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Rural Aboriginal Australians experience disadvantage across a number of significant social and economic outcomes, including educational engagement and achievement. Current debate postulates that educational environments and systems perpetuate this disadvantage. This qualitative study aimed to contribute to the debate by taking a broader ecological view to consider the aspects of the learning environment that may promote engagement with learning. This paper reports on research conducted in a community-based programme designed to support the engagement of young rural Aboriginal students. A total of 32 participants (including children, parents/carers, tutors, managers, and local teachers) were interviewed to explicate their perspectives on the key aspects of the learning environment that fostered student engagement. An analysis of the interview data identified core characteristics that could be employed to foster engagement and thus contribute to developing equity and self-determination for young rural Aboriginal Australians. Core characteristics that were valued included: a focus on learning and individualised pace; a flexible and relaxed atmosphere; individualised assistance; having an adult who showed interest in the child and their learning; providing a culturally secure learning environment; provision of food; supplying transportation; and staff being part of the same community. This paper contends that these characteristics are valued by the community and thus should inform the practices within the community-based programme as well as mainstream education to facilitate future engagement in learning.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Journal Article

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