Project lead: University of New England
Project funding: $50,000 Round 3 2014
The aim of this project was to determine reasons for the high attrition rates of external Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teacher education students. A further aim was to apply the findings to strategies to support external Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teacher education students in their studies, to completion as graduating teachers.
The project owners have developed from their findings a comprehensive retention strategy which can apply to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teacher education students.
The data were collected through surveys, blogs and focus groups. In order to minimise white bias and dominance in the questioning, survey development had a high level of input from a local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elder to ensure the comfort and safety of respondents. Survey results were connected to the blog forum to give respondents ownership of the responses and the opportunity to interact with other project participants in relation to them, even before they were analysed by the researchers. The blog forum was an innovation which allowed the participants to discuss responses and views with family and community.
The data collection was completed by early 2015. It comprised 25 survey results, 80 blog posts and transcripts from focus group participants. A key finding was that information which surprised the researchers did not surprise the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants. This demonstrated that communication between School of Education staff and this client group needed to be strengthened.
In November 2015 the project owners submitted to a publisher a draft for a book which will include project findings and information on a wide range of support which can be accessed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teacher education students.
The study was an opportunity to create engagement across student populations, the university’s Oorala Centre and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support staff to attract and retain more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teaching students. In terms of retention, over 60% of the participants felt that they had the necessary academic skills for successful completion of their degrees.
The study revealed that the main reasons for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students withdrawing from their studies were financial (63%), personal (emotional, relationship and family) (56%) and workload (56%). An outcome of these findings was to communicate to the School of Education and to the students avenues for financial assistance and deferment options.
The researchers learned more than they anticipated in respect of working together, what was currently working well at UNE, barriers to equality being faced by students and differences in perspectives.
Sustainability has been established through the creation of ongoing online communities. The learnings from the project are being disseminated to community members and the School of Education through presentations, the blog site and a written report. These learnings have enabled the next steps of strategy development to increase retention and success of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teacher education students and lead to more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers in Australian schools.
The project has highlighted the need for higher education institutions to adopt an active, holistic approach, which considers cultural and personal factors, to supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
Improving Services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students: A Critical Study
Authors: Tiffany Jones, Keita Takayama, Guido Posthausen, Katherine Carter, Brian Landrigan, Debra Bennell, Colin Ahoy, Chloe Parkinson, and Carleigh Wallace (School of Education, University of New England, Armidale, Australia)
MATSITI evaluation conclusions
As is the case with many of the MATSITI projects, this project has greatly increased awareness among the University’s School of Education staff of many aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teacher education students, including their views and ways of life, obstacles to their completing their studies and the isolation they can feel through university practices which appear neutral in their impacts. The final report’s conclusion paid tribute to and appreciation of the participants’ candidness, insights and advice. The project owners have dedicated the book to them.
The strength of this project is that its owners have seen the need for the exit survey to be complemented by a retention strategy.
The project owners would maximise the project’s impacts by teaming with the ACDE, whose MATSITI project made Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student retention a prime focus, and Australian Indigenous Lecturers in Initial Teacher Education (AILITEs).
Project contact: Dr Kathryn Dougall, Senior Research Development & Integrity Officer, University of New England