11.1 Community-based approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education

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Universities maximise the relevance of their professional programs by responding to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. In partnership with communities, some universities have identified areas of importance to those communities and built cohorts of students and researchers with relevant expertise. As members of the community identify with the outcomes from such approaches, these universities reinforce their own role in building essential capabilities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, for example, in the health and education areas.

11.1.1 Critical success factors

Critical success factors include:

  • partnerships are built between the academy, the community and funding bodies, and are based on goodwill, patience and persistence
  • business is conducted through authentic and respectful partnerships with communities
  • design of content and delivery take into account the needs and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the requirements of professional body accreditation.

11.1.2 Key challenges

Key challenges include:

  • securing funding for programs that cross jurisdictional and disciplinary boundaries (education, workforce capacity building and service enhancement)
  • meeting the costs associated with a responsive community-based approach, including provision of professional support after graduation
  • dealing with the difficulty for students taking time out from work commitments to undertake professional study
  • maintaining contact with students in remote locations, including helping them to overcome the challenges of isolation or lack of support from family or community
  • fully grounding academic staff in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural protocols.

11.1.3 Examples

Deakin University – Institute of Koorie Education

Deakin University’s Institute of Koorie Education has evolved from two programs that commenced in 1986—the Koorie Teacher Education Program and a final-year program for Batchelor College graduates—to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers in schools. Today it delivers a suite of faculty degree courses through a mixed mode community-based delivery model. Students undertake a Deakin University degree, and their studies are jointly managed with the faculties and associated committees. This approach cascades through policy, cultural practices and programs and embraces both Western and Indigenous knowledge systems.

Teaching, learning and research that embed Koorie cultural knowledge systems and perspectives are central to the institute’s programs. Curriculum and assessment tasks for students studying through the community-based delivery model are identical to those studying through other modes of delivery within the university.

The institute promotes Indigenous knowledge systems with the direction of a Council of Elders and Respected Persons, and it is growing its higher degree by research enrolments through the leadership of the Chairs for Indigenous Knowledge Systems and use of Indigenous methodologies. The university employs three Aboriginal professors.

The Institute of Koorie Education is jointly managed through a higher education agreement between the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc. and Deakin University, which provides a platform for self-determination by communities. Administrative structures enable the university and the Victorian Koorie community to work jointly on teaching, curriculum development, and financial, organisational and personnel aspects.

The institute attracts second and third generations of specific families and communities and has graduated over 600 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

La Trobe University – Aboriginal Family Therapy Training Program

The Aboriginal Family Therapy Training Program for Indigenous health, child and family workers represents a partnership between government, the Bouverie Centre at La Trobe University and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It integrates education, workforce capacity building and service enhancement. It is delivered at the postgraduate certificate level on-site at six Aboriginal Community Co-operatives throughout Victoria. A total of 53 people graduated from the program between 2008 and 2012.

The aim of the program is to build ‘working with families’ capacity across mental health and welfare services, allowing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to choose high-quality family therapy services in either Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services or mainstream services. The program creates a professional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family therapy workforce and provides ongoing support to graduates in implementing their family therapy skills. It contributes to research on capacity building for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, child and family workers. The Indigenous Program Team also provides primary, secondary and tertiary support to the employers of graduates and the community.

Students achieve a retention rate on a par with that of all students in similar courses (87%). Of graduates, 49% are now undertaking increased clinical duties with families, 16% have taken up senior positions in mainstream service providers as a result of receiving academic credentials, and 7% have enrolled in a mainstream master’s degree program.

The program is supported through partnerships between La Trobe University and philanthropic funding bodies and by short-term contributions (2008–11) from the Australian Government Office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, and the Victorian Department of Human Services, Department of Health and Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. The philanthropic partners are currently providing transitional support as the centre seeks to secure long-term funding.

Integrating workforce development and service enhancement with mainstream education has allowed the program to be delivered in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, combine theory and practice and target the day-to-day tasks of working with families. Supervision has been provided after training, enabling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates to work together across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous health services. The employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff in the Bouverie Centre is critical to the program’s and students’ success.