Tiwi Col­lege: A Case Study

Tiwi Col­lege is a unique Indige­nous board­ing school lo­cated at Pick­ataramoor, Melville Is­land, off the coast of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory.

The Australian Education Reporter - - CONTENTS - EMMA DAVIES

NEARLY 2400 INDIGE­NOUS BOARD­ERS AT­TENDED 117 IN­DE­PEN­DENT SCHOOLS IN 2016.

THE In­de­pen­dent sec­tor is the ma­jor provider of board­ing school ed­u­ca­tion for Indige­nous stu­dents in Aus­tralia, with al­most 2400 Indige­nous board­ers at­tend­ing 117 In­de­pen­dent schools in 2016.

Many of these Indige­nous stu­dents comes from re­mote com­mu­ni­ties where pri­mary level ed­u­ca­tion is the only lo­cal school­ing avail­able, and leav­ing their com­mu­ni­ties for board­ing school is the only op­tion for secondary stud­ies.

Tiwi Col­lege was for­mally opened in 2008. In 2010, the Tiwi Ed­u­ca­tion Board com­prised of se­nior men and women from all Tiwi com­mu­ni­ties – took full re­spon­si­bil­ity for the gov­er­nance of the col­lege.

Prin­ci­pal Ian Smith be­lieves that his previous work on the is­lands and fa­mil­iar­ity with the Tiwi cul­ture was what landed him the job.

“They wanted some­one who un­der­stood the peo­ple, un­der­stood the Tiwi way of go­ing about things and who un­der­stood that Is­lan­der peo­ple have cer­tain pro­to­cols which are very, very im­por­tant,” Mr Smith said.

Tiwi Col­lege took a holis­tic ap­proach to learn­ing, and bal­anced weekly board­ing with stu­dents re­turn­ing home on the week­ends.

“The kids would come in on a Mon­day morn­ing and we’d take them out on a Fri­day af­ter­noon; we’d balance that out with a lot of ac­tiv­ity af­ter school, home­work tu­to­ri­als and ses­sions,” Mr Smith said.

“It was quite an in­tense struc­ture, but they had the balance of be­ing with fam­ily and be­ing able to go hunt­ing and be­ing on coun­try on the week­ends.”

Mr Smith said the stu­dents don’t have the same home­sick­ness as those that travel to Dar­win for board­ing school be­cause kids are on coun­try.

“There are eight coun­tries that com­prise the Tiwi Is­lands that you in­herit from your fa­ther, so if we’ve got stu­dents that don’t be­long to the coun­try the school is placed on they still feel that they are on the Tiwi Is­lands; that’s re­ally re­ally im­por­tant to them,” he said.

Tiwi Col­lege ap­proaches board­ing holis­ti­cally.

To fa­cil­i­tate in­de­pen­dent liv­ing, Fam­ily Group Homes aimed to de­velop daily and weekly rou­tines to pro­vide clar­ity of pur­pose and im­prove the stu­dent’s home man­age­ment knowl­edge and skills.

The group homes also taught meal plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion, per­sonal health care, and ba­sic house­hold bud­get­ing.

“It’s re­ally im­por­tant to ac­knowl­edge that in­stead of board­ing houses we have fam­ily group homes,” Mr Smith said.

“So that means there’s a mar­ried cou­ple in each home dis­play­ing how to be a lov­ing and car­ing fam­ily through the good and the bad.

“We’ve got a boys precinct and a girls precinct, with about 12 max­i­mum in each fam­ily group home. They’re a home away from home and that’s what we pride our­selves on.”

The col­lege placed equally high value on the life skills learnt in the Fam­ily Group Homes just as those learnt in their aca­demic pro­grams, aim­ing to balance the strengths of the Tiwi with the knowl­edge and skills re­quired in a Western work­force.

The As­so­ci­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Schools in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Gail Barker said that ev­ery sin­gle com­mu­nity was an en­tity unto it­self with many unique fea­tures.

“There are peo­ple in the com­mu­nity [Tiwi] that want their chil­dren to be at home with them, so board­ing school is not the best op­tion for them,” Ms Barker said.

“There are oth­ers who want their chil­dren at board­ing school but closer than Dar­win where they’d be away for ten weeks at a time, or if they’re down south up to twenty two weeks at a time.

They want some­thing a bit closer and Tiwi Col­lege fits that group of peo­ple.”

The As­so­ci­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Schools in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory as­so­ciate di­rec­tor Ch­eryl Sal­ter is an ex­pe­ri­enced Indige­nous ed­u­ca­tor and is sup­port­ive of the Tiwi ed­u­ca­tion board’s meth­ods.

“The board is very pro-ac­tive, and its rep­re­sen­ta­tive of all the dif­fer­ent fam­ily groups on the is­land and the board is mainly made up of the Elders,” Ms Sal­ter said.

“They’re the peo­ple who are lis­tened to in the com­mu­nity; they come to­gether and have board meet­ings, [then] go out and [are] pro-ac­tive in their com­mu­ni­ties in say­ing how im­por­tant it is to ed­u­cate kids.”

Univer­sity of Canberra as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in Teacher Ed­u­ca­tion Jessa Rogers is an ex­pert in Indige­nous ed­u­ca­tion and be­lieves that at­ten­dance hap­pens when schools cre­ate a cul­ture of fam­ily and sup­port around stu­dents.

“Stu­dents want to at­tend schools they feel con­nected to, and that they feel ex­cited about at­tend­ing. Stu­dent-cen­tred schools are those that build ev­ery­thing around the fam­i­lies and stu­dents they serve,” Pro­fes­sor Rogers said.

“A holis­tic and com­mu­nity cen­tred ap­proach with deep and con­tin­ual home-school con­nec­tion is the only ap­proach I have seen to be truly suc­cess­ful for stu­dents as well as fam­i­lies.”

Tiwi Col­lege takes in to ac­count the cul­ture of the is­lands and the chil­dren’s dif­fer­ent learn­ing styles and aimed to pro­vide a flex­i­ble and di­verse cur­ricu­lum that pro­moted the strengths of the Tiwi while en­cour­ag­ing rich ex­plo­ration of new con­cepts.

The em­pha­sis was on a team-based ap­proach to learn­ing, hav­ing de­vel­oped and adopted a Tiwi based ped­a­gogy to pro­vide an ef­fec­tive and rel­e­vant ap­proach to teach­ing and learn­ing with strong links to stu­dents’ lives, land and com­mu­nity.

“A balance is needed,” Mr Smith said. “As a di­rec­tive from the Tiwi Ed­u­ca­tion Board, the stu­dents must learn lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy daily, and they must have the skills and knowl­edge to make it in the Western world.

“At the same time, from an emo­tional per­spec­tive and a well­be­ing per­spec­tive, you can’t lose your iden­tity. So a cul­ture pro­gram em­bed­ded in the cur­ricu­lum in some form is vi­tal.”

Teach­ers aimed to pro­vide a teach­ing and learn­ing style which is rel­e­vant to stu­dents’ in­ter­ests, de­liv­ered in con­text, and which draws on Tiwi stu­dents’ strengths as vis­ual, ki­naes­thetic and au­ral learn­ers.

Pro­fes­sor Rogers is an ad­vo­cate for em­bed­ding Indige­nous cul­ture in to sub­jects stud­ied at school.

“Re­search shows that Indige­nous stu­dents achieve bet­ter out­comes when Indige­nous cul­ture is wo­ven through the cur­ricu­lum in mean­ing­ful ways. This also al­lows the non-indige­nous stu­dents to learn and de­velop a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of Aus­tralia,” she said.

Ms Barker and Ms Sal­ter agreed that cul­ture needs to be em­bed­ded into the cur­ricu­lum.

“All ed­u­ca­tion needs to look at who you are work­ing with and needs to be flex­i­ble to meet the needs of that school com­mu­nity,” Ms Barker said.

“It’s also em­pow­er­ing the com­mu­nity too,” said Ms Sal­ter.

“You’re also em­pow­er­ing the peo­ple work­ing in the schools be­cause it’s show­ing a sign of re­spect for their cul­ture and also show­ing re­spect for them [per­son­ally] and puts them on equal foot­ing.”

Stu­dent’s re­sults at Tiwi Col­lege were openly ex­plained to stu­dents and the wider com­mu­nity via on­go­ing teacher-stu­dent feed­back, re­ports to par­ents, and re­port­ing to Tiwi Ed­u­ca­tion Board mem­bers.

The col­lege aimed to de­velop stu­dents both aca­dem­i­cally and per­son­ally with the ca­pa­bil­i­ties nec­es­sary to be both work ready and con­tribut­ing cit­i­zens to their Tiwi com­mu­ni­ties and Aus­tralian so­ci­ety.

There were many cul­tural and com­mu­nity con­sid­er­a­tions in the ed­u­ca­tion of Indige­nous stu­dents and many stu­dents who had to move large dis­tances from their homes faced a va­ri­ety of cul­tural chal­lenges.

“Be­sides the is­sues of be­ing away from home and com­mu­nity, Indige­nous stu­dents of­ten face cul­tural is­sues when be­ing moved to pre­dom­i­nantly non-indige­nous board­ing schools in large cities, where teach­ers also re­port feel­ing un­der­pre­pared to teach Indige­nous stu­dents and con­tent,” Pro­fes­sor Rogers said.

“This leads to a push and pull of com­pli­cated and of­ten chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions within board­ing schools, as well as be­tween school and home.

“Of­ten school ex­pec­ta­tions are not made clear to Indige­nous fam­i­lies, es­pe­cially around how of­ten chil­dren can re­turn home for cul­tural busi­ness, for ex­am­ple.”

Prin­ci­pals and teach­ers need to work in close con­sul­ta­tion with Indige­nous fam­i­lies to en­sure cul­tural tra­di­tions and heritage are re­spected and Indige­nous cul­ture was em­bed­ded in to main­stream sub­jects to help build a bridge be­tween Indige­nous cul­ture and Western con­cepts.

Tiwi Col­lege ran a thor­ough in­duc­tion pro­gram for new teach­ers, par­tic­u­larly those not of an Indige­nous back­ground.

“We go through a lot of in­for­ma­tion about the Tiwi Is­lands, the ge­og­ra­phy and the sea­sons and then the cul­ture, Tiwi pro­to­cols and lan­guage and that forms the foun­da­tion of how we struc­ture Tiwi Col­lege and why we have cer­tain ar­range­ments, be­cause it’s all based around the Tiwi iden­tity,” Mr Smith said.

“As the in­duc­tion un­folds we get more and more spe­cific to the school, but it has a broad sweep­ing foun­da­tion of, this is where you are, this is what you’re about to ex­pect, and wit­ness and ex­pe­ri­ence and this is why we do these cer­tain things here.”

Mr Smith be­lieved that the model of ed­u­ca­tion at Tiwi Col­lege could be suc­cess­fully repli­cated in other re­mote ares in cer­tain cases.

“It all de­pends on the ar­range­ments. We’re in the is­lands so the ge­og­ra­phy is rel­a­tively small. If you’ve got say, a group of com­mu­ni­ties in desert coun­try or on the main­land and they’re rea­son­ably close to­gether then a strate­gi­cally placed board­ing school based on the ap­proval of com­mu­nity mem­bers, that’s rel­a­tively and po­lit­i­cally cen­tral to those com­mu­ni­ties would work,” he said.

“Here on the Tiwi Is­lands it has worked and I sus­pect top end/salt wa­ter coun­try it would as well.”

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