Education Centre Inc
Robinson Education Centre devised a highly flexible and individualised
program for eight young Aboriginal students with high truancy rates
and severe social and interpersonal problems. Literacy and numeracy
skills improved as a result of the project, which focussed on arts
activities and hygiene. The students subsequently had the opportunity
to attend introductory horticulture and agriculture workshops conducted
by Murrumbidgee Agricultural College.
High truancy rates and an increase in petrol sniffing among some
Aboriginal young people in Broken Hill brought local organisations
together to develop an educational project that would counteract
the social and interpersonal issues associated with inhalant abuse.
Many of these young people have minimal parental or guardian support.
The Robinson Education Centre, an Adult and Community Education
Evening College with a HELP program, was approached by both the
local high school Willyama and the Aboriginal Liaison Officer from
the DET District Office. Both organisations wanted to develop a
program for young Aboriginal truants. Most offenders were under
age for the HELP program, yet needed help and encouragement to stay
The three agencies devised a pilot project aimed at motivating the
students to attend school regularly.
The pilot was designed as a mentoring project for a small number
of participants. The Centre originally intended to use horticultural
activities and cultural pride as the "hooks" to stimulate
an interest in learning. However, as the project evolved, the core
activities became literacy and numeracy within an arts and hygiene
Activities needed to change every day to maintain the interest of
the young people. Often the Centre abandoned planned activities
because they would not have suited the mood of the group on the
day. This flexible approach to content helped maintain attendance
The course was held off campus in an old school building at the
local primary school. The location was isolated from shops and transport,
which meant that students could not leave as readily as they might
have if the project had been more centrally located.
At first hygiene was the main focus of the project. Food was seen
as an enticement and a meal in the morning had a calming effect
on the students. Therefore breakfast was an important opening activity
for the day and lunch was also provided. This helped counter the
all-pervasive high sugar diets that appear to affect their behaviour.
The project was aimed at High School students but some primary school
students became involved due to the location of the project.
During the initial phase of the project, attendance was very low
until the Aboriginal Health Service started picking the students
up from home and taking them to the course. This service did not
last and attendance dropped again once it stopped.
Eight students completed the course. Two started at the beginning
and continued through the 20 week program, three started in one
month and finished in the following month, while three started and
finished in the same month. This attendance pattern is typical for
the target group.
The project succeeded in gaining some parental involvement and support.
This was achieved by the teacher showing a personal interest in
the students by acknowledging birthdays and following up on the
student's wellbeing when absent. Parents often called in to observe
what was happening and to assess the teaching.
The Deputy Principal of the high school said the literacy and numeracy
levels of the students had greatly improved during the course, as
had their self-esteem. One young woman's attitude improved so dramatically
that she is now seen as a role model for other Aboriginal students.
School and Aboriginal community support for the HELP program increased
as a result of the Strategic Pilot Project. Strong Aboriginal and
community networks were developed and these have led to partnerships
for new community initiatives.
To achieve the original aim of providing horticultural activities,
personnel from Murrumbidgee Agricultural College (YANCO) continued
to visit Broken Hill during 1999 to offer the Aboriginal students
in the HELP program and the Strategic Pilot Project the opportunity
to participate in small workshops based on introductory horticulture
and agriculture modules. Students with good school attendance records
had the opportunity to attend a one to two week session at the YANCO
The teacher set individual programs for each of the students. While
this made her work more complex, it meant the students could work
on activities which suited their moods and inclinations on any given
From an early stage, the Robinson Centre worked closely with a range
of community and government agencies to develop the project. The
interagency approach led to an holistic approach to assisting the
The Strategic Pilot Project had access to the Centre's after-school
facilities. This gave the students another semi-structured environment
to work in and a greater range of services.
transport for participants would have alleviated problems with irregular
attendance. In country towns, many young people do not like using
public transport. Because they feel shy or awkward, they may prefer
to forego an enjoyable activity if public transport is the only
way they can get to a venue.
In future, the
Centre would engage local Aboriginal people, where possible, as
tutors, teachers or teaching assistants so that the students have
suitable role models.
working with this target group need additional professional development
to help them deal with issues specific to the target group.