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Young Sudanese women use art to refocus their education

The high aspirations of Sudanese young women are not being recognised by the education system, a Victoria University study has found.

VU education lecturer Dr Anne Harris said the students in the research project overcame this by making short films about themselves to showcase their talents.

Dr Harris's doctoral research, Cross-marked: Sudanese Australian Young Women Talk Education, includes six short films co-created with young women from refugee-backgrounds that document their educational experiences in Victorian schools.

"These films and other arts-based strategies celebrate what the Sudanese students do know, what they do possess, and what they can share with educators to help transform an ailing education system,'' Dr Harris said.

"Inviting them to present their perspectives on film, in dance, music, visual art and drama, is a simple and effective beginning for engagement in the new world of western education. However, this approach requires us to reject the view that the Sudanese arrive with nothing to offer, and everything to learn.''

Dr Harris said there is an "outrageous underestimation'' of the abilities of Sudanese young women and a lack of support in their quest to secure white collar jobs.

"These girls know they're being streamed into stuff that they don't want to do, and some feel they're being used to fill the unskilled labour market,'' she said.

"Many Sudanese young women have been told that it's not going to happen for them because of their interrupted schooling and poor literacy skills. Being underestimated by those who are meant to help you achieve is demoralising and can, in itself, result in despair and disengagement.

"They come to Australia with the belief they can achieve anything, including becoming doctors and lawyers. But sometimes they're not given the dignity of choice because teachers believe they will be setting them up to fail. There's a frustration from both sides with the education system.''

Dr Harris's thesis also highlights the worrying level of racism experienced by Sudanese students in school.

"Racism is probably the big elephant in the middle of the table at schools that nobody wants to talk about. I was very surprised about the level of racism that these girls talked about. Everyone is willing to talk about 'culture' and 'cultural diversity' but what these young people encounter everyday is debilitating racism.''

Sudanese women involved in the film-making are available for interview and photos upon request.

For interview: Dr Anne Harris, Victoria University, on 0408 803 609

Media contact:

 Daniel Clarke, Media Officer,

VU Marketing and Communications Department

Ph: 9919 9491 or 0407 771 072

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