Alliance principals representing some of Australia’s most progressive girls’ schools are about to head off on an ‘excursion’ of their own … to the isolated Indigenous communities of the Torres Strait Islands. The annual Women Yarning Up trip is organised by Bond University in conjunction with the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia to provide an in-depth insight into the challenges and choices that impact on Indigenous education in the 21st century.
“Indigenous education is a vital component of today’s school environment,” said trip convener and Bond’s Pro Vice-Chancellor, Pathways and Partnerships, Catherine O’Sullivan. “In our most remote communities, children from as young as 10 or 11 years of age must often leave their families and close communities to board at large schools in cities and regional centres. “This presents a unique set of challenges – both for the children who must adapt to a very different environment and the educators who want to do everything they can to ease that transition. “Taking these school principals on the reverse journey gives them a rare opportunity to experience first-hand the environment, community and rich cultural heritage that has shaped their students, and a deeper understanding of the challenges they face.”
Bond University is uniquely placed to orchestrate the school principals’ visit, thanks to its expansive Indigenous education program and links with the Indigenous community. The trip will be hosted by Bond University Fellow and Mentor, Leann Wilson – Director and General Manager of Regional Economic Solutions, along with Leon Epong – Chair of the Queensland Indigenous Education Consultative Committee and Managing Director of Recruitment Outcomes. “Leon and Leann are both proud Indigenous people who have dedicated their lives to improving the education, training and employment prospects of their community,” said Ms O’Sullivan. “We are also fortunate to have Thursday Island local and editor of the Islander Magazine, Mel Nash, sharing the hosting duties. “Leann, Leon and Mel’s leadership offers our group a unique insight into the cultural mores and customs of the Torres Strait Island communities, and paves the way for meaningful interactions with the elders, leaders and families we will meet along the way.”
The tour itinerary focusses on visits to primary and secondary schools on Thursday and Murray (Mer) Islands which will include one-on-one time spent with the children in their classrooms, as well as formal meetings with their principals and teachers. The group will also meet with local Mayors and representatives from regional education and community bodies. “The various organisations represented in our group and those we will meet on the islands allow us to look at the whole continuum of Indigenous education – from communities and families to primary school to secondary school to university and training, and ultimately, to meaningful employment,” said Ms O’Sullivan. “The schools in these isolated communities have focused their attention on improving attendance, with great success. The next step then is to motivate the children to complete secondary school and go onto university or formal training to give them their very best chance at a rewarding, satisfying and life-long career.”
“The Women Yarning Up experience provides the perfect platform for all of us to work together and partner with the communities in order to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous opportunities.” According to Ms O’Sullivan, one of the more serendipitous benefits of the tour is the idea of bringing the school principals together as educators and colleagues. “In addition to the potential for them to develop relationships and collaborations with the communities we visit, there will be a wealth of opportunities for them to share experiences and build on their friendships and working partnerships with each other,” she said.“We have called the tour ‘Women Yarning Up’ for a very good reason … because there is so much to talk about and so many issues we can address if we work together.”
To watch the Bond University Women Yarning Up 2014 video about last year’s trip to Lockhart River, in which seven principals of Alliance member schools participated, click here