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Newslines radio: Getting results for Indigenous uni students


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Nathan Ramsay

Steve Larkin, Charles Darwin University, NT

25 Jun 2013

Charles Darwin University is taking a new teaching approach to help their Indigenous students in reaching their full potential.

In this Newslines Radio program, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Indigenous Leadership, Steve Larkin, talks about the importance of understanding how Indigenous people learn and adapting teaching styles to achieve the best results.

He also discusses the new Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education, which is a joint venture between the University and the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Education.

Funded by the Australian Government, the centre is a space specifically designed to meet the needs of Indigenous learning.

“Integrating inside/outside spaces, being able to configure rooms how we want, small or large according to our learning and teaching needs, having the cutting edge AV technology teaching resources, and through our programs… we can… get a lot more people enrolling and finishing degrees,” Steve said.

PRESENTER: Hi, I’m Nathan Ramsay and you’re listening to Newslines Radio, an Australian Government program on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.

We all know how important a good education can be to getting a good job. And for many jobs, employers are looking for people with tertiary qualifications, such as TAFE Certificates or a university degree.

The Australian Government initiated a review into Indigenous higher education in 2011 and as a result of the findings, many institutions are taking action to ensure their Indigenous students reach their full potential.

Newslines’ Claire Mitchell reports.

MITCHELL: Changes are underway at Charles Darwin University to Close the Gap in education for its Indigenous students. Pro Vice-Chancellor for Indigenous Leadership, Steve Larkin, says the university is clear that achieving Indigenous higher education outcomes is everyone’s responsibility.

LARKIN: We are now getting some policy structures in place that give a direction for the university to pursue in terms of Closing the Gap in higher education for Indigenous people. One of those is an Indigenous tertiary education plan, which embeds a whole-of-university approach to it.

Another is an Indigenous learning and teaching plan, which recognises that people learn in different ways so that we can then look at our curricular and how we teach and tailor that to fit indigenous learning styles.

We’re saying as well, the curricular will start to reflect Indigenous realities, so people can engage with it. It doesn’t lower the bar, it doesn’t mean the standard’s dropped, people still have to do the work, and we’re going to teach in a way that people learn best with.

MITCHELL: Steve says it’s important to consider the different ways people learn if you want to get the best outcome.

LARKIN: The presumption that everyone learns the same way, and of course we don’t. There’s differences across gender, there’s differences across a whole range of things and what we’re saying here is we’re recognising that Indigenous ways of learning, Indigenous ways of teaching and conveying knowledge and acquiring it can differ at times from non-Indigenous ways. Even within non-Indigenous you’ve got various cultures that learn a different way.

What we’re saying is well, at this university, you won’t have to drop out or not continue with the course or feel that you’re not getting anywhere or finding it hard to engage with the course because the way you learn best is not being applied, what we’re saying is look, we’re going to be versatile in the way we deliver and we’ll try and reflect that in the way we teach, particularly for different groups that learn differently.

MITCHELL: Charles Darwin University is starting to see improvements in the rates of students completing degrees, something Steve attributes to the new focus on Indigenous teaching and learning styles.

LARKIN: We’re trying to improve our progression rates through the years of the degree, and the data’s starting to show us that we are making an impact on that. I think when I first got here you could expect three to four students out of 10 to make it through. From my last look it’s up to now about six.

So 60 per cent progression rate. Still not acceptable, still not the optimum level that we want, but it’s an improvement and it means that some things we’re doing are starting to take effect.

I think the more you improve progression rates, the more people complete their degrees, and therefore the next step of course is they’re into the workforce according to their professional qualifications.

MITCHELL: The University has also partnered with the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Education to establish the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education, a new dedicated space for Indigenous higher education in the Northern Territory.

Built with funding through the Australian Government’s Education Investment Fund, the centre was officially opened by the Prime Minister earlier this year.

LARKIN: We felt there was much more to gain by pooling our respective expertise, our experiences our resources, to make a big impact on Closing the Gap.

The way we’ve designed it, in terms of Indigenous learning imperatives, integrating inside/outside spaces, being able to configure rooms how we want it, small or large according to our learning and teaching needs, having the cutting edge AV technology as teaching resources, and through our programs, privileging Indigenous ways of knowing and knowledges in the course content, we think that going forward we can, as I talked about, those progression rates, get a lot more people enrolling and finishing degrees.

It’s open for non-Indigenous people too. We want them to engage with the material as well. We think that having a dedicated facility where there hasn’t been any will attract students to make people think about studying, build aspirations for high school kids and come to a place that’s not culturally intimidating, it’s culturally friendly, it’s welcoming and people feel that they’re equivalent to everyone else who’s here, that they have a right to be here.

PRESENTER: That was Steve Larkin from Charles Darwin University talking about the importance of recognising Indigenous ways of learning to ensure more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people successfully complete their degrees, and we Close the Gap in education outcomes.

The Australian Government is committed to improving the participation of Indigenous Australians in higher education.

To find out more, check out the links on our website, You can also follow Closing the Gap on Twitter, and like on Facebook.

I’m Nathan Ramsay, thanks for listening to Newslines Radio.

Stay deadly!

Find out more

The new Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education (ACIKE) in Darwin has facilities for interactive distance learning to allow more Indigenous Australians to participate in higher education.

Improving higher education outcomes for Indigenous people helps students become more job ready, making it an important step in Closing the Gap in Indigenous employment outcomes.

ACIKE is a joint venture between the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education and Charles Darwin University, supported with funding from the Australian Government through the Education Investment Fund.

To find out more about the Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, visit the Department of Innovation website.

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