The extent of poverty and inequality remains a topic of enduring interest in Australia and overseas. Poverty in Australia, however, is generally relative poverty. People are considered to be poor if their living standards fall below an overall community standard, and they are unable to participate fully in ordinary activities of society. Earnings inequality and the extent of child poverty is an important issue due to their innocence and their future life chances and social structure.
This position paper will examine the role of the agency I am assigned with, their targeted group and the issues they face. In doing so, I will also discuss about the agency; Inspire Community Services; as an example of service learning that educates pre-service teachers about the various issues of primary students in poverty. These students could be Indigenous, from low socio economic status, or from non-English speaking background.
Inspire Community Services mission is to exist to break the cycle of poverty by inspiring people from disadvantaged community group, within South West of Sydney, from adverse circumstances (Inspire Community Services, 2010). The agency is located in South West Sydney suburb of Preston, where a vast multicultural diversity exists.
The agency's main goal is to create hope for the socially disadvantaged people within the community by providing resources, education, and help by means of programs that promote self development. Such programs include the SMART (Self Management and Recovery Training) Recovery program aids young and adult with serious alcohol and substances use problems. This program comprise individual and group counselling in the early stages of drug experimentation, teaches young and adult practical skills to help themselves deal with their problems enabling them to abstain and achieve a healthy lifestyle. Another self help program offered by the agency is "Breaking the Cycle" workshop which discusses topics such as grief and loss, depression, loneliness, anger, self esteem, and assertiveness through counselling sessions.
In addition, this agency also provides wonderful programs for youth, children, and parents such as "X=Change Youth Program", "Inspire Playgroup", "Triple P - Positive Parenting Program". X=Change Youth Program designed to ensure that the youth are off the street and away from trouble. The program is constructive by challenging youth in their behavioural patterns and their outlook on life. Thus assisting them to identify and pursue their goals and dreams they desire. The "Inspire Playgroup" program offers to build and strengthen the relationship between parents and child through play and fun activities such as music craft activities, games, and stories. On the other hand, the "Triple P - Positive Parenting Program" which encourages parents in creating a family environment that is loving, supportive and predictable. Triple P teaches how difficult behaviour develops, and gives tips on managing strong-willed behaviour. Also helps to develop a positive relationship with children and helps parents to plan ahead to prevent problem behaviour occurring (Inspire Community Services, 2010).
However, the programs and workshops I have discussed are designed around the concept of breaking the cycle of poverty by empowering these disadvantaged people with skills and inspiration (Inspire Community Services, 1010). Agency has provided freedom to use their facilities such as computer, internet café, indoor games facilities, counselling room, and classrooms to ensure the growth and development of a vibrant positive community. The programs offered by Inspire Community Services are rather designed to equip both, young and adult, in need with skills to better manage their own lives. That is them helping themselves to escape to a better lifestyle.
A central part of Inspire Community Services is community involvement. Community is a set of people having something in common or sharing special beliefs and interests (University of Western Sydney, 2010). Such as geographical location, class or ethnic background, or who share a special interest, such as Sydney South West and migrants from Asia living in this area. Or group of people from Hobart, Tasmania who are concern about destruction of forestry, or the lack of transport services locally (Kenny, 1999; p.9). A community can also be group of disadvantage and discriminated people from an area. Since the South West Sydney has a very diverse community, Inspire Community Services is challenged in collecting, integrating and understanding the different value systems and potential obstacles that may arise from different diverse groups within the one community. Hence Inspire Community Services is benefited by directly involving the community to work alongside with the agency to tailor programs that aim at solving or dealing with the vast majority of issues that arise within the community.
Inspire Community Services is therefore, empowering the community to address social issues through informed, local and timely action.
As seen from how the agency incorporates the work and support of various members in the community from social activities, responsibilities, collaboration and working together, we then can better understand the term community in the sense that it is the work of many, which is put together to form an achievable outcome.
In addition to community participation, pre-service teachers can also play an effective and direct role in helping the disadvantaged community group by providing their academic service. Academic and life experience can be seen as an asset that can be invested in the agency environment to help the individuals involved. Pre-service teachers have already gained enormous amount of academic knowledge and experience which they can utilise to assist the disadvantaged group. Hence, these teachers are seen playing the role of mediator in breaking down information and them to the target group.
Skills of pre-service teachers are complex which include higher order thinking, self reflection, tolerance for uncertainty and acceptance, and the ability to be flexible in thinking diversely on any given topic. These cognitive skills constitute intellectual characteristics that help in social diversity education (Lynch, Modgil, and Modgil, 1992). As such, our goal as educators is to incorporate and provide such information and experiences to the targeted group so that they can incorporate this knowledge into their own development process, or school life, in a way that make's sense to their understanding. In this manner, the provision of academic service can make a positive and useful contribution as pre-service teachers have gone through instances where they have had to organise and better manage their schedule, assignments, and life matters. Given that pre-service teachers have such qualities, knowledge and experiences, they can play the role of a mentor who teaches and oversees the development of these young individuals.
In addition, pre-service teachers may be of academic service by identifying the covert abilities that a certain individual may have, which the individual may have not yet explored or identified previously as they might not have had someone to help them realise their full potential.
Inspire Community Services targets young people that would not otherwise engage in the mainstream pathways of self-development, such as tertiary education. In so doing, Inspire Community Services provides assistance to disadvantaged young people from South West Sydney. The agency seeks to provide the opportunity to the target group to access what Bourdieu refers to as 'cultural capital' (Bourdieu cited in Webb, Schirato, & Danaher, 2002). Access to cultural capital can in turn serve as an outcome for future self development, socio-economic advantage, and society's wellbeing at large. For example, qualification in a medical degree can help others find a cure (Webb et al., 2002). The agency is constantly working with the target group to try and reduce any obstacle that the schooling system may have produced in terms of social inequalities.
Social inequalities take place whenever the education system does not accommodate the need of the less fortunate or troubled class. In this manner, the question arises whether education through the schooling system is the most effective mechanism for promoting social change and giving opportunities for less privileged groups to better themselves (Webb et al., 2002).
To better understand what is meant by social inequalities one need's to first define social justice. Social justice includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure (Adams, Bell, & Griffin, 1997). This vision of social justice can be seen in STU by the manner in which it provides young people with equal access to programs, aid and resources such as, counselling rooms, recording studio, library, café, sport court and classrooms which serve as tools in the aim of building young people's social capital, as afore mentioned.
Social inequalities in the schooling system have also come to stress the fact that the children of those who have occupied relatively privileged positions within the social class hierarchy have tended to ascend to similar positions, while the children of those who lack this privilege have tended to remain in relatively dominated positions (Webb et al., 2002).
The possession of a tertiary degree however would enable what society would class as the underprivileged to break out from the dominated positions, as a tertiary degree has an attached value to it, known as cultural capital, that is exchangeable for an outcome (Webb et al., 2002). This capital can serve society at large and the economy. Hence the government and other private and public sectors of the economy prefer to employ those with a degree. This as a result would disadvantage those who cannot obtain such a degree, leaving them vulnerable at the bottom rung of society and the field of employment.
In light of the above, STU is working with young people who find themselves disadvantaged from existing social inequalities that could affect their future socio-economic status, by helping them become future assets to the community.
It is important for pre-service teachers to understand the factors that shape social justice and the issues associated with it. It is also important to understand class, culture and diversity in relation to their future students and the obstacles that they may face in terms of disadvantages or discrimination, which may affect their education.
Teachers need to understand and acknowledge the diversity that could take place in the classroom.
Diversity takes many forms. It is usually thought of in terms of obvious attributes, age differences, race, gender, physical ability, sexual orientation, religion and language. Diversity in terms of background professional experience, skills and specialisation, values and culture, as well as social class, is a prevailing pattern (Clements and Jones, 2006, p. 13).
Being a diverse nation, educators need to be familiar with different cultures, understand motives, and be able to explain complex issues. Appreciating cultural differences is accepting or appreciating opposing value systems.
Furthermore, teachers' pedagogical practices can impact on students' opportunities to learn if they are not culturally aware. For example, in Delpit (1995) research showed differences between working class and middle to upper class speech to children, where black working class mothers used more directives. As a result, the child from such a family "may not understand the indirect statement of the teacher as a command" (Delpit, 1995, p. 34), disregard it and consequently be labelled as a behaviour problem.
Teachers also need to be less judgmental and more understanding towards students. This will develop connection and trust. Having trust between the teacher and student can build a healthy two way relationship and ensure barriers are broken. By developing such a relationship with students, the teacher can hence establish themselves with the class as a respected mentor who can have a positive impact.
The establishment of such a relationship can also assist in attaining an understanding of students' background knowledge due to the open channels of communication. In so doing the teacher can utilise this information to better cater for student needs, abilities and learning styles.
Having the experience to work in a community with different individuals, such as STU's community, can give the pre-service teacher different views and understandings on the many subject matters or issues associated with the development of young people. This experience or knowledge will develop the thinking ability of the pre-service teacher by better preparing them and bringing forth their own former experiences, including work or studies. These experiences can hence be utilised to help students facing similar situations. For example, providing reassurance can be powerful factor that can be used in a professional teaching context. By assuring young people that they are not alone this could help make an impact on how they respond to their situation. Such positive encouragement can empower young individuals to want to achieve.