ACU (Australian Catholic University)


Issue 4, Autumn 2012

Demystifying higher education

Students on Elcho Island don’t often have the opportunity to travel. Shirley Godlewski spoke to some extraordinary teachers who made the dream of real-life experience a reality.

The main township on Elcho Island, Galiwin’ku, is also the largest Indigenous community in northeast Arnhem Land. With a population of about 2,290, more than 94 per cent of the community are Indigenous and half are under 20-years-old.

Located within the Galiwink’ku community, Shepherdson College provides bilingual education programs for pre-school to senior secondary grades. The college also provides education services to several remote Homeland Learning Centres, as well as to the local community mobile school.  As an initiative to highlight potential career and education pathways, Shepherdson middle-school teachers Emma Hegerty and Rebecca Hunter decided to take their charges to the mainland.

In preparation for the trip, Emma and Rebecca worked with students in researching career fields and related jobs, as Indigenous role models in various occupations and professions. The students also studied the social behaviour, everyday communication style and lifestyle experience of people living in a major Australian city.

“A positive aspect of the trip for our students is we knew it would provide real life experience, which is part of our teaching method – learning by doing,” said Rebecca.

To be eligible for the trip, students were required to have a minimum attendance rate of 80 per cent, in an effort to combat the major challenge of absenteeism faced at the school. And it worked.

“As a result of planning the trip with the students, we witnessed several of them improve their attendance 100 per cent, which was absolutely fantastic,” said Emma.

Students were also required to take part in fundraising efforts - which ranged from writing letters to companies and service providers for donations, to selling glow sticks at school dances. With the help of the teachers and their supportive local community, the students raised an impressive $30,000 to fund their trip.

For the majority of students, the trip to Sydney was the first time they had travelled far from home, and their first experience in an aeroplane.

At ACU’s North Sydney Campus, the students listened raptly as Indigenous staff from ACU - Dr Liesa Clague and Leanne King - gave inspirational presentations about their personal and academic experiences.

The students also had the opportunity to visit the new Physiotherapy Centre and experience a first year lesson in physiotherapy with Professor Meg Stewart, who worked with the students to piece together a human skeleton.

“It was a delight to have the students from Elcho Island visit ACU and learn about university life,” said Professor Anne Cummins, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students, Learning and Teaching).

“We hope some of them will be back as students in the future”.

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