from Margaret Vickers
On December 10, Dr Dorothy Hoddinott received the 2014 Australian Human Rights Medal in recognition of her extraordinary support for refugee and immigrant communities over many years.
She is the principal of Holroyd High School, a school where almost 60% of the students are of refugee-background. She describes the young people enrolled in her school as children who have suffered unimaginable traumas, who have fled for their lives, often coming to Australia by boat. Almost all have had no schooling or interrupted schooling. Defying the odds, the majority of them complete an HSC at Holroyd. Approximately 40% enter a university, with a substantial proportion being admitted to the University of Western Sydney (UWS). The UWS School of Education (SoE) proudly offers a number of programs to support the educational success of refugee-background students. Dr Hoddinott has been a consistent mentor and supporter of all our efforts in this direction.
In 2006, the UWS Vice Chancellor asked the SoE to explore problems that were arising as more children from conflict-affected countries such as Sudan, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Sri Lanka arrived in Australia. These children had mostly never attended school, never sat in a desk, and were completely unaware of the established cultural norms and practices of Australian schools. Teachers at the front line – especially those in the Intensive English Centres (IEC) – were alarmed by what they were confronting. Our first project involved asking IEC teachers to participate in study circles where they shared their experiences over several weeks. Prominent among our first participants were IEC teachers from Holroyd high school. In conversation with Dorothy and these teachers, we gained fundamental insights into the challenges involved for schools. This work gave us the inspiration to promote new projects, supporting refugee-background students in local schools and at UWS (see Ferfolja, Vickers, McCarthy, Naidoo & Brace, 2011).
From these early beginnings two substantial programs have emerged. The first is the Refugee Action Support (RAS) program, a joint initiative of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation and the NSW DEC. Through RAS, refugee-background students in secondary schools receive in-school assistance and after-school tutoring aimed at developing their literacy skills and improving their engagement in schooling. RAS was pilot-tested by the SoE in four Western Sydney high schools in 2007. It is now supported by four Universities and operates in Western Sydney, the Riverina and the ACT, involving over 20 secondary schools.
The second program is Equity Buddies (EB) – a for-credit cross-level student mentoring program supported by an Office of Learning and Teaching grant. EB provides support for refugee-background students, helping them to form social networks and to understand the unwritten rules that underlie University success. It has now been recognised as a program that delivers more broadly defined benefits for first-year students and their mentors, including a stronger sense of ‘community’ on campus, improved writing and referencing skills, better time management, and greater cross-cultural understanding (McCarthy, Vickers & Zammit, 2014). EB is now a continuing part of the UWS curriculum that will soon be extended to other schools and campuses across UWS.
In April 2014, UWS awarded Dorothy Hoddinott the degree of Doctor of Letters in recognition of her support for social justice and her work with refugee-background students. The School of Education would like to thank Dorothy for her inexhaustible inspiration. We extend our warm congratulations to her as she now receives the 2014 Human Rights Medal.
Ferfolja, T. Vickers, M. H., McCarthy, F. E., Naidoo, L. & Brace, E. (2011). Crossing Borders: African refugees, teachers and schools. Canberra, ACT: Australian Curriculum Studies Association.
McCarthy, F. E., Vickers, M. H., & Zammit, K. (2014). Facilitators as pedagogical leaders: the acquisition of requisite forms of capital in University settings. In S. Gannon & W. Sawyer, Contemporary Issues of Equity in Education. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press.
Professor Margaret Vickers has a distinguished career in education in international policy development, and as a senior academic leader and researcher. She currently holds the position of Adjunct Professor in the School of Education and the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney.