Vocational Education and Training System Fails Desert Aboriginal People, International Conference Told.

At least another generation of desert Aboriginal people is likely to suffer from extreme hardship if the failure of compulsory and post compulsory education services to build their capabilities is not addressed urgently, an international conference will be told.

Metta Young, from the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre, will be presenting her research into education and training pathways for desert Indigenous peoples at tomorrow’s International Geographical Union (IGU) conference in Brisbane.

“Evidence about the interaction between desert Aboriginal people and the vocational education and training (VET) sector gives us fresh insight into the potential impact of new mainstreaming arrangements for Aboriginal people,” she said.

“Already mainstreamed services such as VET have trouble meeting escalating need. Relying solely on mainstream services in education, health and transition to work initiatives may condemn at least another generation of Indigenous people to extreme hardship.”

Alice Springs – based Ms Young, who has worked with Aboriginal peoples across Australia for the past 20 years, says the transition to mainstream jobs, as required by the new CDEP arrangements, without drastically building the educational and social capabilities needed to make that transit is doomed to fail.

Ms Young said her presentation, “Growing the desert: Are we being served?”, analyses VET delivery to desert Aboriginal people and the tension between livelihood activities in remote settlements, such as ‘caring for country’, and the types of vocations considered valid by Australia’s mainstream, industry-driven training system.

“My research has found little will to work with the strengths and assets of Aboriginal people and the value their skills and knowledge have for the nation.”

Her findings show that Aboriginal people in remote settlements study VET courses predominantly for personal and community development reasons and that this participation has had minimal impact on their transition from CDEP to real jobs.

“Most desert Aboriginal people participate at the pre-vocational level. This is because training is provided in English and poor access to compulsory education, especially secondary schooling, means literacy and numeracy levels are too low to participate successfully in VET.”

“Those who speak an Aboriginal language as their first language are half as likely to participate in VET as those who speak English as a first language.”

“And desert Aboriginal people are least likely to be in the fields of education, such as mining and retail, where most jobs in the desert are.”

She said very high participation rates in VET, which increased during 2000-2003, are now declining despite significant population increases across the desert.

“Possible reasons are lacking pathways to real employment and a shift from expensive community-based VET delivery to cheaper on-campus delivery, a long way from home.

Home for most Aboriginal people across the desert are small dispersed communities, many with fewer than 50 people. Only half of these communities have a primary school within 50 kilometres – let alone a high school.

“VET represents the only educational offerings at post-compulsory level for most of these people, and the one most geared to employment outcomes.”

“The recent decline in VET participation in the desert suggests the life choices and educational attainment of the next generation of young Aboriginal people will remain extremely limited.”

Ms Young, the Corporate Project Officer at the Centre of Appropriate Technology, has just returned from Tucson, Arizona, where she spent five months on a Fulbright Scholarship.

Based with the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic development, she researched the partnership approaches between external organisations, such as government agencies and mining companies, and American Indian nations.

Ms Young said the IGU conference tackles the relationships between people and the environment in an age of globalisation and climate change.

She said education and learning are critical to addressing these challenges, particularly in Australia’s desert lands.

“The conference raises very pertinent issues for desert Indigenous peoples. The environment is fragile and vast, there is a clash between traditional and contemporary Indigenous relationships with and use of the land, rapid changes in government service provision to remote desert people and challenges to their relationships with the land and their rights to reside on their own country.”

“My findings provide an evidence base for robust discussion around the new agendas and the crunch of self determination and integration ideologies.”

Ms Young will present her research on 7 July at 9.15 am (room Z 305, Z Block, Garden Point Campus, University of Queensland). Conference convener, University of Queensland Emeritus Professor John Holmes, said the world’s premier gathering of geographers is highlighting how complex, global-scale processes exerted pressures on environmental, social, cultural and economic resources at regional and local scales.

“It is looking at regional responses in a changing world, with emphasis on tropical and arid zones, particularly in Australia, New Zealand, south-east Asia and the south-west Pacific,” he said.

Media Contacts:

Metta Young, metta.young@icat.org.au, 0404 467 814

John Holmes, Convener IGU 2006, j.holmes@uq.edu.au, 07 33712638, 0418 471 335

Elke Wiesmann, Desert Knowledge CRC, elke.wiesmann@csiro.au, 08 8950 7142 or 0427 009 240


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