Remote Indigenous Students
Raising Their Aspirations and Awareness of Tertiary Pathways
Keywords:remote Indigenous students, aspiration, university pathways, educational experiences, UniCamp program
The lower rates of participation in higher education of people from remote areas, together with the under-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in higher education, make it less likely that students from remote Indigenous communities will aspire to attend university. Educators and community must develop working relationships and act early to raise students’ aspirations through an awareness of wider possibilities within and beyond their own community. One initiative taken to accomplish these aims is the UniCamps program run by the University of South Australia’s (UniSA) Centre for Regional Engagement (CRE) in partnership with Mimili Anangu School. (Anangu is the name that Indigenous people from that region use for themselves.) By showing learning pathways through the tertiary sector, leading to a range of careers, either within their community or through pursuing their own interests, this program seeks to capture and maintain Anangu students’ interest in diverse educational opportunities. Beginning in 2010, groups of Mimili secondary students have been visiting Whyalla, living in student accommodation and experiencing university study and life in a large regional centre. While raising aspirations and developing tertiary experience are priorities, students also develop skills to assist them with living away from home and their remote community, acquire and refine communication skills, and learn to build relationships with unfamiliar non-Anangu people – a supportive environment is important.
The planning and initiation of the first UniCamp required full commitment from all involved – school leaders, family and community members, the students themselves and university staff – to provide optimal learning experiences and opportunities for the young people. For successful transition from secondary schooling in a remote community to a tertiary environment, students need significant literacy and numeracy skills, along with confidence to seek assistance in an unfamiliar setting. At times, the young people immersed themselves in the experience, supporting each other. On subsequent visits, through a widening range of activities – academic sessions, living skills, recreational activities, and engaging in the wider community – the students have grown more familiar with the campus and regional city environment. Students who before the program did not aspire to tertiary study now see this, including university, as one possibility for their future.
Relationship-building – between communities, educational institutions and within the university – takes time, but is a crucial foundation for implementing such a program. Support from the CRE Director and wider UniSA connections have contributed to making the program a reality. Collaboration with different areas of the University and community allows for an enriched educational experience. UniCamps is an opportunity for students to engage in career-related experiences which may be unfamiliar to them. As such, participation and learning opportunities should be targeted to achieve this goal. As the students’ first language is not English, program content must be delivered in an appropriately scaffolded way, while still challenging and extending the students. What has been learned from the Mimili–UniSA partnership will guide current plans to extend UniCamps opportunities to other rural and remote students.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Kym Thomas, Bronwyn Ellis, Renae Kirkham, Louka Parry
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