Enhancing training advantage for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners

Participation in vocational training is strong among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from remote communities. However, despite the high level of participation, completion rates for courses are very low—on average, about 90 per cent of participants drop out. High attrition rates are used to judge the system as inefficient. Training providers who operate in remote parts of Australia have become accustomed to high drop-out rates, but what would it take to turn an adult learning or training system in remote Australia around so that completion rates exceeded drop-out rates? And what would it take to make remote training programs more effective or transformative for trainees and communities?These are key questions posed by a research project funded by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research and conducted by a consortium of researchers from five jurisdictions. The researchers examined the questions by analysing data from five different training programs that were considered successful in terms of retention and employability outcomes. The answers to the question are multifaceted. One key finding was that delivery efficiency is not dependent on an employment outcome (that is there does not need to be a job at the end of training for it to be effective). Another key finding was that course completion is not the only factor contributing to potential benefit for training clients—some of our data suggests that cultural embeddedness of training is where benefit lies. A third key finding is that for some courses, it is employment that leads to training, not the other way around. This turns the notion of pathways to employment on its head.The purpose of the paper then is to problematize the notion of transformative adult education in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. To be transformative (for individuals at least) training systems do not need to be efficient (in terms of completion rates). However, an efficient system that is transformative we argue, is not necessarily the cheapest system—increasing efficiency may come at a price in order to make it effective. One important point of our discussion will be to consider who determines what transformation means and then how adult learning systems can accommodate the desired transformation.