Aboriginal school students get a taste of teacher education

Published 13 July 2009

pepAbout 100 Aboriginal high-school students and Aboriginal Education Officers from throughout northern NSW got a taste last week of what it would be like to study at university to become a teacher.

The students, all in Years 10, 11 and 12, visited the University of New England for a day that included talking to teacher educators, taking part in teacher-education workshops in subjects including mathematics, science and creative arts, listening to a talk by an experienced Indigenous teacher, and generally experiencing the life of a university campus.

They came from as far afield as Moree, Taree, Gunnedah and Port Macquarie, and about 40 of them had an experience of life in a university residence by staying overnight at St Albert’s College.

The visit of the students on Monday 6 July was part of a Commonwealth-funded project led by Dr Pep Serow (pictured here), a Lecturer in Education at UNE who specialises in mathematics education. The “Indigenous Teacher Education Experience Project” is aimed at getting more Indigenous teachers into Australian schools. Last week’s “Experience Day” was preceded earlier this year by a series of community-driven meetings between representatives of education bodies and Aboriginal communities, and will be followed by a mentoring program to begin in Term 3 this year.

Twenty-five students signed up for the mentoring program during their visit to UNE. They will each be assigned an academic mentor who will visit them at their school once a term and communicate with them by video-conference. The 25 participants will also communicate with their mentors – and with each other – via a newly-created Web site.

“It is essential that Indigenous people have a greater involvement in educional decision making,” Dr Serow said. “We can begin this process through building stronger relationships between schools, communities and universities.”

In welcoming the students to UNE, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Pettigrew, emphasised the vital importance of the teaching profession, the uniquely rewarding experiences that it brings to teachers, and the recognised high quality of teacher education at UNE.

Professor Len Unsworth, the Head of UNE’s School of Education, acknowledged the work of Dr Serow and her colleagues in organising the day. “We need more Indigenous people in the education system,” Professor Unsworth said, emphasising the importance of “educators and Indigenous communities working together”.

“Together we can make a real difference,” he said. “That’s why it’s so terrific to have so many of you here today.”

Mr Michael Boney, an Aboriginal teacher raised in Ashford and now teaching at Ashford Central School, inspired the visiting students by talking to them about his life’s journey and its fulfilment as a teacher.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of Dr Pep Serow displayed here expands to include two of the visiting high-school students: Manduway Dutton from Grafton High and Kylie Saunders from Muswellbrook High.