Uni demystified for our little ones

Over 100 students attended Children's University Charles Darwin Community Day.

Children’s University Charles Darwin (CUCD) Community Day opens the door to tertiary education for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous primary aged kids across the Northern Territory.

The day aims to develop a relationship between institutions, schools and young kids. The program works towards establishing curiosity and interest in education, by providing experiential learning, a diverse range of activities away from the standard classroom teaching model and cultural activities.

Of the 100 students in attendance, over one third identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander with many calling home places such as the Central Desert, Larrakia, Minmarama, Ngukurr, Nganmarriyanga, Torres Strait and Tiwi Islands.

Children learnt about culture, geology, singing, aquaculture and nursing. Marcus White and Keanu Fejo from the Bagot community partnered Gunbalanya’s Quinesha Narbulhbulh and Ludmilla Primary School students to learn about grass weaving and the didgeridoo and event began with a Welcome to Country from a Larrakia Elder.

CUCD’s Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Engagement and Success Professor Phillip Seltsikas said the day enables children to discover the fun and interesting factors within education and know that university education is well within their reach.

“Our Children’s University initiative is carefully designed to stimulate the aspirations of our children, to plant the seeds of higher and further education in their minds, and to demystify the concept of university from an early age,” Professor Seltsikas said.

CUCD coordinator, Virginia Spicer-Harden, said creating the relationship between university and students at a young age enables children to become familiar with the opportunities university offers them.

“It is really important that as part of the Children’s University program children get to experience campus culture and to understand what a university looks and feels like. By bringing students onto the Charles Darwin campus they get to experience this, as well as forming an understanding of the diversity of things that can be studied at university and what careers and futures these can lead to. We want kids walking away with a really positive experience, and to know that studying at university, at home in the NT with Charles Darwin, is a real possibility for them,” Spicer-Harden said.

Student attendance is an issue for schools in the NT and CUCD Community day aims to improve this by engaging students with various forms and types of education.

“The kids in the Children’s University program are strong, bright kids. I think a program such as this, which values experiential learning outside the classroom, can have a really positive impact on students who might struggle with the traditional school curriculum. The program provides a broad scope for children to be successful, which in turn can make them feel more positive about school and the education system.”

Ms Spicer-Harden said the day encourages students to try a diverse range of activities.

“The Children’s University program is designed to be inclusive, so we are mindful to include a diverse range of workshops to connect with kids of all cultural backgrounds. This said, it is a priority for us to connect in a culturally relevant way with Indigenous students and to demonstrate to them that there are culturally-safe spaces for them on campus, which provide specific support for Indigenous students.”

The event also aims to influence participating students’ opinions and decisions regarding education.

“Bringing students onto the CDU campus and giving them a positive experience of higher education can be a powerful way to change their thinking around their future,” Spicer-Harden said.

The program, trialled last year, and has grown with new participants Jingili, Millner and Larrakeyah Primary Schools. Darwin Surf Life Saving Club, The Burning Circus and Tracks Dance Company are newly appointed facilitators within the event.

Primary schools and organisations interested in the CUCD program are encouraged to apply.

By Rachael Knowles

1 Comment on Uni demystified for our little ones

  1. Is Queensland’s AITAP (Aboriginal and Islander Tertiary Aspirations Program) still operating in schools ? We tried to copy it in the early nineties, down here in SA, calling our AICAP (‘Careers Aspirations’) and ran a series of interactive career workshops across the State and in western NSW and Victoria, for kids down to Sixth Form/Class/Grade (in fact, we accidentally involved a class of lovely nine-year-old kids at Koonibba) for around six hundred kids. But the initiative wasn’t followed through: some influencial people thought that “Well, not all Aboriginal kids are going to go to university”, even though university-alone wasn’t our purpose, in fact we involved all sorts of group-training providers, i.e. for trades. All history now.

    Of course, Indigenous kids across the country are finishing Year 12 at four or five times the rate of twenty years ago, and Indigenous university numbers have tripled since 2005. Currently, there would be around sixty thousand (60,000) Indigenous university graduates (49,000 at the last Census), and 100,000 (one hundred thousand) is quite a reasonable prospect for 2025-2027. However, numbers of students from rural and remote areas aren’t going as fast, with some universities closing down their off-campus Study Centres. So there’s a long way to go yet.

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