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Transition program gives Yirrkala students a head start at university

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Year 12 graduates from Yirrkala Bilingual School participate in a pilot program that enables them to build academic literacy and knowledge to prepare them for Higher Education courses.

A transition program at Charles Darwin University (CDU) is supporting First Nations students from Yirrkala in East Arnhem Land to get a head start on university life.

A group of six students who have completed Year 12 at Yirrkala Bilingual School are attending a mixed-mode, block version of the Tertiary Enabling Program (TEP) that allows for on-country learning as well as on-campus experience supported by Yolŋu peer mentors and academic tutors.

The program, in partnership with the Djalkiri Foundation in Yirrkala, aims at supporting the students’ literacy skills and cultural transition to prepare them for their higher education degrees.

Project leader Dr Nicola Rolls, Senior Lecturer at the College of Indigenous Futures, Education and the Arts, said the program could assist students’ transition to their studies at CDU.

“Research shows the first year of university is hard. If the students can survive the first year, they are likely to successfully complete their course of study,” Dr Rolls said.

“The students from Yirrkala Bilingual School are from a distinct cultural and language context where English is their additional language. This adds another layer to the challenges in reading and writing academic English.”

“Because this pilot TEP is designed to allow flexible modes and two-way cultural and academic support, the students have the benefit of a gradual transition towards becoming more independent in managing the demands of undergraduate study in a vastly different cultural context,” she said.

“We need to think about how all the support mechanisms can work together to help to create a sense of belonging as well as provide academic literacy and learning skills that will make it less challenging for the students to study at university.”

The team is working with CDU’s First Nations Student Services to provide this support, including tutor assistance and a supportive space for learning.

Another important component of the program is enabling students to settle in to living in Darwin while studying at the Casuarina campus.

Student accommodation International House Darwin (IHD) is supporting the project team to ensure the students are provided with culturally safe and inclusive on-campus accommodation.

The pilot program is funded through the Department of Education, Skills and Employment's Higher Education Partnerships Participation Program (HEPPP) and will complete by November 2021. The evaluation of the program will include feedback from the students, their families and those involved in teaching and supporting the students.

The program builds on two previous Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program initiatives which contribute resources in Yolŋu Matha for online learning and peer mentoring.

It has also benefited from connections and groundwork laid by CDU’s Team Aspire who facilitate age-appropriate opportunities for Northern Territory school students to repeatedly connect with the horizons of higher education, possible careers and lifelong learning

This pilot aims to provide a model for future transition programs to provide holistic support for First Nations students from other remote areas in the Northern Territory.

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