A six-month pilot education program based at Victoria University's Footscray Nicholson Campus has helped African students to better understand the Australian justice system, while improving their English and increasing their cultural awareness.
The first program 'Leadership, Law and Language' run by Victoria University College's School of Pathways and Transitions, in partnership with Latrobe City Council in eastern Victoria will finish on 28 June with a major forum in Morwell and future programs will require further funding.
The program consists of twice-weekly evening lessons and a series of forums that give students the opportunity to talk to an African police liaison officer and legal specialists. E-learning is an important feature of the course including a website that encourages online blogging and discussions with an interactive, community feel.
VU College, English as a Second Language teacher, Lynne Carolan says that negative press about groups of African youths was having a huge impact on the community and led to the setting up of the course.
"It's common for young people to gather in public spaces in Africa, but in Australia this is problematic," she said."Police were getting involved in neighbourhood problems and disputes that would have been solved by community leaders and mediation in Africa."
Ms Carolan said that with many African arrivals moving to Victoria's regional areas, it was decided to offer the course at both the Footscray Nicholson Campus and the Morwell Community Centre in Gippsland, with simultaneous lessons using Skype link-ups.
"The first forum was about a comparative study and discussion around the land rights of Indigenous people in Sudan and their counterparts in Australia," she said.
"One of the really important elements of the program was the great desire of the African community for knowledge about the law in Australia. People of all ages learn about the law and pass the information on to help their community.
The African students say that through the program they have learned about Australian law – how judges are part of the legal system, what statute law is – and what legal services are available. One student, Abraham Achol said, "My teacher has taught me to understand the rules of Australian law."
Legal Studies tutors Bichok Kot and Peter Pal were engaged by the School of Pathways and Transition for their expertise in social science and policy, and international community development respectively. As former South Sudanese refugees themselves, they empathised with their students.
A VU graduate Peter Pal said, "In a new culture even food let alone a legal system can be very confusing. I was able to speak to members of the African community and they listened to me because I knew what they were going through. Initiatives like this course can play a part in our community being transformed for the future."
The pilot course was funded with a $45,000 grant from the Australian Government's E-Learning Partnerships and Participation Program. The University will be seeking further funding.
For further information:
Jacinta Richards, Head of School, Pathways and Transitions on 03 9919 8640.
Public Affairs Unit, Victoria University,
9919 4322; 0434 602 884; email@example.com