The National Centre for Vocational Education and Research has published its student equity in VET data tables. It revealed an eleven percentage point gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous completion rates of VET qualifications.
In their report, Indigenous Participation in VET: Understanding the Research, NCVER revealed that the VET sector needed to improve and adapt to better engage Indigenous students with VET. More successful engagement, they said, is built on community ownership, genuine partnerships with communities, respect for cultural knowledge and local capabilities, integration of cultural knowledge into training, and alignment of education and training with aspirations and, in the case of remote areas, local employment opportunities.
So what if educational institutions designed and delivered VET programmes with cultural awareness accompanied with a likelihood of employment in the communities students plan on returning to?
Introducing Djarragun College's Academies of Excellence - a recent and profound innovation providing VET learning and qualifications to its predominantly Indigenous student body.
DURING THIS EPISODE OF THE TIME TO LISTEN PODCAST…
In part two of this episode of Time to Listen we speak with Mandy Ross, Djarragun's Dean of Academies of Excellence and Noel Mason, Djarragun's Dean of Academy of Creative and Performing Arts.
"To improve the attraction and retention of our Indigenous students in VET programmes it really is all about the cultural connections. It starts at the beginning when the students are being informed about the VET opportunities or the courses that are available to them. We need to see Indigenous people in the marketing material. We need to see them and we need to hear their voices. When students are watching a clip with Indigenous people, they will sometimes know them and immediately the engagement goes off the scale. It's a relative or, you know, someone even closer to them that they know from their own community. And it's very exciting to watch the engagement. They also need the face to face contact from Indigenous people who are working in those areas. So here at Djarragun, we try to take the students out at least once a term to industry and connect with Indigenous people working in those areas. We have made connections with a couple of employers in the Cairns community and they do provide time for their Indigenous staff to come in and speak to our students and we really appreciate that. They're the sort of experiences that our kids need to keep involved and be reminded that the end goal is is really worth it," says Mandy, Djarragun's Dean of Academies of Excellence.
Thank you for taking the time to listen.
Find the NCVER data here: Student equity in VET: participation, achievement and outcomes (ncver.edu.au)
Find their report Indigenous Participation in VET: Understanding the Research here: Indigenous participation in VET: understanding the research (ncver.edu.au)
Find out more about Djarragun College here: Djarragun College - Cape York Partnership
Isaac: [00:00:54] Welcome to Time to Listen, a podcast that gives a space and a platform to the voices of First Nations people and those working in Indigenous affairs. You are with your host, Isaac McCarthy, and this week we continue with the second about two part series focussing on Indigenous student engagement with vocational education and training. The research and data relevant to this issue shows a gap in VET completion rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, likely attributable to a lack of cultural consideration in VET delivery. For this episode, I returned to Djarragun College to speak to the Dean of their Academies of Excellence, Mandy Ross, and also to the Dean of Creative and Performing Arts within the Academy, Noel Mason. The Academies of Excellence is a recent and profound innovation by Djarragun College to provide VET learning and qualifications to its predominantly Indigenous student body. Mandy speaks about what the Academies of Excellence model is, how it works, and how it has been designed to account for the unique cultural needs of the students. I then speak to Noel, who give specific examples of how the Academies of Excellence model works in the art programmes that he manages. He talks about the inclusion of the students culture in their learning and the methods employed to make the subject matter culturally led and culturally relevant. I thank Mandy and Noel for their time and the audience for taking the time to listen. Mandy, thank you very much for joining me on the podcast. [00:02:25][91.5]
Mandy: [00:02:26] Hi, Isaac. Great to be here. [00:02:27][1.3]
Isaac: [00:02:28] So Mandy could you please give an introduction to yourself, your professional background and your current role here at Djarragun College? [00:02:35][6.6]
Mandy: [00:02:35] I think I'm a registered teacher here in Queensland, so I have ten plus years experience in education. I started my career in H.P.E. and in primary schools actually, and moved into secondary schooling around the same time the change to the year, seven years, six into year seven changed. So that was a I really enjoyed that moving to secondary and I've stayed in secondary and work in the secondary area here at Djarragun. So before getting into teaching, I had a lot of experience in the world of h.R and also career development and was able to bring those skills into the role here that I first secured at Djarragun, which was in the careers guidance area and working with the students in the vocational education programme in senior school, which was really small at that time. So I've joined I joined Djarragun in 2015 and really seeing things evolve over that time. So other studies that I've done include at the moment I'm studying a master's of education in careers guidance and counselling. So my role here, Dean of Academies of Excellence, I'm working in the senior school. So for me, it's the the bigger kids in the school are definitely you know, they're the students I love to work with. [00:03:59][83.3]
Isaac: [00:03:59] I would really like to now introduce the concept of the academies of excellence. As we mentioned, you're the dean of can we abbreviate that to AOE? [00:04:07][7.3]
Mandy: [00:04:07] We can, yeah, that's fine. Yeah. [00:04:09][1.4]
Isaac: [00:04:09] And so is is this a unique programme to Djarragun College? How do students participate in the programme? [00:04:15][6.0]
Mandy: [00:04:16] Well, the Academy is of excellence at Djarragun commenced this year in 2021. Students are given the option to major in a course of study. So they at the moment we have two streams under the academy, we have the sports and we have the arts. And those areas were selected as areas of interest that a lot of the students that attend Djarragun have natural abilities and strengths in those areas. So three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, students engage with their tutor and complete a cert three in sport coaching either with an NRL or an AFL focus, depending on what their passion is in the sports. And we have a tutor who has considerable experience in both of those areas to lead the students in the cert three sport coaching and also the skills that they they need to excel in the game and go all the way through to playing at a representative level if they choose to. On the art side we have the certificate in Performing Arts and also a certificate in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Arts and our tutors in that space, are very experienced in working in Indigenous culture, in the performing arts and also very our arts academy teaches have a range of experiences across north Queensland and have worked in communities and always involve Indigenous elders in the cultural arts production. And we really wanted to be able to give those students the opportunity to build on the natural attributes, their areas of interest and see then how that could take them into the workforce. [00:05:58][101.5]
Isaac: [00:05:59] How does a student participating in the Academies of Excellence have a different experience to a student completing just the vet course as well, I shouldn't say just about courses, but you know what I'm saying. The vet courses without the academy spin on them. [00:06:13][14.8]
Mandy: [00:06:14] Yeah. Sure. The need the Academies of excellence came into being due to looking at our data from student attendance and engagement. We grew the size of the programme here at Djarragun considerably over the last 4 to 5 years from 2006, finding that the students really needed the practical component to the course, and then they would engage with the theory and the opportunity to put the theory into practise, demonstrate a skill, and be observed by an industry person who is, you know, can be seen to be like them, someone who likes to work outside or inside with practical application, talk it through, embed the English and maths components into that theory, not standalone learning, and then the opportunity to get out into the workplace and meet other tradies or industry people in that area through our excursions, through our placement days. Industry Connections. We found it really affected our attendance and engagement from the kids. I had students, you know, wanting from the middle school wanting to skip and jump off into year ten, 11 and 12 so they could be part of it. So we knew that we were on a winning formula. So from 2015, when I started here at the school, we had just three vet courses available to our students. Now it's well over 20. So then from there we looked at it and said, okay, sometimes the students attend really well on certain days of the week. Why is that? And we looked at their timetables and spoke to the students and found that they were really enjoying maybe one or two of their vet courses. But the other days, not so much. So that meant that the students who were only partially attending for the week, which affects their attendance, which then also means their engagement with the school community decreases. And we we want our students to commit and show that they are able to, you know, attend school five days a week, be part of the Djarragun community and all that's offered, and also is preparing them for life outside of post-secondary schooling. And that is, you know, the workforce or further study where it's a five day programme most of the time. So our students then we thought about it and talked to our students and it was a student voice that we gained to decide that the sports and the arts were the first ones to be under the academies of excellence. I know our College principal has other vocations in mind, possibly to be under the three day a week model as well. So it means the students are coming to school, they're attending that because that's their passion. It's what they love to do. They have their relationship with the tutor. They with their friends. It involves practical and involves theory. They get to go on excursions and demonstrate their skills, and it all leads back into competencies under their certificate. So on the other days of the week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, they can choose to do an area that's of another interest to them, another vocation. And some students do sports three days a week. They might do art two days a week or vice versa. Many of our students are so strong in both areas, it's hard for them to decide which one they will do sports or the arts as their major, but we can then provide the opportunity them for them to do the other as their minor on the two days a week. Other students may choose to do sports three days a week and do construction, horticulture or hairdressing or any of the other range of vet programmes that we offer, giving them a rounded experience too, depending on what their thoughts are when they finish school, you know where they're going back to community or staying here in Cairns or looking to move further south. It's really giving them a lot of options. [00:10:28][253.9]
Isaac: [00:10:29] So the National Centre for Vocational Education Research identified that the best way to retain and engage Indigenous students with VET was to include the, you know, a sense of cultural awareness into the delivery of the programme and make it relevant to the likelihood of employment back in to the in the communities that they will return to. So how is the design of the academies of excellence I suppose accounted for for that to best engage the Indigenous students. [00:11:00][31.4]
Mandy: [00:11:01] MM Really, all our vet programmes here at Djarragun, that's our aims is to have that full circle feeling of connection for the student. So the learning, you know, is authentic. Why am I studying this? Well we give the students that practical application. We give them the experiences to see how that can be applied in the workforce. We give them the connections to pursue that further for when they do finish year 12. So through the academies, we talk to the students about the pathway if they do want to continue on. So example I can share with you from the Sports Academies of Excellence this year is we have a student who is a member of the Suns Academy. So Joshrayahn Tilmouth. He is in year 12 with us. He's studying his CERT three in sport coaching, he's in the AFL Academy and he is becoming quite well known around Cairns and he's playing first grade for Cairns City Lions and he's recently just been down to the south east corner and played his first game under lights at Metricon Stadium at the Gold Coast. So Josh is on a great pathway. He's being mentored here by our head coach of AFL, Aaron Davey. And you know, we're all 100% behind Josh. And his his dreams to actually make it to the AFL. Now Josh, on the other two days of the week, Tuesday, Thursday is a very talented artist. So he's completing a certificate two in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Arts and he will exhibit his work at CIAF later in the year. And he's actually becoming quite a respected artist around the Cairns area and certainly at home in his home community at Laramba in Northern Territory. [00:12:55][113.5]
Isaac: [00:12:55] So Mandy, could you please provide some further commentary on, based upon your observations about how the Academies of Excellence Programme has been received by the Indigenous students themselves? [00:13:05][9.9]
Mandy: [00:13:06] MM It's been received really well. We're really excited about the level of engagement we've seen from students. So students that have moved over to the programme this year, who I spoke about earlier, perhaps had poor attendance. They were attending maybe 2 to 3 days a week. We're now seeing those students attendance lift to five days a week because they are enjoying what they do. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, they're involved in the academies. They understand if they want to be involved in our extra curricular activities, which is, you know, excursions, representative football or representing, representing at art fairs, etcetera, and performing arts experiences. Then they need to have their attendance at that high level and they don't want to miss out. So they're attending school. They're completing the units within their certificates. They they're talking to us about how they enjoy coming to school and how they're enjoying the content that they are learning to the point where it doesn't really feel like it's work. It's something that they love doing. It's it's their interest. It's their passion. And at the end of it, they will receive a certificate and credit points towards their QCE. [00:14:18][72.0]
Isaac: [00:14:19] One point that I heard you mention there, which was which which really resounded with me was the not wanting to miss out and not wanting to feel left behind. Now that's a feeling someone gets when they can really see the end value of what they're doing and when they can compare themselves to how their peers are achieving as well and wanting to keep up with that cohort. Would you mind zooming in a little bit more on that particularly? [00:14:43][24.1]
Mandy: [00:14:44] Yeah, and that's a really good point that you've made there, is that it's raising the aspirations and raising the level of engagement to the point where the students that that is the norm. The norm is to attend school five days a week, attend your lessons and complete your work. And that's what we are achieving through the academies of excellence. So the students feeling pride, you know, that increase increasing self-esteem. We celebrate all their wins and all our units of confidence, see our achievements when we're out on the sporting field, whether we win or lose. But the sportsmanship and we talk about that skill development and it's the coaching within the experience as well. So while they're with their coach for the day, we're actually then handing that to the students and saying, okay, what advice would you give the team now? How would you lead us further in this state that we're in now? If we're, you know, we need to catch up or we need to turn the game around. And on our side, the students then are learning from the tutors around how to put a performance together, how to execute that, how to deliver, how to hold an art exhibition and share your work. So, yes, reflecting on my my professional background, too, is experience that I had when I did take 12 months away from teaching. And I worked for 12 months with child safety and youth justice. And in that time, I was working with the the teenagers that with 13 to 18 years and I found that there weren't schools because I was working in the Logan area, there wasn't a Djarragun College down there and that's what I was seeking. So there were schools who were offering vet programmes, definitely. But their choices may have been limited to, you know, somewhere between three and five programmes. There was nothing like the suite of programmes that Djarragun offer. And for a student who is disengaged from school, it's a slippery slope into the world of non-engagement between on Monday to Friday and how you fill your time during those days. The lack of contact with positive role models if you're not involved in a school community can be very detrimental. And I found it really challenging to find a good fit for some of the young people that I was working with because. There wasn't a school there that could offer to them what they were looking for. And I feel with Djarragun, we offer such a broad range of VET programmes and for our students at the moment who are very strong in the sports or arts, we give them that opportunity to major and attend multiple days of the week. It then means the other days of the week they attend. Also, as I said, they don't want to miss out. And we hope to add to that Academy model by adding more of our vocational areas under the Academy model. So student engagement is rich, experiences are rich and outcomes are really high. [00:18:01][197.5]
Isaac: [00:18:02] In rolling out the Academies of Excellence programme here at Djarragun College. Mandy Do you have an opinion or point of view upon on how the vet sector around Australia can adapt to better meet the needs of Indigenous students, to better engage them in learning, retain them and so that they can ultimately gain the certifications. [00:18:24][21.9]
Mandy: [00:18:25] To improve the attraction and retention of our Indigenous students to vet programmes. It really is all about the cultural connections. So it comes from the beginning when the students are being informed about the vet opportunities or the courses that are available to them. We need to see Indigenous people in the marketing material. We need to see. We need. And we need to hear their voices. So there are a number of websites that exist for students to view clips of of people performing in the roles. I find that through my careers lessons that I've had with the students in the careers development sessions that are sometimes 1 to 1 or small groups. But we really need to see more of these clips created with Indigenous people in community. And there are some there, but there's not enough. And that's what I would like to see more of. That's engaging so many of our students when they are watching a clip with Indigenous people, they will know them and immediately the engagement goes off the scale. It's it's a relative or, you know, someone even closer to them that they know from their own community that they see there. And it's very exciting to watch the engagement. So this is the first thing is, is the marketing and the information to the students. Also they need the face to face contact from Indigenous people who are working in those areas. So here at Djarragun, we try to take the students out at least once a term to industry and connect with Indigenous people working in those areas. But also great to have staff that are able to come out to the College from industry and speak with our students. So we have made Connections with a couple of employers in the Cairns community and they do provide, they provide time for their Indigenous staff to come in and speak to our students and we really appreciate that and it makes me smile as I remember a story from about three years ago when my car didn't start after work one day and I called the RACQ and the man who came to help me start my car was an Indigenous man and while I was well, he was fixing my car to start. I asked him about his story and how he got into his trade and where he studied and and the challenges that he experienced. And we talked that through. And at the end I said, Would you be able to come out and speak to a class? Here we have cert two automotive happening at the school. How would you feel about sharing your story and and he was able to do that and to have him come out dressed in his were in the vehicle and talk to the students. It was it was just so powerful. So they're the sort of experiences that our kids need to keep, to keep involved and keep seeing that that end goal is is really worth it. [00:21:43][197.9]
Isaac: [00:21:44] That was Mandy Ross, dean of the Academies of Excellence at Djarragun College. I thank her for her time and for sharing her insight and experience. We will now hear from Noel Mason, dean of Creative and Performing Arts. Noel, thank you very much for joining me on the podcast. [00:22:00][16.5]
Mandy: [00:22:01] Thank you. [00:22:01][0.3]
Isaac: [00:22:02] So would you mind give me a bit of an introduction to yourself, the position you have here at the College and a bit about your professional background as well? [00:22:09][7.0]
Noel: [00:22:09] Sure. My is Noel Mason and I am dean of Create and Performing Arts Academies, the academy modules with students who are achieving at a higher level and are encouraged to study an area of their choice in the arts. The overview of my work experience is over 30 years and 22 of those years I've been working with Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander students. Two years working with international students in an international education context, heading to international schools. I've also worked five years working with community Woorabinda, Aboriginal community, hitting the arts and eventually hitting the Wadja Wadja High School in Woorabinda. I also worked as a tafe coordinator at in Townsville at the Barrier Reef Institute, a tafe coordinator coordinating the Indigenous Art Department and delivering diploma subjects and coordinating satellite programmes to Palm Island, Charters Towers, Ingham and the Burdekin. From there I actually went into industry and worked for local government. There I was actually gallery coordinator and director Toro Regional Art Gallery, coordinating local, regional and national touring exhibitions and managing the gallery and writing cultural policy for local government. And with that, after that, I actually spent five years working with Education Queensland teaching mainstream students in years 7 to 12. [00:23:47][97.6]
Isaac: [00:23:47] how have you landed here at Djarragun College? And would you mind in your answer, giving an overview of the courses you teach now. [00:23:54][6.6]
Noel: [00:23:54] Djarragun College is a very progressive school. It has a very forward thinking executive team. I actually worked here two years ago and teaching the Indigenous arts here and in the actual art programme here. I was asked to actually rejoin the team this year and head the Academy of Arts of Excellence Academy students with the Academy of Excellence. We actually deliver cert two in music cert two in performing arts, cert two in cultural arts. And for 2022, we're hoping to deliver cert three in cultural arts and cert three in performing arts. The school base is actually competency based, so the students have to show that they are able to actually perform a task in the CERT two or three, whatever we are delivering. From CERT two it's actually a pathway to cert three. And from CERT three, it's a pathway to cert four and then diploma. So the cert two cert. Pathways for our students to actually go into a vocational education training centre, training organisation and take with them the compentency skills that they have learnt at school. [00:25:18][83.6]
Isaac: [00:25:19] I actually just want to zoom in a little bit on the types of art produced in as a part of the different courses. What I don't really want to classify it as output, but what are the what are the students producing as a part of these courses here? [00:25:33][14.3]
Noel: [00:25:34] The modules are basically hands on. Okay. So it's all practical application within the cert two, there are ten modules at the students have to complete five, which are core and five which are electives. The five modules are about developing understanding of own Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity. We have the health and safety modules within that. We have the basic drawing modules within that and and we have source and using information relevant to our own arts practise with the elective modules. They look at the actual areas in the, in the arts, for example, drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture and ceramics. And we build on the skills for each of the modules in those areas with the students, with the actual and the culture specific modules, for example, develop under understanding of own Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander identity. We bring elders from the community to come in and help deliver those particular modules. [00:26:45][71.0]
Isaac: [00:26:45] And I I'm curious about the learning are an identity and culture aspect to to the learning journey. And so my next question is based on your experience, what have been the best practises for engaging Indigenous students with vet qualifications and courses and learning experiences? And you know, I just wanted to now is has that particular module been quite instrumental in learning about our own culture and expressing that through various forms of art? [00:27:16][30.3]
Noel: [00:27:16] Oh, absolutely. By actually bringing in artists, in residents, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artists who actually are out in the community and practising their arts is a fine example of what can be achieved from the students that we are delivering to with the cultural modules. For example, we bring elders in the community from the community that come in and both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and help deliver those particular modules with students. [00:27:47][31.3]
Isaac: [00:27:49] And I know with Indigenous art a lot of it is steeped in quite a rich cultural story and I've since seen a lot of the artworks that are being done by the students and often with them accompanying them is a story behind behind the artwork. Are you able to speak to the importance of that in the in the artworks the students produce. [00:28:12][23.0]
Noel: [00:28:12] It, depending on what area the actual students are from because we have over, you know, 42 different locations within Australia that the students actually come to the College, whether boarding or day students with their actual artworks is a lot of symbols that represent certain meanings to those particular communities in which the students actually come from with with the actual meanings of the different symbols, we're able to actually have the students produce these particular symbols. Okay and in the literacy part of the actual programme, we're able to have the students write the stories which actually go with the actual symbols in that particular art piece. [00:28:55][42.9]
Isaac: [00:28:56] And have you found that it's a great way for students to encounter with and learn about each other's culture? Through the output of these artworks. [00:29:04][7.8]
Noel: [00:29:04] Each student is learning from everybody else's culture on a daily basis here because we've got so many different people from different communities and the cultures are the same but very different. The symbols, you know, could be generic symbols, okay, within Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artworks, but the meanings of those particular symbols may be different depending on what community they are from. [00:29:30][25.9]
Isaac: [00:29:31] Now, engaging students in learning very much comes to back to making students enthusiastic for the learning that they're going to conduct. And, and and how over the 22 years you said you've been working with Indigenous peoples in your respective career. How have you found that you can make Indigenous students most enthusiastic for their learning? What do they most love about about learning? [00:29:58][27.1]
Noel: [00:29:58] I think the practical component of the courses that we deliver they're hands on. We have, as I said before, we have Indigenous artists that come into the school actually that are excellent in their art, in their art practise. And we deliver artisan residents basically workshops for our particular students. They can then see from an example from the actual artist, Indigenous artists, how successful they had been, and that then is passed on to the younger students. [00:30:36][37.5]
Isaac: [00:30:37] So now let's talk a little bit post schooling for the for the students here. Now, what are their employment prospects like as a result of the certifications being gained here in College? And are you able to speak to this the likelihood of employment in the arts that exists even in their home communities? [00:30:55][18.1]
Noel: [00:30:56] Sure. Okay. Even though are at the moment we deliver cert two 2022, we will be delivering three from CERT three as I mentioned before, they can go into a, you know, a higher institution, for example, Tafe, where they the modules that have completed school here that can carry through and if they haven't completed their cert three here, they can complete it in a vocational education training centre. From there they go to sit four and with cert four that then it leads into the diploma. Okay. There's lots of employment opportunities for these students after they actually get their qualifications, for example. Okay. In the communities, okay. They can actually work in an Indigenous art centre or an organisation, work for their local government or council, be curators assistants, okay. Or gallery assistants and or retail assistants. So there's lots of different employment opportunities for students who complete this cert two and cert three and cert four in Aboriginal pastoral under cultural arts. [00:32:07][71.1]
Isaac: [00:32:07] Have the students receive the Academies of Excellence Programme and structure. Has it has it been well received? Have they engaged with it willingly? And do you think it's been a positive change embracing this new model for delivery of vet courses? [00:32:21][13.3]
Noel: [00:32:21] Oh, absolutely. You know, with the Academy of Excellence, we actually deliver over a three day period and it's broken through the week from Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We actually deliver the 5 to 5 periods of those particular three days. It's practical work. The actual programme isn't broken up where you you're there for one hour and then have to leave and do another subject. They actually do the same subject for the whole day, which enables the students to complete any practical work that they have started for the beginning of the day or the beginning of that week. The retention rate is very high. We have very high numbers in the actual academies of arts, and I believe it's been very successful. [00:33:08][46.7]
Isaac: [00:33:11] Thank you for taking the time to listen to keep up to date with future episodes of the podcast hit the subscribe or follow button in your podcast app of choice. You can also follow the Cape York Partnership on Facebook and LinkedIn, where we provide regular updates. We invite you to give the podcast a rating and review which can be completed on the Apple Podcasts podcast and Stitcher Apps. This episode has been brought to you by the Cape York Partnership. [00:33:11][0.0]