How experiential learning in an informal setting promotes class equity and social and economic justice for children from “communities at promise”: An Australian perspective

Abstract

Educational research often portrays culturally, linguistically and economically disenfranchised (CLED) children’s disengagement from school learning as individual behaviour, ignoring the contribution of race, gender, socio-cultural, ethnic and social class factors. This paper analyses a specific community engagement programme in Australia which uses experiential learning in an informal setting. The programme, which has been running for seven years, partners pre-service teachers, volunteer high school students and volunteers from a national bank with primary schools where many pupils are experiencing learning difficulties and school engagement problems as a result of their socio-economic status, their poverty, and their ethnic and cultural diversity. Drawing on the perspectives of the children and volunteers participating in the pilot study, and privileging their voices, this paper illustrates how community partnerships may be developed and sustained. The programme’s conceptual framework of Connecting-Owning-Responding-Empowering (CORE) pedagogy is explored for its potential to enhance student engagement, achievement and empowerment through focused community involvement. The findings show that when students feel connected to and involved in their community, all participants are empowered in their learning and teaching.

Résumé

Comment l’apprentissage expérientiel en situation informelle favorise l’équité entre les classes et la justice sociale et économique pour les enfants de milieux défavorisés: une perspective australienne – La recherche éducative décrit fréquemment sous forme de comportement individuel le désengagement de l’apprentissage scolaire par les enfants défavorisés sur le plan culturel, linguistique et économique, en laissant de côté la contribution des facteurs d’ordre socio-culturel, ethnique, liés au sexe et à la classe sociale. L’auteur de l’article analyse un programme spécifique d’engagement communautaire en Australie, qui exploite l’apprentissage expérientiel dans une situation informelle. Déployé depuis sept ans, ce programme associe en un partenariat des enseignants en formation, des bénévoles étudiants et employés d’une banque nationale aux écoles primaires accueillant de nombreux élèves en difficulté d’apprentissage et d’engagement scolaire en raison de leur statut socioéconomique, leur pauvreté et leur diversité ethnique et culturelle. Partant des perspectives des enfants et des bénévoles qui ont participé à l’étude pilote, et privilégiant leurs avis, l’auteur illustre comment peuvent être élaborés et maintenus des partenariats communautaires. Le cadre conceptuel pour le programme pédagogique Relier-Posséder-Réagir-Autonomiser (Connecting-Owning-Responding-Empowering CORE) est exploré pour son potentiel à favoriser l’engagement, la performance et l’autonomie des élèves à travers l’implication communautaire. Les résultats démontrent que si les élèves se sentent reliés à leur communauté et impliqués dans celle-ci, tous les participants connaissent une autonomisation dans leur apprentissage et leur enseignement.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    While diversity and disadvantage are widely acknowledged as value-laden discourses, the term more commonly used in Australia and elsewhere is Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD). These terms do reflect a hegemonic view among white people, as well as a semi-official view of the government, that ethnicity and class are not issues. But diverse students or diverse families too often refer to students or families whose ancestry is mostly not white or working-class – this implicitly maintains middle-class whiteness and English as normal. Therefore, the comparatively more accurate term Culturally, Linguistically and Economically Disenfranchised (CLED) is preferred, also in this paper.

  2. 2.

    Beth Blue Swadener (1995) uses the positive term “at promise” rather than negative “at risk”.

  3. 3.

    A 15-minute video of the research project is available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/MLRd_fTr-0Q [accessed 8 November 2016].

  4. 4.

    Citizen Schools is an American non-profit organisation which partners with junior high schools across the United States to enhance the learning experience of children from low-income backgrounds, thus strengthening their communities (see Citizen Schools 2009).

  5. 5.

    Relational learning refers to a learning environment in which learners and teachers learn with and from each other. The relational learning framework has the simple focus of continuously striving to improve personal agency – by making everyone a learner and a leader, which are the two key functions of an education system, and working to develop the associated skills. For more information, see http://relationalearning.com/about-crl/relationalearning/ [accessed 6 December 2016].

  6. 6.

    In Australia, children enter primary school (Years 1–6) at age 6. They progress to secondary school (Years 7–12) at age 12. In the case of CLED children, there may of course be a delay until they reach the proficiencies required for the Year which would be appropriate for their age. The CLED primary school pupils participating in this research were on average aged 11–13; the high school volunteers were on average aged 15–16.

  7. 7.

    In a nutshell, transformative connectedness enables students to have more control over their lives; learning about individual and collective rights, and is connected to a more participatory social vision, while tokenistic connectedness focuses on providing the human capital needs of industry and business.

  8. 8.

    Claymation – merging “clay” and “animation” – involves forming “characters” (e.g. animals or people) out of playdough or plasticine and using them to make an animated film.

  9. 9.

    Each year the Victorian Education Department collects student engagement data based on surveys completed by all students in all schools. This is complemented by national standardised testing in literacy and numeracy in Years 3 and 5. The principal and teachers receive detailed reports at school, class and student level. In addition to these data, the two schools who participated in our research use anecdotal reports, classroom teachers regularly use formative as well as summative assessments in these schools to collect data about pupil performance and achievement.

  10. 10.

    At the time of writing, the National Australia Bank has committed to providing, at a minimum, 12 volunteer mentors for the entire 8 weeks of each programme. The E-LINCs programme has won two prestigious SchoolsFirst Awards: an AUD 25,000 seed grant in 2010 and a National Impact Award of AUD 50,000 in 2011.

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Acknowledgements

Firstly, thank you to the wonderful volunteers without whom the E-LINCs programme would not have seen the light of day. Also thank you to the visionary school principals and their staff who made it possible, and to the National Australia Bank, Foundation for Youth Australia and Schools First for believing in the programme. Finally, thank you to the children from whom we learn so much every time we meet.

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Zyngier, D. How experiential learning in an informal setting promotes class equity and social and economic justice for children from “communities at promise”: An Australian perspective. Int Rev Educ 63, 9–28 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11159-017-9621-x

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Keywords

  • Experiential learning
  • Informal education
  • Student disengagement
  • Social disadvantage
  • Community involvement
  • Connecting-Owning-Responding-Empowering (CORE) pedagogy