by Brendan Gallagher
While the proliferation of social networking sites has made many of them the scourge of teachers and classrooms everywhere, the first Indigenous social networking site may prove a vital tool in the effort to improve Indigenous education.
On May 2, the latest phase of the initiative between Show Me The Way, Australia’s first Indigenous social networking site, and the Exodus Foundation, an organisation that assists marginalised and disadvantaged people, was launched.
Show Me The Way was conceived eight years ago by broadcaster Lola Forester, broadcaster, and multimedia producer Chris Maguire, as a way to improve retention and attendance rates of Indigenous children at school, and raise Indigenous numbers in tertiary education.
“We saw the way forward being an online mentoring program,” Mr Maguire says.
Ms Forester, Chair of Show Me The Way and long-running executive producer/presenter of the Aboriginal Program on SBS radio, is one of Australia’s most experienced Indigenous broadcasters.
She says that although many mentoring programs already exist, Show Me The Way’s use of technology and engagement with the corporate world gives it a unique advantage.
“Kids in this generation are using computers from a very early age. We need to use the technology that we have, because that’s what young people are right into these days,” she says.
She says Show Me The Way also differs from many existing mentoring programs that use secondary and tertiary students as mentors.
“We thought we should connect it to the corporate world so that students can talk to people who are actually out there within the real world.”
She points out that Show Me The Way retains a strong emphasis on maintaining Indigenous culture by allowing students to both learn about and teach Indigenous culture while engaging with the corporate world. She says this teaches students they don’t have to give up any of their culture in order to get a job.
“The bottom line is to maintain who you are and always be proud of who you are as an Aboriginal person,” she says.
Show Me The Way was developed over a number of years and in 2010, initial trials with the Exodus Foundation were run. This latest phase continues the relationship.
“The Exodus Foundation have great drive and commitment to supporting Indigenous students, so we are delighted to be working with them again,” says Mr Maguire.
Show Me The Way matches Indigenous students with learning partners from corporate Australia who are not necessarily Indigenous. The 16 students involved in this phase are paired with a learning partner from one of two law firms, Minter Ellison and Allens Arthur Robinson. The students will be able to access computers at the Exodus Foundation’s literary centers once a fortnight to communicate with them.
“It’s about making school relevant,” says Mr Maguire. “It’s about having a learning partner who has experience in the real world and can share their mistakes with a laugh.”
Pete Tattersall, Youth Program Manager at the Exodus Foundation, says the foundation is very happy to be participating in the program and is looking forward to replicating the successes of the trial.
“The most worthwhile aspect of it is that it broadens the experience of the young people,” he says. “When the young people come to this program, they have a narrow experience of the community and society as a whole. Show Me The Way opens up the corporate world to them and lets them see that it’s not the enemy, but rather something they can be a part of.”
The learning partner title is used to emphasise that it is an equal and mutually beneficial relationship.
Kate Vaughan, a lawyer at Minter Ellison, was a learning partner in the trials and is now the learning partner coordinator at Minter Ellison.
She believes the relationship between student and learning partner is definitely a mutually learning one.
“I think that for the junior lawyers, it’s an extra opportunity to hone in on their communication skills,” she says. “When junior lawyers are working with their clients here, the expectations are very similar – that you’ll be able to think on your feet and be able to articulate yourself quickly. Because you are really honing in on those skills, the relationship is mutually beneficial.”
The learning partners are also provided with education about Indigenous history and culture and must complete and pass competency quizzes.
Ms Vaughan believes it is a unique delivery of student mentoring.
“It can be quite daunting for a student who has had no exposure to corporate Sydney whatsoever,” she says. “The fact that it’s online really breaks down the initial barriers so that student and learning partner can have a meaningful conversation.”
The program also forms part of the two law firms’ individual corporate social responsibility aspirations.
“Our focus area is disadvantaged youth, so the link up between Show Me The Way and Exodus fits within that aspiration very easily,” says Ms Vaughan. “These are students who’ve sort of fallen through the cracks at traditional education facilities. At Exodus, the education is delivered uniquely. If Exodus didn’t exist, then some of these students simply wouldn’t finish.”
Show Me The Way is closely monitored and certain words such as ‘meeting’ and explicit words are flagged to administrators. The students and learning partners don’t meet until a graduation ceremony at the end of the 12-month program.
Kathryn Greiner AO, has worked extensively in Indigenous health, education and welfare. She has been involved with Show Me The Way since its inception and became its patron three months ago.
“I could see this was a logical program for young Indigenous people in terms of allowing them to see that there’s a world beyond their own four walls,” she says. “That is a challenge for all adolescents, but especially so for Indigenous adolescents.”
Mrs Greiner was also a member of the Gonski Review of School Funding.
“It was patently obvious that we are failing our Indigenous community members in education and we have to do something about it,” she says.
She believes that Show Me The Way goes beyond the traditional one-way street approach to support for Indigenous people. She believes the two-way relationship empowers learning partners with knowledge of the Indigenous community and their culture and heritage and allows the Indigenous and broader community to embark on a journey together.
“We can’t possibly allow any of our youngsters not to get full access to education and into the trade or university of their choice to follow a degree and give them a sense of a future with a job where they can be happy and get a personal sense of reward and satisfaction, which is what we ask of everybody.”