Conversations with Young People: Navigating Higher Education Aspirations through Creative Arts Outreach Programs in Low SES schools

Year: 2015

Author: Geaga, Antoinette, MacCallum, Judith, Taggart, Andrew, Vernon, Lynette

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper discusses building and supporting educational aspirations in low SES schools in Perth through innovative Creative Arts curriculum and pedagogy. The program was part of a larger strategy to increase participation in higher education. Industry professionals and university student mentors were engaged to build skills and knowledge, and provide ‘real world’ information about training and careers in Arts field. Access to film industry is an important point of difference which sets the CAI Film program apart from other external outreach programs. The conceptual framework for this study drew on Ecological System theory that places young people in a bi-directional interaction with the microsystem (including teachers, mentors and professionals) with educational aspirations as the goal.

The research used a qualitative methodology to analyse conversations with young people about becoming engaged or re-engaged at school and planning for their future. Data sources were interviews and unsolicited letters from film participants across the four schools. Fifteen ‘film’ students were interviewed in a semi-structured group interview format and fifteen unsolicited letters were received via the schools. Participants were asked about their role in the film, their interactions with the mentors and professionals and their plans for the future.

Students described their participation in the curricular-based learning program and how it helped them to apply industry-level skills to their Arts, Creative Industries and Digital Media curriculum, which led them to think seriously about school completion and transitions to higher education to pursue imagined futures. Data analyses focused on people and events that significantly influenced students’ attitudes, thoughts and behaviours about school, learning and their future plans. Through these conversations (written and transcribed), three themes emerged: personal change and changes in relationship with parents and teachers through interactions (personal transformation); changes in appreciation of learning, understanding of learning and how to apply new found skills across learning disciplines (value of learning); and interesting and fun learning at school (school engagement and re-engagement). Students’ stories revealed recognition of changes in themselves and the way they think about school and the future. In the paper one story is used to highlight these personal transformations and plans to complete school.

This study highlights the value of CAI as a mechanism for innovative learning and teaching, school engagement and access to industry and university mentors at school. We discuss how programs like CAI can help students from low SES schools to navigate school and develop their educational aspirations.