In 2009 a bunch of university students from Melbourne formed Teachabout, a volunteer-run not-for-profit organisation with a desire to improve educational outcomes for students in remote Aboriginal communities. They set up Teachabout to run education- and culture-focused school holiday programs.
I spoke with volunteer Jesse Drummond about what they do, and how you can get involved.
How did the idea for Teachabout come about?
Some students from the University of Melbourne’s Trinity College went on a Northern Territory trip, which is organised for Trinity students every year. They spent a week in Darwin, where they interviewed journalists, lawyers and politicians, and spent another week in the remote Aboriginal community of Minyerri.
In Minyerri they were confronted by the living conditions and found it frustrating that the trip was only a week and that they weren’t really engaging with the community.
Before they left, they spoke to the Principal of the Minyerri School, and decided to start up an education-based holiday program. The principal suggested they aim the program at grade 5 and 6 kids, because that’s when they start to tune out a bit and lose interest in school.
While the program is about using education to have fun in the holidays, it’s also to show the kids that going to high school can be really important to help achieve their goals. The school in Minyerri only goes to year nine or ten, because they don’t have the student numbers to go further up.
How was Teachabout’s pilot program organised last year?
For the first week we got to know the kids and we talked to the community about what the program in Minyerri would look like. The program itself ran over the following weeks. We were in communication with the school and used their facilities. During the holidays, a lot of teachers go back to see their families so we had the school to ourselves.
What kind of activities did you guys do?
We have a broad range of activities that fall under the 4Es: Empowering, Expanding, Engaging and Enabling. We had art sessions, Sudoku, reading sessions almost every day, music, sing-alongs, and computer-based learning including using Google maps. We also had a program called Inspiring People, where we present the story of someone who we found inspiring and who the kids may relate to. They were often Aboriginal people like Jessica Mauboy, but also others like Albert Einstein and Barack Obama.
What’s the main difference between the program that Teachabout runs and other organisations?
It has an education-focused nature. A lot of other programs go to remote communities and run sport sessions and go on trips, but we also wanted to address the transition to high school.
What do you guys mean by having a community-based program?
We want a program that is strongly community-driven. We want to run the program with the community. Now that we’ve done the pilot program and seen how that looks, the activity leaders and the Minyerri community both have a better idea of how the program works, and how it might work better.
We asked people in the community if they wanted to be involved this year. A number of local people were keen to take sessions and they have great ideas like camping, basket weaving, and taking the kids out to carve and wax a Didgeridoo.
Why the emphasis on culture in this holiday program?
It is very important for kids to feel proud in their culture. It is key to having happy, healthy young people.
The culture-focused aspect of the program comes mostly through it being community-based. Alawa - the Aboriginal nation on which Minyerri is located - has its own wonderful culture, and if the program can be community-driven, culture will come through organically.
Although in some ways it’s almost impossible to avoid in its entirety, we don’t want to continue to impose our own culture at the expense of proud and vibrant Aboriginal cultures.
How will this program enable the students to succeed in high school?
We try to give the kids skills that may not fit into a school curriculum, but will hopefully help them in making the transition to high school if that’s what they want to do. It’s a big move for them, and daunting to move away from their family and community.
Aboriginal kids also often have a strong sense of belonging and relationship with their land. That can make the big move even more overwhelming. In most cases to go to high school, kids from Minyerri have to move to Katherine, which is 270 km away, or Darwin or Alice Springs, which are further away again.
What’s next in store for Teachabout?
In June-July 2012 we’ll be returning to Minyerri. While we are there, we are hoping to have a chat with surrounding communities to see if they’re interested in getting a similar thing up and running. We’re also looking at the logistics of doing a wet season program over the Christmas holidays in Minyerri later this year.
What are the requirements for Teachabout volunteers?
Activity leaders need to be easy to get along with, because it’s a teamwork-based project. You are in a different environment and close quarters dealing with relatively sensitive issues most days.
You need to have an interest in Aboriginal affairs and culture, and like working with kids (we work with grade 5 and 6 kids, but we’re considering running two streams, with one stream working with grade 5, and the other with grade 6 and 7). Ideally they will be alright with bumpy four-wheel-drive trips, have a lot of energy and be able to commit themselves to it.
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Articles Written by Jing Wei
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