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  • Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, Darwin, Australia


Participation in vocational training is strong among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from remote communities. However, completion rates for courses are low—on average, about 80% of participants drop out. What would it take to turn a training system in remote Australia around so completion rates exceed attrition? What would it take to make remote training programs more effective or transformative for trainees and communities? These are questions posed by a research project funded by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, conducted by researchers from five jurisdictions. The researchers examined data from five different training programs considered successful in terms of retention and employability outcomes. One finding was that success is not dependent on employment outcomes. Another finding was that course completion is only one factor contributing benefit to learners. A third finding is that for some courses, employment leads to training, not the other way around. This paper then problematizes the notion of transformative adult education in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. To be transformative training systems do not need to be efficient (in terms of completion rates). However, to be transformative means ensuring that participants and communities benefit in ways that matter to them.
John Guenther
Ninti One Limited and Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education
Melodie Bat
Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education
Bob Boughton
University of New England
Anna Dwyer
University of Notre Dame Australia
Melissa Marshall
University of Notre Dame Australia
Janet Skewes
TAFE South Australia
Anne Stephens
James Cook University
Frances Williamson
Western Sydney University
Sandra Wooltorton
University of Notre Dame Australia
Participation in vocational training is strong among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people from remote communities. However, completion rates for courses are low—on
average, about 80% of participants drop out. What would it take to turn a training system
in remote Australia around so completion rates exceed attrition? What would it take to
make remote training programs more effective or transformative for trainees and
These are questions posed by a research project funded by the National Centre for
Vocational Education Research, conducted by researchers from five jurisdictions. The
researchers examined data from five different training programs considered successful in
terms of retention and employability outcomes. One finding was that success is not
dependent on employment outcomes. Another finding was that course completion is only
one factor contributing benefit to learners. A third finding is that for some courses,
employment leads to training, not the other way around.
This paper then problematizes the notion of transformative adult education in remote
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. To be transformative training systems
do not need to be efficient (in terms of completion rates). However, to be transformative
means ensuring that participants and communities benefit in ways that matter to them.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have for some time embraced vocational education and
training (VET) particularly in places classified as remote and very remote by the Australian Bureau of
Statistics. Participation rates are high and qualification holders are increasing on the back of strong
participation. However, the expectations of VET as a vehicle for transition to employment or higher
education have not been realised, again particularly in remote parts of Australia. One reason for this is
attrition rates of about 80 per cent for many courses, particularly at low Australian Qualification
Framework (AQF) levels—in 2015, attrition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in very remote
areas across Australia was reported as 85 per cent (National Centre for Vocational Education
Research, 2016 Total VET Activity completions compared to enrolments for 2015).
To better understand the dynamics of enrolments and completions, a consortium of researchers across
Australia has investigated adult learning programs that they felt were effective in achieving above
average levels of retention and high levels of employability. The study, drawing on a set of five case
studies from remote areas in five jurisdictions, as well as publicly available quantitative data provides
insights from those involved in training: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners, trainers,
representatives of training provider organisations, job service providers and employers. The purpose
of this paper is to present some of the findings from the research, funded by the National Centre for
Vocational Education Research.
The context for the study is shown in the map below (Figure ). Five sites were selected by the
researchers, based on their pre-existing involvement in these areas. In the West Kimberley, the
Nulungu Research Institute investigated a case involving ranger training in one community, south of
Broome. In the Northern Territory, Batchelor Institute examined one of its own courses, a health
worker training program. James Cook University examined the case of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander training college in Cairns that caters for learners from Cape York, with a focus on community
service and mental health. The University of New England investigated the Literacy for Life
Foundation’s ‘Yes I Can’ adult literacy campaign in Western New South Wales. TAFE, South
Australia, examined a health worker training program for Anangu students on the Anangu
Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands of northern South Australia. The project was auspiced
through Ninti One Limited, which is particularly focused on remote parts of Australia. With the
exception of the Yes I Can case study, all the programs are accredited vocational education and
training programs.
The sites share a number of similar characteristics. The communities from which learners come, have
relatively high proportions of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. Many speak a traditional
language, a creole or a dialect of English. Residents have limited access to the range of services
typically available in urban areas. Educational opportunities for young people are often restricted to
primary years of schooling with boarding schools the only option for many secondary students. We
resist the stereotypes of remote communities as ‘disadvantaged’ (Guenther, Bat, & Osborne, 2014)—
in many cases the languages, lands and cultures of these places is a strength and advantage.
Figure . Case study sites
Our concern in this paper is focused on the adult learning needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people who live in places defined as ‘remote’ or ‘very remote’ by the Australian Bureau of
Statistics (ABS, 2011). When we discuss issues for remote learners in this paper, we are specifically
referring to this group.
The VET system
In this paper we discuss aspects of the vocational education and training (VET) ‘system’. By this we
refer to a collection of elements: from the trainee to the trainer, the provider, the funder, the policy
environment and end users, such as employers and industries. The focus of the case studies outlined
above is largely on training provision. While we consulted with a number of system stakeholders, the
data we have is mostly from people who were/are involved at the local or regional level, engaging
with adult learning in some way or another.
Literature review
We now turn to literature that underpins assumptions in VET policy and practice, and which is of
relevance to findings about adult learning we present later in the paper. We argue that Human Capital
Theory drives much of the impetus for investment in VET. Given this, the conceptions of VET
success within systems both within Australia and internationally, are largely built on measures of
economic participation, productivity and wealth. However, in the second section, we canvas literature
about alternative underpinning theories which see VET and adult learning more generally, as an
instrument for sustaining and transforming societies. Finally, we consider how adult learning has been
applied in remote parts of Australia.
How is ‘success’ constructed in policy and practice for adult learning?
Success in VET (indeed education more generally) is often articulated in terms of course completion
and transition towards employment or further study. An example of this interpretation is found in the
OECD’s recent Skills Matter report (OECD, 2016) which devotes four pages to health, trust,
volunteering, political efficacy and skills but the bulk of the remaining 156 pages to the importance of
adult skills for work, productivity, wages, labour markets and industry demand. In the Australian
context, Bowman and McKenna sum up the purpose of the VET system as follows:
Since 1992 the aim of the national VET system has been to respond to industry and
individual and community needs, all within a nationally agreed system to achieve
portability of VET skills across the nation and therefore labour mobility. The end goals
have been to achieve measurable improvements in the national work skills pool and in
employment among individual VET graduates. (Bowman & McKenna, 2016, p. 8)
Other reports paint a similar picture of VET, which as noted earlier, have their origins in Human
Capital Theory assumptions (for example Independent Economics, 2013). Occasionally equity
emerges as an indicator of successful VET but often this is considered within the context of access to
work (Considine, Watson, & Hall, 2005; Guenther, Falk, & Arnott, 2008) and further or higher
education (Wheelahan, 2009).
However, thinking about VET policy and practice both in Australia and internationally rarely
considers the direct benefit of adult learning as a vehicle for human capability development,
community development or poverty alleviation (Allais, 2012). Even at the level of foundation skills,
the focus of much training has been on Skills for Education and Employment (Department of Industry
Innovation Climate Change Science Research and Tertiary Education, 2013), rather than on capability
development, cultural knowledge, improved social cohesion.
For training providers funding models reinforce the need for training to be built on industry demand
where gaining a Certificate III is often seen as the minimum entry for employment (Australian
Workforce and Productivity Agency, 2013). Despite considerable effort on the part of training
providers, successful transition from training to employment remains a largely elusive outcome
(Guenther & McRae-Williams, 2014, 2015).
Alternative constructs: Transformative and sustaining learning
There are other motivations for individuals to engage in learning, such as the personal identity and
social benefit that arises from adult learning, many of which have already been documented by
NCVER’s previous research (Miller, 2005) as well as in its regular series of student outcomes
surveys. While economic participation may be an important outcome of training, it does not equate to
the kind of social transformation that gives power to those who are otherwise marginalised, or in
Freire’s (1970) terms, ‘oppressed’ such that ‘every prescription represents the imposition of one
individual's choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one
that conforms with the preservers consciousness’ (p. 47). These outcomes of adult learning fit well
with the capitals and capabilities framework articulated by Schuller (2004) in his discussion of the
‘wider benefits’ of learning. In this framework social, human and identity capital come together for
both individual and social outcomes, in order to sustain or transform. The sustaining aspect of
learning may be important for maintaining a sense of personal wellbeing or resilience, or alternatively
for reinforcing a sense of solidarity or social cohesion.
Mezirow (2012, p. 85), offering a different theoretical understanding, defines transformative learning
as ‘transforming a problematic frame of reference to make it more dependable in our adult life by
generating opinions and interpretations that are more justified’. Being able to ‘do’ new things is not
necessarily transformational at all, unless as Mezirow (2012, p. 87) suggests there is some ‘critical
reflection on the assumptions of others’ (objective reframing) or if there is some critical self-reflection
of one’s own assumptions…’ (subjective reframing). This being the case, the skills associated with
employability or completion of a certificate might be developmental but not transformational. The
transformative impacts may be, as Bynner and Hammond (2004) suggest, less likely where the learner
is coerced to train, for example in the case of a mandated training for employment program.
In the remote contexts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities (if not other indigenous
communities around the world), some would argue that Freire’s ‘oppression’ or Mezirow’s ‘frames of
reference’ are not the problem. Rather, the failure of education and training to address marginalisation
due to the effects of colonisation is at the heart of issues related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander learning, employment, identity and wellbeing (Dudgeon & Walker, 2015; Moreton-Robinson,
2004). Either way, the notion of training for jobs does nothing to address the legacies of colonisation
or the importance of transforming or sustaining through learning.
Remote participation in VET among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
Beyond the policy imperatives of economic participation as outlined earlier, the key benefits of adult
learning (formal and non-formal) in remote contexts are articulated in numerous studies over the last
Adult learning helps learners understand and succeed in ‘two worlds’ (Guenther, Davis, Foster, &
Arnott, 2010; Guenther, Gurruwiwi, & Donohoe, 2010);
Adult learning engages learners in textual activities for family, religious and community reasons
(Kral, 2012; Kral & Falk, 2004);
It shapes identities and builds confidence (Guenther, 2011; Kral, 2010; Kral & Schwab, 2012; Miller,
2005; R Wallace, 2008);
It helps learners network and build social capital (Sushames, McPadden, Whippy, & Thompson, 2011;
Ruth Wallace, 2011); and
It contributes to capacity building for communities and individuals (Kral & Falk, 2004; Sushames,
None of the above should deny the importance of adult learning approaches (and particularly those
focusing on literacy and numeracy) that support learners’ transition into some form of economic
participation. While we argue that training for work is not necessarily transformative or sustaining,
adult learning has the potential to shape the way learners negotiate ‘work’ (Arbon et al., 2003;
McRae-Williams, 2008) and how employers negotiate a safe space between cultures where work
The ‘enhancing training advantage’ research is built on mixed methods approaches where qualitative
data informs quantitative analysis obtained from individual case study sites and regional data obtained
from local sources where they are available (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998). The qualitative data draws
from unique ‘case study’ sites (Yin, 2003) and while we anticipated some common findings, the
learnings are not anticipated to be generalizable to all training environments across remote Australia
(Falk & Guenther, 2007). We anticipate however, that the learnings may inform an understanding of
why current approaches do not achieve desirable completion, retention and employability outcomes
for remote learners, and how aspects of training policy, practice and administration might be
improved to achieve better outcomes.
The lead researchers for this project are mindful of their status as outsiders within the remote contexts
they are examining (Guenther, Osborne, Arnott, & McRae-Williams, 2015). By and large, this
mitigated through the pre-existing relationships between the researcher and communities. It was also
mitigated through the use of an Advisory Group that included Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
representatives, many of who were from the case study regions. In the Kimberley case, local
researchers with family connections to the site were employed.
Research questions
Two research questions (RQs) guided this research. We refer to ‘employability’ in these questions,
rather than ‘employment’ partly because the issue of destinations beyond training is beyond the scope
of what was required in the original research scope, and is also difficult to track from the view of
training providers, even though they may well be linked to job service providers. We recognise that
outcomes other than employment may be important for participants (Fredman, 2014; Miller, 2005). At
a national level though, the need for VET (Pocock, Skinner, McMahon, & Pritchard, 2011) and even
foundational literacy and numeracy skills (Shomos, 2010) to increase productivity is paramount,
though not necessarily supported by strategic policy. While recognising the multiple reasons for
engagement in training, our research questions explicitly make the connection between training and
RQ1: How can retention and completion in post-school training be improved (to improve
employability) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in remote communities?
RQ2: What indicators of success other than completion, would be important for training in
remote communities (to improve employability)?
Ethical considerations
This project obtained ethical clearance through ethics committees at each of the universities
represented in the project.
While noting that all programs were perceived to be successful (in terms of completion rates at least),
our analysis of the available data shows a mixed picture. Two programs (Yes I Can and the Cairns
Aboriginal Training College) were well above the average for completion rates. The Aged care and
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker programs were close to the average for all
programs. It was not possible to fully assess the completion rates for the Ranger training program in
WA due to changes in training providers, and also due to the way that skills were mixed and matched
to needs. While the Rangers were enrolled in a Cert II/III/IV Conservation and Land Management
program, they were also engaged in other training programs that meant a year on year completion rate
would have given a spurious result.
Table . Case study sites (enrolments to completions)
Case study site Focus areas Estimated
completion rate
for selected
NSW Yes I Can Adult literacy campaign (non-accredited) 78%
QLD Cairns Aboriginal
Training College
Cert III Addictions Management and Community
Development (AMCD); Cert IV Indigenous Mental
Health (Suicide Prevention)
SA TAFE APY Lands aged
Cert II/III Community Services, Aged Care, Home
and Community Care
WA Ranger training program Cert II/III/IV Conservation and Land Management Not possible to assess
NT Batchelor Health Worker
training program
Cert IV Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Primary
Health Care
How can retention and completion in post-school training be improved?
While we asked particularly about retention and completion in programs, in many cases respondents
defaulted to responses about ‘participation’. And while we were looking for ways to improve retention
and completion, respondents often described barriers to participation. In this section we summarise
the main factors identified and illustrate them with a small selection of quotes from respondents. The
factors common and strong across all sites include trainer factors, family, personal and cultural
matters, training coordination and support and networks and relationships with other students.
Trainer factors were discussed in terms of trainer qualities and characteristics of delivery that helped
learners stay on track. They described the importance of positive relationships with students. One
trainer commented:
It’s that relationship as well [as trust]. You end up having a relationship with the employer
and a relationship with the student.
Partly connected to this, was the importance of longevity—some respondents did not like trainer
churn. Good trainers were recognised for their support of trainees—they were respected by learners.
Trainers who were adaptable and flexible were also recognised. Conversely, as the following
respondent from the ranger training case study suggests, poor trainer quality affects training
We’ve had issues with training providers; them not having enough time for us and often the
training hasn’t been up to scratch as well. Trying to find good training providers and good
trainers can be an issue and a barrier.
Issues categorised as family, personal and cultural barriers, were more likely to be inhibitors to
completion. Respondents discussed how personal circumstances, cultural obligations, health issues or
competing family priorities caused people to drop out. The issues are varied, for example from the
Cairns case study:
Alcohol and drugs are the most common reason people drop out. We might lose three to
people in the first residential block.
People also drop out due to cultural issues. For example, funerals. There are mourning
periods. They go for a long time. Students might not turn up for a block because the ritual
is still going on.
There are also traditional feuds. If one mob take on another mob you have to be in it.
Positive training coordination and support was a factor that helped trainees remain in courses despite
their personal and family circumstances. In part this was about communication flow to and from
trainers to trainees, but it also included administrative support with paper work, organising transport
and sitting and listening to the needs of students. Some respondents talked about trainers being
advocates for them, for example helping them with letters of support in order to get a job. The depth
of this coordination work is perhaps best demonstrated through the Yes I Can literacy campaign where
one respondent described the initial process as follows:
When we first enter a community, we do… a range of activities advertising, promoting,
talking, door to door, through the survey about what we’re doing; what we want to do and
whether they think there’s a need for it. When we do the doorknock, the household survey
which is a doorknock of each household, we take names there of potential students if
anyone wants to offer it up. Then of course everyone in the town knows… who needs help.
Community and family support was a factor that in most cases was helpful to trainees’ progression
towards completion, but the lack of family support conversely was seen to be an inhibitor. Many
trainees talked about family members who had shown the way through previous training and
employment. Others talked about elders actively encouraging participants to stay in the course. One of
the health worker students described her own family’s support:
For me it’s family commitments with the four kids. My parents look after my kids when I’m
out here so then when they have to do things and I go home and try and organise to do my
study from home.
Finally, relationships with other students was reported strongly across all sites. Respondents discussed
the importance of being part of a team, having a sense of solidarity, and being part of a tight
community of learners, separate to but not necessarily disconnected from community and family
support. For example from the Yes I Can case study, one respondent commented that:
They're not being embarrassed about participating because everybody is sort of in the
same boat.
Another Yes I Can respondent commented about the importance of the learning environment:
It’s the environment that’s created. It’s a place for people to come and have a yarn, a cup
of tea, have a feed together; it’s just a community environment…
Some sites had a particular focus on other factors. For example, with the health worker and aged care
programs, employer support was seen as critical. In both cases, trainees were already employed and
support in terms of supervision and guidance were seen to be critical. In the ranger program and the
aged care focused a lot on the significance of relevant content. Workload and degree of course
difficulty were factors mentioned often in the health worker, aged care and the Cairns Aboriginal
Training College course. The Cairns College respondents also focused a lot on purpose or motivation
driving progress towards completion. This to some degree reflects a Christian sense of calling that
draws many to the College.
What indicators of success other than completion, would be important for training in
remote communities (to improve employability)?
There were several common themes across the five programs that pointed to success. The most
frequently cited indicators of success were related to confidence and identity. Trainees described
being proud of their achievements. Trainers saw the transformational impact of training. One trainer
described a course having a healing effect. Another example of confidence was expressed in students
being able to speak out. For example in this brief exchange respondents speak about what they
observed in a fellow student:
I didn’t know what his voice sounded like until he started the ranger program. I never
heard his voice.
I heard him speak out there
We were shocked when he spoke. He was one kid we never heard until he was a big man.
The significance of foundation skills was also frequently cited. This included basic literacy and
numeracy skills, but it was also about work readiness and employability skills. Beyond that one
respondent at the Cairns college talked about her desire to write a letter so she could advocate for a
Kids were feeling blamed for where they were and child safety didn’t treat them well. I
wanted to have a greater say. I wrote a letter for a client for the social worker and the
social worker approved of it and I signed it with minor changes. Got to be able to write
letters and communicate.
An important indicator of success for many respondents was the level of local community
ownership there was for a course. This is reflected in a Yes I Can respondent who expressed
it like this:
We put our ideas into the program. We are able to be part of the whole of the processes
including the employment of staff for the project, being able to mentor the staff while
they're in the positions.
Often ownership was connected to aspects of culture and local knowledge. That is, where the learning
was mediated by local trainers, in language or ‘on country’, training was viewed as being more
valuable and ultimately successful. In the following quote from the ranger program, the connections
between country, technology and intergenerational knowledge are made:
Old people know in country where a certain spot is. They're mapping. Young people like us
have never been out there. We’ve got a four wheel drive to take us there and a GPS.
Whoever goes there first gets a marking on their GPS. We go in the motorcar now with
elders and workers and just follow the GPS up to a certain place. It’s really good.
Funding security was another common theme that resonated with stakeholders across all sites.
Conversely, where funding for courses was inadequate or uncertain, the likely effects were seen as
negative. The insecurity led to a sense of despair, as expressed by this respondent from the aged care
No, I just, you know, I guess I’m really hoping that in future, it can continue and as far as
I’m aware, it will not continue after the end of June… I’m really, it’s very upsetting that
that cannot continue and I really don’t understand why; I can’t.
Finally, among the common themes, respondents from all sites talked about employment outcomes.
That is, training was deemed successful when it led to employment or when it led to improved career
prospects. For example, one respondent from the health worker program stated:
I’m doing this course to help me better myself and to get a job. I used to be a health
worker many years ago so I came back and to revise and get on top.
Individual sites were more interested in other outcomes. For example, the Yes I Can site was
particularly concerned about social transformation, social engagement and benefits for children. The
Cairns Aboriginal Training College, APY Lands Aged Care and the Northern Territory Health Worker
programs showed particular concern for professional skill and identity development. While all sites
mentioned aspects of cultural connection as an indicator of success, this was particularly pronounced
in the Ranger training program.
It is first important to recognise that each of the five case study sites was different. While we found
common themes across sites, it is not surprising to see differences, reflecting the unique context,
courses and reasons for the programs. The identification of common themes is not a reason to adopt
one size fits all approaches. However, the common themes indicate that factors contributing to
completion or employability are not necessarily site or context dependent. For example, the finding
that personal, family and cultural factors contribute to retention is probably something that could be
taken as a given in any context. Training providers can do little to ameliorate the impact of personal,
cultural and family barriers, except to provide helpful support or to make allowances for these issues,
which generally means extending the deadlines for unit and course completions, which in turn does
little to help reduce attrition.
A recurring finding was that delivery efficiency is not dependent on an employment outcome—that is
respondents did not need there to be a job at the end of training for it to be effective. This is consistent
with the variety of purposes identified for remote VET programs identified earlier in the literature.
Employment was however one indicator (among many) of success for many respondents. For many
being employed was the reason they undertook training (for example the TAFE SA aged care
program, the Batchelor health worker program and the WA Ranger training program), but some were
frustrated at times by a relative lack of employer support. The two training programs with the lowest
retention rates were those that had built in employment and the most successful program was the Yes I
Can campaign, which does not purport to offer employment outcomes. These findings are consistent
with the failure of Human Capital Theory and its associated assumptions of what success means, as a
way of explaining motivation to complete a course.
Very few respondents spoke about completion as a benefit in its own right. For example, trainees did
not take about the importance of gaining a qualification, graduating or getting a certificate. They did
however talk about other benefits. For example, success was described often in all sites as self-
confidence (e.g. assertiveness, pride, personal growth) and foundation skills (e.g. literacy, numeracy,
public speaking, writing skills). Some of our data suggests that cultural embeddedness of training is
where benefit lies. This was particularly important for the Western Australian ranger trainees and the
Cairns Aboriginal Training College participants. For many respondents, particularly notable in the Yes
I Can campaign, the importance of local ownership, social engagement and social transformation were
important benefits of training.
These latter points lead to some important observations about transformative adult learning which was
discussed earlier in the literature. Based on Human Capital assumptions, most VET programs are
designed around the need for employability or workplace skills. The lack of objective or subjective
critical reflection embedded in training programs (Mezirow, 2012) is perhaps symptomatic of a
system that is driven by quality and compliance requirements and where funding is based, not on
outcomes for individuals, but on hours of training delivery.
Another point from this research is what our respondents did not talk about. There was little or no
mention of quality assurance requirements, public program funding models, philosophical
assumptions, VET policies, adult learning policies and programs, reporting requirements, Indigenous
education rights or human rights. There are probably good reasons for this—we did not ask about
these things specifically. However, we did not ask specifically about other issues we found to be
important (such as self-confidence, foundation skills, or employer support). It could be that these
systemic issues were not at the forefront of out participants’ minds or that the constraints of the
system were taken as the given, non-negotiable parameters within which they had to work. But
systemic issues are important. Part of the reason that retention rates are as low as they are, is that
government funding models are often based on enrolments or hours of training delivery. However, a
focus on completions would change the accessibility of many courses because providers would do all
they could to ensure that only those likely to succeed would be enrolled.
While funding certainty was raised as a factor that contributes to training success, very few
participants questioned funding models. The programs with high retention (Yes I Can and the Cairns
Aboriginal Training College) tended to suggest ways of working around the VET funding system to
ensure alternative and multiple sources of funding. These issues point to a need to interrogate other
elements of the training system (such as policy, funding models, quality assurance and compliance)
rather than only the training itself.
In summary, ‘advantage’ from training for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners, was
not seen only in terms of retention or employability, though some of our cases did place emphasis on
this (especially Yes I Can). Nor was the qualification identified as the main advantage of training. Our
respondents talked more about processes than they did outcomes—and that these processes were
beneficial in their own right. They talked about relationships and networks, support, mentoring, and
training coordination contributing to retention. They talked about transformative processes, for
example building confidence and foundation skills, social engagement, and benefits for children, a lot
more than they did about employment outcomes. They discussed funding security as a necessary
precondition for success. Some might argue that it is difficult to measure these things and therefore
they do not ‘count’ as valuable.
The research proposal on which the findings presented here are based, was premised on an
understanding of success measured in terms of employability and retention. Our initial scan of the
publicly available VET data showed that by and large, by these definitions, remote VET programs are
largely unsuccessful. We started out looking for successful programs based on these definitions, to see
what we could learn from them. What makes them different? What could we learn from them and
apply elsewhere?
We found a number of factors within our five case study sites that contributed to retention. Some (like
cultural, family and personal issues, or trainer factors) were common to all. Others, were unique to
some programs or just one program. While there are some issues that are beyond the control of a
training provider or funder, the importance of building community capacity, ownership, local
leadership and offering well-supported and coordinated training for learners were highlighted by
many of our respondents.
All of the programs we investigated were considered to be successful and were highly valued by the
institutions that were running them. However, they did not all meet the criteria we had set (in the
proposal) for success. But were those that did not meet our criteria unsuccessful? The answer to that
question is rather subjective and depends on the definition of success—or benefit—understood by an
What we can say though, is that if trainers are to increase the advantage gained from training for
remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners, they probably would not focus on course
completions, unless it was an indicator of some other transformative process (such as improved self-
confidence or social transformation). Underpinning the advantage is the need for adequate and secure
funding. There are advantages for many in completing courses, for example only those who have
completed qualifications in health worker or aged care can register to work as para professionals in
their fields. But for many, advantages in terms of positive cultural, personal and social transformations
are not dependent on completion. The ranger case study was a good example of this. However, there
is no doubt from our data that an important vehicle for increasing advantage is through local
ownership, building in local knowledge and cultural resources to facilitate transformative learning.
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... 278 However, despite an increase in numbers of indigenous students participating in vocational education, qualification completion rates are low and employment rates do not appear to be improving: "Of real concern is that vocational training is not demonstrably translating into employment for many remote community learners." 279 This clearly demonstrates shortfalls in Australia's inclusive TVET practices. ...
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This research was conducted by HundrED in collaboration with Technology Indus - tries of Finland and the strategy network of Finnish Vocational Institutes. HundrED was asked to research Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) on an international scale, looking at initiatives that would meet the needs of Finnish TVET students. There is an increasing disconnect between the skills students are obtaining in their education, and whether or not these skills are meeting the needs of an uncertain future. 1 With the recent reform to TVET in Finland, TVET institu - tions want to ensure that they are effectively preparing for inevitable changes.
Over recent years, considerable effort has been put into increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (First Nations) participation in higher education. While there are signs that enrolments are increasing, the sustained engagement and successful completion of higher education remains challenging, particularly in remote locations. With this in mind, a collaborative research project among researchers from three northern Australian tertiary education institutions was designed to understand student perspectives, particularly from remote contexts, about their engagement and success towards completion in higher education. Based on a qualitative research design situating Indigenist/interpretive research within a critical realism metatheory, we present findings from the study, based in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, and unpack implications for higher education provision in remote contexts. The findings point to the unique challenges faced by students who live in the Kimberley—and perhaps in other remote locations around Australia. In order to meet these needs, we suggest that tertiary education providers must tailor provision to ensure that engagement with Aboriginal students is relational and culturally safe.
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In this paper, the authors debunk a long-held myth that generalisation is primarily the domain of quantitative research. Based on a review of modern and historical approaches to generalisation, they argue that generalisation from qualitative research (GQR) can be achieved, not through a process of self-justification, but through defensible and rigorous research design and methods. The authors go on to consider examples from their own qualitative research work spanning the last 20 years. From these examples they offer mechanisms that qualitative researchers can employ to generalise from their findings. They suggest that generalisation is achieved through a process of generalisation cycles (GCs) which produce normative truth statements (NTSs), which in turn can be contested or confirmed with theory and empirical evidence.
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The 'education is the key' mantra is often used as a metaphor in remote First Nations communities to indicate the importance of learning to achieve some measure of socioeconomic advantage. It is fair to say that First Nations people have bought into education and training vehicle with enthusiasm. The Year 12 completion data coming out of Closing the Gap suggest that 'gaps' are closing. The rates of people holding certificate qualifications in remote communities are also increasing at a fast pace. But the vehicle appears to be breaking down as it heads along the road towards jobs and economic participation. This paper presents an analysis of Census data from 2001 to 2016 to show trends in qualification uptake, year 12 attainment, employment and income. The data, based on the 'very remote' regions of the ABS Remoteness Classification Structure, points to strong growth in educational achievement, consistent with Closing the Gap. But our 'break down' of the data into non-Indigenous, First Nations language speakers and First Nations English speakers shows little change in the economic fortunes of language speakers. The authors unpack why this may be and consider what might need to change for the vehicle to get back on the road again.
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Strategies to date have been ineffective in reducing high rates of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) in Australian Aboriginal people; a disease caused by streptococcal infections. A remote Aboriginal community initiated a collaboration to work towards elimination of RHD. Based in ‘both-way learning’ (reciprocal knowledge co-creation), the aim of this study was to co-design, implement and evaluate community-based participatory action research (CBPAR) to achieve this vision. Activities related to understanding and addressing RHD social determinants were delivered through an accredited course adapted to meet learner and project needs. Theory-driven evaluation linking CBPAR to empowerment was applied. Data collection comprised focus groups, interviews, observation, and co-development and use of measurement tools such as surveys. Data analysis utilised process indicators from national guidelines for Aboriginal health research, and outcome indicators derived from the Wallerstein framework. Findings include the importance of valuing traditional knowledges and ways of learning such as locally-meaningful metaphors to explore unfamiliar concepts; empowerment through critical thinking and community ownership of knowledge about RHD and research; providing practical guidance in implementing empowering and decolonising principles / theories. Lessons learned are applicable to next stages of the RHD elimination strategy which must include scale-up of community leadership in research agenda-setting and implementation.
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The field of research on “generalizing from qualitative research” (for convenience now referred to as GQR) is quite recent. It stems from an era which could be characterized as the “discourse of self-justification” when disclaimers about not generalizing from qualitative research were considered mandatory. Within this discourse of self-justification, there was always – small at first – some acceptance that generalization is possible and occurs. So from within the self-justification, there was also a strand that said “But maybe, just maybe we do? Or we can?”. Our point here is to review the recent field of research and then step back and look at “generalization” in general in its historical sense and follow how generalization, in any form, was always used – in fact it was/is mandatory for survival and became essential as a process in the statistical and scientific communities. To illustrate the processes of generalization in a contemporary applied vocational learning context, we provide two case studies – one from Australia and the other from Indonesia. To conclude, we will revisit GQR in the light of this vocational learning context in order to conceptualize GQR processes without the constraints of definitions based on narrowly proscribed paradigms which limit truth and reality to what can be measured or counted.
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