Flexible learning
creates opportunity

Responding to demand from the Indigenous community, Charles Sturt University Dubbo has made its Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood and Primary) teaching degree more accessible to students from rural and remote areas, IE Journalist Sue Osborne writes.

The Indigenous Teachers Education in Community (ITEC) program has been in operation for two years, with its first batch of graduates expected to be teaching by 2016.

The degree supports students through a blended mode of delivery. Students come to campus for four weeks a year. The rest of the time they stay living and working in their communities.

The majority of the 26 students on the course are Aboriginal Education Workers (AEWs) who range in age from school leavers to a 58-year-old.

Faculty of Education Lecturer and ITEC Liaison Officer Maria Bennet works with students in the field three times a year and the University’s Rural and Remote team provides additional face-to-face support.

Practicing teachers are employed to act as tutors for the students. Students can access lectures and tutorials on line.

“What helps significantly is that most of the students are working in schools, so they understand how the theory plays out in the classroom,” Maria says.

Many of the students are likely to be employed as teachers at the schools where they work as AEWs.

“The schools have been very supportive, encouraging their AEWs to complete degrees,” she says.

Charles Sturt Dubbo has a number of other programs designed to forge strong links with the Indigenous community.

Small groups of pre-service teachers, sometimes in subject or year cohorts, engage with schools and community, such as supporting school-based reading programs.

“The students need to understand the students and education providers in their community. This is an additional layer on top of the professional experience placements which provide a deeper understanding.”

DEEWR PaCE funding has enabled Maria to provide after school reading tuition for Aboriginal children in the Dubbo area. Children and their parents come to classes at the University twice a week for 10 weeks. Pre-service teachers and community members act as tutors.

“The aim is to up-skill the parents to understand literacy, particularly reading, and help them develop strategies to support their children with the western practices used in schools.”

The funding support for the program from the NSW Education Department has grown during the three years that DEEWR has funded this program, and Maria says she would “dearly love” to secure more funding to support children for a two-year period, to enable long-term reading support for children to make a sustained difference to their learning.

“That would provide them with a sound basis to go on with their education at a high level.”

Additionally, the School of Teacher Education is publishing a series of books called Childhood Memories.

“It was difficult to find material on local Indigenous nation groups, particularly the Wiradjuri, so to get around that we started the process ourselves.”

Maria has interviewed a number of elders and created teaching materials for primary schools consisting of a ‘big book’, smaller books and teaching resources.

Aunty Doris’ Book of Childhood Memories has been published and five other books are in draft format.