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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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The Aboriginal Career Aspirations program

Julie Tassone
Kevin Lowe
Kevin Lowe is Chief Education Officer, Aboriginal Curriculum Unit, New South Wales Office of the Board of Studies. Julie Tassone is a private education consultant.

The Aboriginal Career Aspirations Program (ACAP) is one of a range of programs designed to improve participation rates and education outcomes for Indigenous students in Australian schools. The project applies Aboriginal perspectives to career education, including transitions, pathways planning, work and enterprise education. Funded under the Commonwealth Government's Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Programme (IESIP), ACAP seeks to address the critical issues surrounding Aboriginal student attendance, retention and educational achievement.

The premise for the project was that by making school more relevant and interesting to Aboriginal students, they would be encouraged to complete their compulsory and post-compulsory school education. Through the notion of 'aspirations', ACAP endeavours to encourage and develop Aboriginal students' work, study and life aspirations by fostering positive self image, identity and knowledge.

The ACAP concept originated in Queensland, where Aboriginal students were provided with workshops and careers expos across the State, in order to facilitate their understanding of careers and to develop student aspirations in relation to work and future study/pathways. The Queensland model was later applied in other States, including South Australia.

The New South Wales Approach
In New South Wales a different approach was taken, with the aim of developing resources and teaching programs that could be implemented by and in schools across the curriculum. ACAP was developed by the New South Wales Office of the Board of Studies, building on its work in the identification of Years 7-12 Career Education Outcomes .

The resulting ACAP kit includes a teacher resource book and accompanying student worksheets/units, covering 'stand-alone' career education teaching and learning strategies, and a teacher handbook with Stage 4 and Stage 5 'mainstream' curriculum materials.

ACAP was piloted in 12 government schools across New South Wales. Over 500 students in Years 7-10 participated in the pilot project, with a small number also involved from Year 11. The kit was distributed to every high school in New South Wales, and to offices of the Department of Education Science and Training.

The project strongly emphasises community involvement and consultation in both the development of the materials and their delivery. Independent research has also formed a distinct part of the project. External researchers analysed and tested some of the premises on which the project was developed, particularly in relation to student and community aspirations, and the impact and affects of community participation and engagement in education.

Where to Now?
The project identified a number of key issues needing further attention.

There is a continuing need for greater understanding by schools of the particular experiences and issues faced by Aboriginal students and their communities. Appropriate training is required for school personnel, in particular raising awareness of the New South Wales Department of Education's Aboriginal Education Policy (AEP), in order to facilitate understanding of Aboriginal students and their communities.

It is also important to aid the integration of Aboriginal perspectives within the curriculum, so that projects such as ACAP are not treated as an 'extra' within the school context.

Schools continue to demonstrate limited understanding of the critical role that Aboriginal parents and community members play in their children's education. Meaningful and effective engagement and participation of Aboriginal communities in the education process will underpin any successful initiative for Aboriginal students.

While much progress has been made, many school staff remain inadequately informed about career education, often believing that it is the sole domain of careers advisors. This problem impacts directly on attempts to implement cross-curricula attempts at career, work or enterprise education.

As with all 'alternative' education programs, ACAP demonstrates the importance of school staff ownership of a project for its success.

Aboriginal staff remain under-valued and lack recognition in schools. There are opportunities for schools to formalise the critical role of Aboriginal Education Assistants and other staff. Their role in programs such as ACAP, and as 'mainstream' members of the school community, remains critical and deserves further attention.

Opportunities - A Way Forward?
The recent review of the Years 7-10 syllabuses by the New South Wales Board of Studies provides an ideal opportunity to revisit the ACAP project in the following contexts:

  • curriculum development
  • further research into the effectiveness of Aboriginal education initiatives
  • collection and analysis of data regarding Aboriginal education initiatives, in particular the impact of community participation and engagement on aspirations and educational outcomes
  • national work in the areas of careers, work and enterprise education.
With greater attention being placed on community capacity building by State and Commonwealth government agencies in all areas of service provision, the critical role of Aboriginal communities in the achievement of improved educational outcomes for Aboriginal students remains a policy and program void requiring urgent attention.

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