectives. Other interesting results here include the relatively poor perception of parental support for young people. Students were also surprised by some of the attitudes of teachers. The young people involved in the research requested another full day workshop to discuss their findings and asked why there were no more opportunities for this kind of learning. The young people who were involved in the research found some startling facts about others, themselves and their teachers.
Some key community attitudes about young people and the project that emerged from the focus groups led by students were:
- They felt there was a lot of diversity in their communities;
- Dominance of a certain culture made others feel inferior to that group;
- Kept referring back to just ‘youth’ rather than racism – i.e. not their problem in other words;
- Families had different values and morals;
- Indigenous parents particularly enjoyed the performances where students told their stories.
From the students’ perspective:
- The project produced an overall shift in attitude towards students from other schools and cultures developed through an exploration of local and global issues;
- They concluded that older students had more fixed views influenced by the media;
- Younger students were less decided. Still testing out the possible ideas available;
- Concluded that Year 7 and 8 is a good place to start as they haven’t formed opinions or stereotyped people.
The students found that teachers:
- Held the basic idea that more diversity produces racism and that this is an area that needs some substantial work done with teachers;
- Lifestyles did not include much mixing with diversity;
- Were worried about Bebo – site of racist narratives.
To conclude, the outcomes of the project were that people were now more conscious that racism takes many forms and that it is not just young people but community, parents and teachers who are implicated in multiple ways. While this project was related to racism, it is the model of youth engagement in understanding the issues from their perspective and in their words that is central. Working in multimodal forms also makes different forms of expressing these understandings and perspectives available. The project also developed critical thinking capacities and provided knowledge about ethical research practices.
More could be done to make schools safe places for student discussion of current issues. While it may seem counter-intuitive from a conservative perspective – that ‘touchy subjects’ ought to be repressed because they are dangerous – not dealing with valid concerns that young people have, whether radicalization or other matters, means that it is hard to make schools relevant in the totality of their lives. Educationalists must be explaining and debating. It is fertile space for further research and community engagement.
Watching Struggle Street May 15, 2015Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Education Policy and Politics, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
Tags: Education and community, media representations of disadvantage
from Susanne Gannon
Watching Struggle Street has been an uncomfortable experience. As it was meant to be, and as it should be. It provides stark representations of poverty, drug addiction, physical and mental ill-health, family breakdown and the difficulties faced by particular individuals and families in the heart of our largest city. It’s been easy to become caught up in the vortex of emotions that began swirling around the program before we had seen any more of it than the promo. It has been difficult to decide when and how to write about it, and there has been much intelligent discussion about it during the last two weeks from people who live in Mt Druitt as well as outside commentators.
Even after the double screening of episodes two and three, which SBS promised would resolve widespread concerns about the first episode, there seems to be no consensus across social and mainstream media, except perhaps about the voiceover (which like many others I found both grating and patronizing). People who have criticized the show have been accused of lacking empathy and compassion, while people who are overwhelmed by emotion and horror have been positioned as middleclass voyeurs from the ‘eastern’ edges of the great urban sprawl. What does seem to be consistent is that many residents of Mount Druitt, in particular those individuals and organizations that were portrayed in the series, do feel profoundly misrepresented and reduced for the purposes of ‘drama’.
One of the problems with postcode poverty is the stigmatization of one particular area as the container of all these issues. As many people have noted, drug abuse, poverty and ill-health are widespread in contemporary Australia. And there are, without doubt, geographic pockets of endemic poverty and community vulnerability (or wide swathes if we turn to regional and rural Australia). However Struggle Street (Series 1, postcode 2770) does not tell us that. The problems begin for me from its opening sequence where the camera hovers over the tourist icons of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge (Voiceover: “Sparkling Sydney Harbour, gateway to a sun-bronzed Aussie lifestyle”), then zooms at rapid speed through tunnels and down highways (Sound effects: car engine, screaming rubber of tires on bitumen, brakes), and comes to a screeching stop at the sign “Mt Druitt: 45 Kms west of Sydney”.
The scene then cuts in rapid succession through the exterior of a graffiti covered fibro house, a disheveled interior (Off-screen dialogue young woman: ‘It’s just been trashed’), a tattooed torso, an arrest in the mall, and a mid-shot of man holding up a small bag of drugs (dialogue: ‘This is the shit is going to get us smashed”), a verandah with two men, one of them angry shouting and pointing his finger off screen (dialogue: “If anyone gives any of my kids any fucking drugs I’m going to tear them to fucking pieces, I don’t give a fuck if he’s a bikie, I don’t give a fuck if he’s God”), cut to a worried-looking teenage girl listening to the shouting, cut to man in the street leaning on a red car, holding a stubby of beer, wearing a “Drink Sensibly’ T-shirt. We are reeling already at the horrors of Mount Druitt and that is only the first 35 seconds of three hours of program extracted from the hundreds of thousands of hours of footage gathered over the six months that some residents of Mount Druitt were stalked by cameras. We find out the names and some of the stories of these people as the program unfolds but the relentless pace does not let up. Just to use this opening as an example, there is no way of entering the documentary without being separated from Mount Druitt and the people we see there. They are irrevocably ‘other’ to we viewers, who are from the first second of the filming positioned – by the commentary, the images and the editing – as tourists in the western suburbs.
Mount Druitt of course has long been the go-to place for media stereotyping of the western suburbs, which the film-makers would have known if they had any history in this country. But this seems to be an English import made by KEO Films ‘Australia’. The formula was honed in their UK series Skint: a postcode, poverty, key characters who are multiply disadvantaged and colourful visually and in their language, which is translated with subtitles, even when they are speaking English (see Skint Season 3, Episode 3 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeZmaEidAJk l) Some of the scripting seems remarkably similar, though oddly, in comparison to Struggle Street, the narrator of Skint Series 3 uses ‘we’ occasionally in the script as he talks about the unemployed, homeless and criminal residents of Merthyr Tydfil, the Welsh former coalmining town that is the focus of Series 3. What seems to be avoided in Struggle Street is any reference to social policy and the responsibilities of governments and the wider society to our fellow citizens. There is no consideration or possibility of social policy as a factor that might be mobilized to address endemic poverty. A couple of small-scale community organizations are depicted but these too are portrayed as shambolic and ineffective (and as QANDA revealed, they are already at risk of losing their funding).
In Struggle Street, as in Skint, it’s all up to you and the decisions that you make as an individual and a family about your life. Wrong decisions lead to bad outcomes, and all we see in Struggle Street are wrong decisions, or decisions that seem to be doomed or that come too late. There isn’t any sense of the multiple supports and resources and the careful case management and participatory approaches that might make a difference in addressing youth mental ill-health, methamphetamine and heroin addiction and many other issues that pile up in Struggle Street.
There is some empathy here and there, in the story arc and in individual scenes, and we know that the characters want their lives to turn around but there is little indication of how this might be achieved. Their own attempts to do things differently are most often portrayed as failures. In the final episode, even the weather conspires to ruin the community event that one character has been working on, and the birthday party surprise is ruined when one of the guests comes around during the preparations. We do see lots of love but this is wrapped in a condescending package that mocks rather than respects the people who gave their stories and their time to the KEO camera people and interviewers.
The ethics of representation and informed consent (versus the blanket ‘waivers’) in this program, or in the ‘realist documentary’ form that SBS claimed for Struggle Street, are worthy of much greater attention. The promo material for Struggle Street claims that it is ‘fly on the wall observational documentary’, that it ‘gives a voice to those doing it tough’ and that it is ‘raw, honest and unfiltered’. By now it is clear to all involved that, like all television, no matter what the pitch from KEO films was at the beginning, it is a carefully constructed and artfully edited text with the intention of sensationalizing disadvantage.
Arguably, the most vulnerable in the community have been made more vulnerable through their engagement with Struggle Street. Even if it isn’t conventional, as SBS’s content manager claimed, it’s worth considering how the program might have been different if there had been a more participatory approach. Why not have community meetings or consultations through the process of film making and editing? Why not provide opportunities for deepening the conversations around poverty and ill-health and how these are experienced by people, why not give them a voice in richer ways than we have seen? Wouldn’t it have been interesting if there had been some media training made available to young people from this area of high unemployment, for example internships might have been embedded into the large Screen Australia grant that funded the project (as scholarships are in large ARC research grants)?
Where is the additional programming from SBS that nuances the arguments – like the post-program panel of participants and advocates from Go back to where you came from? What about talking to the school principals, vocational and alternative education providers about the opportunities that are being made available and the further investment in human capital and potential that is still required? Where are the politicians, beyond the mayor who is such an obvious champion of the beleaguered people in his electorate?
And it is beholden on SBS I think, when they get over their excitement about their high ratings, to go back and speak to the people of Mount Druitt again about the inadvertent impacts of the program on the people who were its subjects and to ask what they can do for the community that, in some ways, it has savaged. It might look at its own ethical guidelines, the agreements it makes as it outsources its programming, and most importantly, the promises it makes to its participants in its programming.
In this instance, the ‘Six million stories and counting’ that used to be SBS’s slogan seems to be reduced to one overarching story, the same old story that has been told again and again and again of this part of the city. For some of the other stories of Mount Druitt and of living on Struggle Street, I recommend starting at the following links:
ABC QANDA May 11 http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s4212658.htm
Mt Druitt – St Mary’s Standard May 13 http://newslocal.newspaperdir
Add your own links in the comment boxes below.
Associate Professor Susanne Gannon is Equity Program leader in the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia, which will host a conference in late October 2015 on ‘Resisting Educational Inequality: Reframing policy and practice in schools serving vulnerable communities’. Her 2009 paper ‘Rewriting the road to nowhere’ on media representations of Mount Druitt can be accessed here:
She is also a Board member of Westwords: The Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Development Project which aims to celebrate the diverse stories of young people and communities in western Sydney http://westwords.com.au
UWS congratulates Dorothy Hoddinott, the winner of the 2014 Australian Human Rights Medal December 11, 2014Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
Tags: academic service learning, Education and community, education and transformation, teacher education
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from Margaret Vickers
On December 10, Dr Dorothy Hoddinott received the 2014 Australian Human Rights Medal in recognition of her extraordinary support for refugee and immigrant communities over many years.
She is the principal of Holroyd High School, a school where almost 60% of the students are of refugee-background. She describes the young people enrolled in her school as children who have suffered unimaginable traumas, who have fled for their lives, often coming to Australia by boat. Almost all have had no schooling or interrupted schooling. Defying the odds, the majority of them complete an HSC at Holroyd. Approximately 40% enter a university, with a substantial proportion being admitted to the University of Western Sydney (UWS). The UWS School of Education (SoE) proudly offers a number of programs to support the educational success of refugee-background students. Dr Hoddinott has been a consistent mentor and supporter of all our efforts in this direction.
In 2006, the UWS Vice Chancellor asked the SoE to explore problems that were arising as more children from conflict-affected countries such as Sudan, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Sri Lanka arrived in Australia. These children had mostly never attended school, never sat in a desk, and were completely unaware of the established cultural norms and practices of Australian schools. Teachers at the front line – especially those in the Intensive English Centres (IEC) – were alarmed by what they were confronting. Our first project involved asking IEC teachers to participate in study circles where they shared their experiences over several weeks. Prominent among our first participants were IEC teachers from Holroyd high school. In conversation with Dorothy and these teachers, we gained fundamental insights into the challenges involved for schools. This work gave us the inspiration to promote new projects, supporting refugee-background students in local schools and at UWS (see Ferfolja, Vickers, McCarthy, Naidoo & Brace, 2011).
From these early beginnings two substantial programs have emerged. The first is the Refugee Action Support (RAS) program, a joint initiative of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation and the NSW DEC. Through RAS, refugee-background students in secondary schools receive in-school assistance and after-school tutoring aimed at developing their literacy skills and improving their engagement in schooling. RAS was pilot-tested by the SoE in four Western Sydney high schools in 2007. It is now supported by four Universities and operates in Western Sydney, the Riverina and the ACT, involving over 20 secondary schools.
The second program is Equity Buddies (EB) – a for-credit cross-level student mentoring program supported by an Office of Learning and Teaching grant. EB provides support for refugee-background students, helping them to form social networks and to understand the unwritten rules that underlie University success. It has now been recognised as a program that delivers more broadly defined benefits for first-year students and their mentors, including a stronger sense of ‘community’ on campus, improved writing and referencing skills, better time management, and greater cross-cultural understanding (McCarthy, Vickers & Zammit, 2014). EB is now a continuing part of the UWS curriculum that will soon be extended to other schools and campuses across UWS.
In April 2014, UWS awarded Dorothy Hoddinott the degree of Doctor of Letters in recognition of her support for social justice and her work with refugee-background students. The School of Education would like to thank Dorothy for her inexhaustible inspiration. We extend our warm congratulations to her as she now receives the 2014 Human Rights Medal.
Ferfolja, T. Vickers, M. H., McCarthy, F. E., Naidoo, L. & Brace, E. (2011). Crossing Borders: African refugees, teachers and schools. Canberra, ACT: Australian Curriculum Studies Association.
McCarthy, F. E., Vickers, M. H., & Zammit, K. (2014). Facilitators as pedagogical leaders: the acquisition of requisite forms of capital in University settings. In S. Gannon & W. Sawyer, Contemporary Issues of Equity in Education. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press.
Professor Margaret Vickers has a distinguished career in education in international policy development, and as a senior academic leader and researcher. She currently holds the position of Adjunct Professor in the School of Education and the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney.