Monash University

Launching the Hope Kiosk: family-wide support for asylum-seeker background students

It is vital that educators act to try to dismantle the social inequities they discover through their practice. We are privileged to work at the frontline of daily social change, and our work is a wonderful messy mix of teaching, learning and researching that shapes and is in itself, social action. As an educator in a range of roles – teacher, school curriculum and team leader, educational activist and researcher – with asylum-seeking students, I have long been committed to finding out about and building practices that work around and help to overcome the multiple barriers that Australia’s political, legal and social systems construct that exclude people who sought asylum by boat from full and sustainable educational participation.

My experiences have only strengthened my conviction that (1) being an educator demands empathic solidarity and (2) that such solidarity is an essential part of purposeful grass-roots practice for social justice. I have come to believe that educators can take certain kinds of action that is at once relational and political, neither fearful nor feeble in the face of the unjust exertion of state power. Such practices are in themselves the wonderful stuff of change. 

What we found

In my doctoral study, Partnering for Hope, I worked with post-secondary asylum-seeking students, most of whom were studying on scholarships at a range of universities across Melbourne. One of the things that research found was that while the benefits to students on fee-waiver university scholarships were life changing, they remained significantly and persistently disadvantaged. Their parents often had little or no English language skills and they were the only adults in their family with strong English and experience in dealing effectively with Australian institutions of any kind.

They were trying to straddle two cultures and multiple demands: to study in their third or fourth language, to work to support themselves and their families and often to manage time-intensive needs of other family members – parents with various health issues, younger siblings education/school issues and whole family immigration visa-related issues. These young people told us clearly that in order to really help, we needed to take a whole-family approach. 

What’s happening?

One of the responses to what we found has been a business plan for the Hope Kiosk, as the first Hope Co-Operative Social Enterprise Project. It has come about through conversations between Hope Co-op, Earthworker Co-operative and Victorian Trades Hall, and the empty kiosk space there. Trades Hall are generously subsidising 100% of the rent for the first few months, and Hope has been able to use a small business-development grant from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to begin preparations. 

One asylum-seeker background family has decided to take on the challenge, learn to make great coffee and become part of the Trades Hall community, and together we have been cleaning, planning, getting initial training for the mother and daughter team, certification and registration of the business premises, and painting!

The Kiosk is due to be launched on May Day at Trades Hall, in Carlton, Melbourne. May Day is traditionally a day of celebrating the rights and gains of workers, including the eight-hour working day. It symbolises the rights and capabilities of workers to stand together and resist exploitation by the powerful. People seeking asylum have been among the most oppressed in Australian society – their human rights do not exist in Australian law; the Amendments to the Migration Act (2014) orchestrated by the previous government removed their right to natural justice, including that of fair legal process. It is wonderfully fitting that despite the most powerful exclusionary efforts by Australia’s highest authorities, Riya and Dilini’s rights to participate in their local society and economy have been upheld in solidarity, by grassroots community action. Alongside Riya’s first coffee sales and snacks, this solidarity will be marvellously celebrated on May Day. 

Who’s involved?

The kiosk will be run by one Sri Lankan mum, Riya, and her daughter Dilini. Dilini has just finished her Bachelor of Science through an asylum-seeker scholarship at the University of Melbourne, has outstanding English and multiple skills. Her mum Riya, has had very low level English, been completely socially isolated for many years and just recently has become connected to the Hope Co-op community. The benefits for Riya are already becoming clear: she has learned to navigate public transport alone for the first time, has been able to purchase a phone and communicate enough in English to come to planning meetings and painting days. She has done her Barista and Food Handling certificates, and her wellbeing has been improving steadily just through embarking on this together. 

Riya is also a highly skilled Sri Lankan cook, and after more than 10 years of being severely impacted by harsh Australian asylum-seeker laws, is excited about reviving her passion for hospitality. Her family, including Dilini, two school aged children and another sister who has just begun university after years of being locked out of higher education, will benefit for decades to come from Riya’s having work, developing her English and financial literacy, and being happily connected with instead of isolated from local community.

How you can help?

To launch the Hope Kiosk, Hope Community Foundation is aiming to raise $26,000 to cover the cost of the second hand coffee machine, add some shelving and cupboards to the Kiosk space, and subsidise Riya’s wages by 50% for six months, to allow her to develop the Kiosk into a self-sustaining Social Enterprise. 

We have launched a crowd-funding campaign on the local Australian platform, Pozible. So far we have raised over $5500, but we need help to get to our first half-way target of $13,000. There are two things you can do to help: 

1 – donate to the campaign

2 – share the link widely with your own networks, now and several times in the coming month. 

Thanks for reading, and if you live or work close to Carlton, please keep an eye out for the Hope Kiosk banners on Lygon and Victoria streets, and pop in for a coffee! If you live far away, I hope this blog post inspires you a little in whatever your part is in our communal work for social good, active citizenship and inclusive education.

You might also like to look at Earthworker and Hope Co-operative

Sally Morgan has a PhD from Monash University. Her research is in education, agency and employment pathways for people of asylum seeker background. She wrote this piece during the 2023 AARE conference.

The future of teaching: what we must find out

What will it mean to be a teacher – and teach – in the future? What should be the relationships between schools and communities, young people and school systems? How can we overcome the challenges currently faced by teachers and by schools to imagine new futures for teachers and teaching?

The Wednesday evening of the AARE conference week in Melbourne saw the launch of the Monash Faculty of Education’s Inquiry into the Future of the Teaching Profession. The Inquiry will put Australian teachers and teacher educators’ work into a broader international context and actively seek to create resources for local public debate – new ideas, new language, and new practical options for moving constructively to reimagine teaching, teacher education and schooling. It will be an opportunity to shape a new, hopeful and future-oriented discourse about education in society.

Chaired by Marie Brennan, Professorial Fellow in the Monash Faculty and eminent Australian educationist, the Inquiry panel will comprise James Desmond, Head of Humanities and an early career teacher at the Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School in Melbourne; Meredith Peace, Victorian President of the Australian Education Union; Professor Jay Phillips, Head of the School of Australian Indigenous Studies at Charles Sturt University; and David Robinson, Executive Director (Workforce Policy and Strategy) in the Department of Education in Victoria. You can find out more about the Inquiry itself here .

Speaking at the launch event, Marie Brennan was joined by Senator Penny Allman-Payne, Australian Greens spokesperson for schools and a former secondary school teacher, as well as Desmond and Robinson. The conversation among speakers and a large audience both in-person at the Monash Conference Centre in Collins Street and online via YouTube acknowledged the current challenges and issues facing Australia and many other countries globally but moved on to address both the general future directions of policy and practice as well as debating the focus for the work of the Inquiry panel over the first half of 2024. A recording of the launch event is available on YouTube

A 2016 UNESCO report estimated that the world would need almost 69 million more teachers by 2030 to achieve the fourth Sustainable Development Goal – universal basic education. Current trends see that estimate increasing. Countries like Australia will experience the consequences of these trends – and will do so differentially, with often the poorest and least well-served and marginalised communities struggling to recruit and retain teachers. This year, 2023, the UN established a high-level panel on the teaching profession and just a few months ago more than 100 countries met and committed to fully funding public education for their countries. Yet many economically developed countries fail to do so, Australia being one of them.

For Senator Allman-Payne, fully funding public education in Australia was fundamental to addressing all aspects of the challenges going forward and inextricably linked to all future possibilities. Describing the shortfall in funding as the ‘elephant in the room’, Allman-Payne argued  that a fully funded public education system was essential not only for a quality education but for a ‘cohesive society and a strong and robust democracy’. Marie Brennan picked up on the importance of public education in societal terms in referring to the outcome of the recent referendum on an Indigenous Voice in parliament, describing it as, in part, a failure of education that was linked to the broader politics of education in Australia, as well as other issues.  For James Desmond, the key issue was ‘inequality – of funding, of opportunities, and of outcomes. Your postcode should not dictate the quality of and access to education you receive.’

David Robinson drew attention to the community respect and support afforded to teachers in successful education systems worldwide. For too long, he argued, the public discourse around education had been predominantly negative and failed to recognize the achievements and ‘everyday successes’ of teachers in classrooms. Marie Brennan extended this point by emphasising the necessity for schools as institutions as well as individual teachers engaging with their communities, understanding and learning from them, and regarding schools as in and of their communities rather than being separate from them. For Marie, teachers need the time and space to ‘build the relationships on which good teaching depends’ – and the relationship-building does not stop at the classroom door.

The kind of work that teachers are expected to do was also a focus of the discussion with Senator Allman-Payne and Marie Brennan both commented on the importance of teachers’ agency. For Senator Allman-Payne, teaching as a career is at its most rewarding when it empowers teachers to be agentic professionals. For Marie Brennan, given that education and the work of educators is ‘always future-oriented’, it is critically important that education policy also becomes future-oriented and resists reverting to trying to ‘standardise’ teaching and teachers’ work on a vision of the past. For David Robinson, as a public servant tasked with teaching workforce development, a future-orientation filled with hope is also a practical concern when it comes to both teacher recruitment and, crucially, retention.

For the evening’s panelists as well as the Inquiry panel more broadly, it is now time to focus on working towards a positive future for teaching, the profession and schools rather than reinventing the past. And while most work on educational futures has tended either to extrapolate on current trends or to imagine idealized, utopian institutions, different futures now need to be constructed in practice to move forward from the current situation.

This is a challenge that cannot be answered with yet another political review or academic critique. As James Desmond noted: ‘Ultimately the Inquiry is about looking forward, rather than analysing the past; to better understand the challenges of the future; and to make teaching a sustainable and attractive vocation for years to come.’The Inquiry will involve further public activities and events across Australia, in-person as well as virtually, along with commissioned briefing papers, and culminating in a final report in mid-2024. We hope you join us along the way.

Viv Ellis is Dean of the Faculty of Education at Monash University. His latest book (with Lauren Gatti and Warwick Mansell), The New Political Economy of Teacher Education: The Enterprise Narrative and the Shadow State, will be published by Policy Press early next year.

Image in header: Prof Marie Brennan, Chair of the Inquiry into the Future of the Teaching Profession, Professorial Fellow, Faculty of Education, Monash University; David Robinson, Executive Director (Teaching Workforce), Department of Education, Victoria; James Desmond, Head of Humanities and early career teacher, MacRobertson High School, Melbourne  On the screen: Senator Penny Allman-Payne (Senator for Queensland, Green Party spokesperson on schools)

Why our communities need the power of a voice

The referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament is a pivotal moment in Australia’s history of engagement with its Indigenous peoples. Amidst the ongoing, at times polarising, debates about The Voice, we gathered at La Trobe School of Education for a one-day workshop focused on fostering social justice through the frame of community engagement. 

Community engagement is about voice, and can be a powerful catalyst for equity and justice. It is grounded in the recognition of voice as a political project that hinges on not only the ability to speak but also to be heard. 

While the discussions that emerged in our workshop did not directly address the question of an Indigenous Voice, there were some uncanny parallels that we aim to tease out in this article. These include, among others, recognising that:

  • community engagement requires asking courageous questions.
  • community engagement is slow and persistent work.
  • community engagement requires adequate resourcing.
  • community engagement tackles deficit assumptions.
  • community engagement starts from those problems that matter.  
  • community engagement can ensure quality.

Community engagement requires asking courageous questions.

Community engagement for social justice and equity requires us to ask courageous questions about the oppressive conditions (past and present) that perpetuate marginalisation. This can amount to ‘truth-telling’. 

During his online keynote address, Tyrone Howard, from UCLA’s School of Education and Information Studies, emphasised that equity requires us to repair the historical harm. It also needs us to promote inclusion by examining our ‘blind spots’ that might prevent us from seeing the suffering of others, and how we might be implicated in them.

The education field is political. Thus, as Tyrone Howard noted, teachers must be equipped with the necessary tools and awareness to confront these blind spots. By preparing educators to navigate contemporary issues with a keen eye for (in)justice, we can foster more equitable educational spaces that represent and celebrate our diversity.

Community engagement is slow and persistent work.

Community engagement demands unwavering commitment and perseverance driven by a clear sense of purpose. Jo Lampert from Monash University raised concerns about the taken-for-granted use of the term ‘community engagement’ and its insufficient integration into initial teacher education programs. 

To rectify this, one must take a deliberate approach to work with vulnerable communities. This approach centres on co-design, shared decision-making and partnerships that prioritise their lived experiences and voices of those on the margins. 

The call for community engagement in pursuit of equity and justice is cognisant of the political dimensions of this work, particularly power dynamics and representation. This makes representation an essential aspect of a justice project. Without adequate representation, it is difficult to make claims for more just policies. 

Community engagement requires adequate resourcing. 

Equipping teachers with community knowledge and awareness requires strong partnership models within initial teacher education. One initiative that aims to prepare community-engaged pre-service teachers is La Trobe University’s NEXUS program

Bernadette Walker-Gibbs and Steve Murphy, from La Trobe School of Education, work at the cutting edge of  innovative university-school partnership frameworks that focus on capacity building for community-engagement among pre-service teachers. 

It should be noted though that building community engagement is a resource-intensive undertaking. To foster strong university-school partnerships, funding is needed to enable meaningful – rather than tokenistic – approaches to engagement and co-design.

Community engagement tackles deficit assumptions.

Tokenistic engagement can result in deficit views and lowered expectations. There is also a tension between recognising differences and deficit assumptions. This is called ‘the dilemma of difference’, which arises from concerns about effectively addressing differences without stigmatising individuals whose differences have been brought to light. Kitty te Riele from the University of Tasmania’s Peter Underwood Centre tackled these issues head-on, offering insights from working with disenfranchised youth.

Challenging the prevailing myth of low educational aspirations needs us to re-evaluate pre-conceived notions and explore the true aspirations of young people and their families. This requires a shift in perspective that embraces the diverse aspirations of young people in the context of social and material disadvantage against convenient myths and stereotypes.

Community engagement starts from those problems that matter.  

At the heart of community engagement lies the crucial task of tackling the issues that hold significance for marginalised individuals and communities. 

Lew Zipin and Marie Brennan from the University of South Australia shed light on the vital role of addressing real-world problems in education. This requires an inclusive approach to co-design that effectively incorporates local knowledge. 

Bridging the gap between educational institutions and the realities of marginalised young people requires recognising students as proactive mediators between life-based and school-based knowledge. Such recognition has transformative potential, leading to a contextualised, community-aware approach to teaching and learning.

Community engagement can ensure quality.

In recent education reforms, the discourse surrounding quality education has shifted towards a human capital perspective.

Sue Grieshaber and Elise Hunkin from La Trobe’s School of Education examined the nexus of quality and equity in early childhood education, highlighting concerns about the potential ramifications of market-driven approaches to education on equity.

There is an urgent need to broaden our definition of quality education beyond market values to incorporate relationships with families and communities.  

Overall, these insights from the workshop highlight the importance of co-design, teacher preparation, dispelling myths, curriculum design, and re-framing what is meant by ‘quality’. It showed how genuine community engagement for equity and social justice address power relations, challenge deficit narratives, and incorporate community voices. 

Australia is approaching another historical moment in its relationship with its Indigenous peoples, a moment that will shape the moral sentiment of the nation for decades to come. In the lead up to the referendum, our discussions about community engagement was a timely reminder of the power of voice as a vehicle for impactful participation in the decisions that matter and that affect the most disenfranchised. 

Babak Dadvand is a senior lecturer in Pedagogy, Professional Practice and Teacher Education at La Trobe School of Education. Babak’s research is in areas of teaching and teacher education with a focus on issues of equity, diversity and inclusion in relation to teachers’ work and student experiences. Babak’s current research is focused on the challenges that teachers face and the types of support that they need stay in the profession, especially in the more challenging working conditions of schools that serve communities that are socially-historically marginalised. Twitter: @DadvandBabak

Jo Lampert is Professor of Teacher Education for Social Transformation at Monash University. She has led alternative pathways into teaching in hard-to-staff schools for over 15 years, most recently as Director of the Commonwealth and State supported Nexus M. Teach in Victoria, a social justice, employment-based pathway whereby preservice teachers work as Education Support Staff prior to gaining employment as paraprofessionals (Nexus). She tweets at @jolampert

Teaching-focused academics: five ways to beat the struggle for identity

An academic career centered on teaching should not be associated with a dead-end, or second-rate professional life. It is at the teaching coalface that the capacities that will enable students, academics, and universities to face the challenges of a changing world will be developed.

To support this work as the meaningful undertaking that it is, what kind of professional development would meet the identity, community and skill needs of academics?

We developed a collaborative program of professional development – targeting skills in education research – at a large Australian university. The results make a case that collaboration is key when building educational research knowledge and skills in higher education. In turn, these skills, and the communities of practice in which they are embedded, are essential to meaningful work for academics with a teaching focus.

In 2012 at Monash University, only two years into the introduction of education-focused academic roles (EFAs), a review by senior leadership showed that staff employed in the new roles felt isolated and underprepared.

This was the context we were responding to when we developed our professional learning program, the ‘Higher Education Research’, or HER, program. We took a route that would simultaneously address the perceived lack of capacity in specialized education research and the sense of isolation. The HER program parted ways with traditional interventions that look to ‘upskill’ individuals and centre on a particular new technology or methodology. Instead, we created an authentic social context in which participants could feel part of a scholarly community and build networks across disciplines and faculties.

The HER program ran in two cohorts, each lasting 18 months. They began with a series of four day-long workshops. Four months of workshops covered the knowledge and skills needed to plan and carry out a learning and teaching research project. Each research project would see participants examine an aspect of their own educational practice and then work towards the dissemination of their research. Full details of the project and what it involved can be found here.

From the focus groups, we were able to make a richer qualitative assessment in which five key themes emerged:

Struggle – Many said they initially struggled in the new roles as EFAs without sufficient support from the institution. They felt the pressure of needing to produce education research outcomes (such as evaluations of teaching and learning programs) that they felt ill-equipped for. However, they found that the stable structure offered by the HER Program was supportive. They characterised it as a safe container, nurturing them as they learned new skills.

Identity – HER participants developed new feelings and ideas about having ‘education-focussed academic’ as a professional identity. The HER Program generated a sense of community among EFAs that helped to alleviate their feelings of isolation and created a sense of belonging. One said, “We were able to meet people across the university who had similar ideas and that was great. I think it put us on the map a little bit more.” EFA communities became particularly important as EFAs otherwise felt alone as academics committed to teaching in their discipline.

Social relations – HER participants changed how they saw, acted on, and related to the social context of their work. Some described the growth in confidence they felt as they struggled together, developing comradery and solidarity that came with it. The program shaped later initiatives made by the participants, with some offering formal professional development and informal mentoring to their colleagues. Effects cascaded beyond the university when participants presented their education research activity nationally and internationally at conferences. These ripples connected participants to mentors, to mentors’ peers and the wider education research community.

Leadership – The HER program helped participants to develop as leaders. Some took up leadership positions in learning and teaching in their Department or Faculty, but leadership also encompassed the ways others perceived their expertise. They reported demonstrating in very practical ways how they led learning and teaching, such as by mentoring colleagues and leading quality professional development programs in their School or Department.

Criticality – The program helped academics to see their practice as university educators in more critical terms. Said one, “Even though HER was really about doing education research, I think my reflective practice probably improved as a result of being involved in the HER program. Even though your reflection wasn’t predominantly on what happened in the classroom, it was on your research project, it’s kind of difficult to uncouple those two things … I think my teaching became better with that reflective practice”.

The HER program was not a one-off event, but an on-going, collective effort to craft genuine research projects relevant to participants’ everyday practices.

This is why it had such an impact long after it ended. By actively taking part in developing academic communities, program participants were then able to seek out opportunities to connect with and influence their peers, spreading the benefits of the program through their institution.

The article makes six key recommendations for other universities who are seeking to build the capacity and expertise of education-focussed academics and maximise their impact at their universities.

By supporting programs like HER and seeing to it that they align with their university’s values and goals, leaders can put into practice the principle that teaching and education research are scholarly activities valued by the institution.

Dr Joy Whitton is a freelance consultant and until recently was Senior Project Coordinator at Monash University. Her research focusses on professional learning, and creativity in higher education teaching and learning. 

Associate Professor Julia Choate is the director of physiology education at Monash University.  Her research focuses on enhancing students’ university experiences, by developing employability skills and improving learning through innovative teaching practices

Graham Parr is Associate Dean (International) and Associate Professor of English and international education in the School of Curriculum, Teaching and Inclusive Education, Faculty of Education, Monash University