The University of Newcastle, Australia

Critical need to re-engage Indigenous students in school post COVID-19

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

The critical need to re-engage Indigenous students in school as NSW transitions out of pandemic restrictions has been the driving force behind a new set of tools and resources created for educators and teachers.

The Office of Indigenous Strategy and Leadership and the Wollotuka Institute at the University of Newcastle in conjunction with the Hunter and Central Coast Aboriginal Education Consultative Groups and the local Indigenous community have created resources following concern that COVID-19 restrictions could harm learning outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children across the Hunter and Central Coast regions.

Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Strategy and Leadership Nathan Towney said that with alarming statistics surfacing, such as 12,000 students unlikely to return to school to complete their HSC (according to the NSW Education Standards Authority), the resources are crucial for ensuring teachers are well equipped to engage children in their schooling.

“This resource will allow our local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to connect with local community members in a series of hands-on activities. It is an important way that our schools can connect with students and families through these unprecedented times,” said Mr Towney.

“As a teacher, I am very excited to launch this program which will hopefully have an impact on student engagement and retention across the Hunter and Central Coast.”

The resources include a series of videos of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members accompanied by lesson plans and hands on activities and will be used to support schools in re-engaging with their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students; support families with a teaching resource through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond; and to further educate non-Indigenous people about Indigenous knowledges.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and with reports of school numbers dropping dramatically and engagement at an all-time low, Indigenous Executive Support and Engagement Officer Jake MacDonald generated the idea with the aim of creating an interactive resource involving local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“Through local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people sharing their knowledges it helps to keep our community strong and connected, giving students the best opportunity to re-engage with their studies and hopefully a form of meaningful education or employment,” said Mr MacDonald.

Partners and community members involved in the project at the University of Newcastle Back row L-R: Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Strategy and Leadership Nathan Towney, Perry Fuller, Craig Hammond, President of the Hunter AECG Leigh Ridgeway, Jake MacDonald. Front row: Saretta Fielding, Aunty Laurel Williams, Ray Kelly. Absent: Tyrone Gordon, David Newham, Greg MacDonald and a representative from the Central Coast AECG

Aunty Belinda Wright is the Aboriginal Education Officer at Newcastle High School and has been getting the resources out to students across the schools in her area. She said that this is exactly the kind of resources that schools, and students need.

“The resources are just fantastic, schools and students have been crying out for something like this and the kids just can’t get enough of it,” said Aunty Belinda.

“It is so important that we learn about our true history and culture and while we need to see more resources dedicated to Aboriginal studies embedded in the curriculum, this is a good starting point to share local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander skills and knowledges.”

The following Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have contributed to the resource:

  • Saretta Fielding, Local Indigenous artist
  • Aunty Laurel Williams, Nguraki cultural mentor
  • Uncle Perry Fuller, Department of Education employee and well-respected community member
  • Raymond “Bud” Kelly, The University of Newcastle
  • David Newham, Advisor to Aboriginal Programs in the local community
  • Greg MacDonald, local Aboriginal Education Officer
  • Jake MacDonald, The University of Newcastle
  • Tyrone Gordon, World Vision
  • Craig “Bourkie” Hammond, Family Action Centre at The University of Newcastle

Related news