Building Indigenous learning communities

Author/editor: Schwab, RG, Sutherland, D
Year published: 2001
Issue no.: 225


This paper proposes the building of Indigenous learning communities as an avenue to address the limited engagement of Indigenous Australians with education. Against the backdrop of current discussions of social capital and community capacity building, the paper explores educational policy and program options for linking families, schools and communities (including business and government) to identify and address local needs through drawing upon local resources.

Five program models, from both Australia and overseas, are sketched to illustrate a range of approaches to encouraging and fostering positive engagement of families, schools and communities. Although the programs differ in focus, schools and community education are central to each, and all involve degrees of capacity building and the development of social capital. The experience derived from these programs suggests there is value in attempting to position the school at the centre of Indigenous communities. Further, in extending the traditional role of the school to incorporate other initiatives such as adult education and the coordination and integration of various child and family services, these programs necessarily bring more members of the wider community into contact with the school.

Many of these programs also deliver increased parental and student participation and retention, and community involvement in the school. Indeed, the underlying philosophies of these approaches foster parental and community ownership of, and involvement in, not only the school, but also the education process in general. This is the foundation for building learning communities, where education is a life-long affair, where families and schools are strong and healthy, and where individuals in communities feel empowered to identify their most pressing needs and develop mechanisms to build capacity and secure resources to address those needs.

The paper suggests a cluster of key features derived from the models that could be used in the formulation of a policy and program framework that addresses the needs of Indigenous families, schools and communities through a federally funded initiative to build Indigenous learning communities. Specific recommendations related to funding, evaluation and essential program components are provided.

ISBN: 0 7315 5600 3

ISSN:1036 1774

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