Cool little project
You may recall from Part 2 that only 17% of Aboriginal people from East Kimberley completed their HSC. The problem is particularly bad in the Shire of Halls Creek where HSC completion rate improved from 9% in 2001 to 15% in 2011 (or a mere 6% increase over 10 years). In other words, the challenge is one of stagnated growth in education.
1. The trouble with Bob
Over time, however, things start to look different for Bob and Tom:
- Bob’s parents never completed HSC while Tom’s graduated from uni
- Bob’s parents didn’t encourage Bob to attend school while Tom would’ve gotten an ass-whopping for truancy
- Bob’s parents refused to or neglected to pay Bob’s school fees while Tom’s did
- Bob sat in front of the TV during school breaks (if he’s lucky) while Tom attended extra-curricular activities.
Soon enough, the world is different for Bob.
2. The trouble with conventional scholarship program
The challenge facing Bob isn’t unique. In fact, there are many good people out there looking to extend a helping hand to people like Bob. Today, these good people usually take shape in the form of big companies with deep pockets looking to fulfil their social and community responsibilities. As is often the case in the business world, leaders of these big companies tend to be result-oriented and this culture invariably carries over to the social impact departments. With results being front and centre of the firms’ priorities, the social impact departments are inclined to partner with charitable causes which can deliver immediate and tangible outcomes. Not-for-profit organisations suffer a similar fate, often needing to marry the expectations of their investors and sponsors with immediate successful outcomes to prove their projects’ worth. The end result is a plethora of scholarship programs targeted at indigenous students who are already doing well at school.
This is great news for aboriginal kids from a good background, for kids whose families have broken out of the cycle of welfare dependency. Not only can these kids look up to their parents as their role models, they have also been invited into the circle of opportunities. Over time, kids from good families are better positioned to excel academically and in turn take advantage of the many scholarships on offer by big companies.
This isn’t good news for Bob, however, since these opportunities are outside of his reach. Outside of his reach because while Bob is in year 9, he may only be reading at a year 2 level. Outside of his reach because he has no role models to aspire to and no one to help him with his studies. Bob’s parents may not care if Bob doesn’t go to school.
Bob has missed the boat to a conventional academic scholar ship.
3. An alternative education model
If you spend enough time with Bob, however, you come to realise that Bob is a well-behaved kid and is eager to learn. And since the conventional education model doesn’t allow Bob to realise his full potential, we look to test an alternative education model.
Alternative education models can take on many forms, the particular model that we’re working on right now will see:
- Bob and other indigenous kids in similar background to Bob being selected to participate in the program
- Bob and his buddies will receive funding from parents, sponsors and the government, with parental contribution expected to be minimal (as a gesture of their ongoing support)
- Bob and his buddies will attend good schools in a major city (Sydney, Melbourne etc), offering them a chance to learn at low cost via discounted and/or waived tuition fees. Dedicated teachers will supervise Bob and his buddies in ensuring they get the extra support they need in getting up the learning curve and catching up to the other students
- After school, Bob and his buddies will live together under the same roof (home away from home) under the supervision of two “house parents”. These parents will look after Bob to make sure Bob and his buddies don’t lose sight of their culture and discuss any issues Bob may be facing at home or school. Bob can Skype his family when he gets homesick and fly back to spend time with family during school breaks.
We differentiate ourselves from the conventional model via:
- Targeting kids like Bob who wouldn’t otherwise quality for conventional scholarship programs because of poor academic records and low self esteem
- Offering them a “home” to minimise the impact of cultural shock many students often experience when being placed straight into a private boarding school
4. End goal
Our job here is complex but the end goal a simple one. Our job is to bridge more students like Bob with more good schools and secure enough funding to set the program on the trajectory of sustainability and growth.
We want to see Bob succeed. The goal is to break the cycle of welfare dependency which has imprisoned those in Bob’s position for as long as four generations. We hope to see Bob return to his community one day to inspire the next generation of kids who in turn will inspire the next.
When the issue is complex, people often don’t want to hear about it or make the effort to understand it. And this is troubling because often these are the very issues we need to pour our heart and soul into. The welfare and prosperity of the aboriginal community, especially in remote regions of Australia, is one such issue. The issue is complex and solution isn’t as simple as throwing more money at it.
Couple with more stick figure drawings, I hope to clear away some of the fog surrounding this issue and hopefully we’ll come away a little bit wiser together. My writing is of course based on my personal experiences which may at times be inaccurate, naïve or subject to change as thinking continues to evolve.