Tackling disadvantage through student centered learning - exploring 'Worlds of Work' in the Melbourne CBD

Year: 2008

Author: Stokes, Helen, Turnbull, Malcolm, Black, Rosalyn

Type of paper: Refereed paper

As the educational landscape increasingly mirrors deepening socio-economic cleavages within Australian society, the disparity in educational outcomes has been identified as one of the biggest challenges confronting secondary schooling. In contrast with most OECD countries, family background remains the most important determinant of educational achievement in Australia. More and more, schools are defined by location, reinforcing what has been dubbed the 'circular pattern of disadvantage'. At the same time, recognition of strong links between outcomes, socio economic status and location has elicited growing calls for systematic redefining of learning experiences and the public education framework. Focus on flexible, rigorous, community-oriented, person-centred learning opportunities has predicated multiple mentoring and youth schemes and has guided policy. Recognition of the need to re-engage Year 9 and 10 students underpinned development of VELS, for instance; it has also directed the programming priorities of Education Foundation Australia (EFA). This paper will discuss first, how schools perceive the programs have made a difference to both individual students and the curriculum offered in the schools, and second, how the experiences and activities provided through the program have changed the expectations and aspirations that many of the participants have in regard to how they perceive their future, their engagement with school and their careers. Both City Centre and Worlds of Work (WOW) program have received a very positive student response to real world activities that have demonstrably enhanced the development of reflective processes, interpersonal and social skills and social networks. Practical outcomes have included self-organised work experience, the development of mentor relationships and the re-engagement of some students with the schooling process. Interview data confirmed EFA's assessment that its programs have greatest impact when integrated into a school's curriculum rather than as "stand alone" electives.