The Open Training and Education Network (OTEN) recently formed a strategic partnership with the Toomelah community near Boggabilla in north-central NSW.
The initiative is part of the Australian Government’s Partnership Outreach Education Model (POEM).
The Toomelah POEM project is one of 21 projects across Australia that is managed by the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST).
It was critical to the success of this project that OTEN worked directly with the community (including young people) rather than through other bodies. The result was a locally designed and owned accredited education and life skills program for young people in Toomelah who were not in mainstream education.
Significantly, OTEN staff took the time to engage with community members because they wanted to ensure delivery methods and program designs were best suited to local needs. While this process took about six months, the results have been outstanding and well worth the effort.
Last year, the POEM project focused mainly on a group of nine young mums. These young women accessed a range of accredited learning opportunities through OTEN distance learning while receiving support from their community from Ms Glenys McGrady and the Murra-Mali group.
Murra-Mali has grown out of this POEM initiative. It is a mentor support group for POEM participants but is also expanding its focus beyond POEMs. Murra-Mali members have been supported by OTEN to gain certificates in mentoring. Among other things, they are using their talents to support the touch football competition and to arrange community BBQs and movie nights. The community-building capacity of this project has also spilled out over other areas, with 10 childcare staff completing a hospitality course in hygiene and nutrition.
The POEM initiative will continue for the rest of this year and next year, and OTEN will be expanding its offerings to include courses for young men as well as young women. With continued support and enthusiasm from community members, young people, OTEN, DEST Moree District Office and other partners, there is no doubt that Toomelah and the young people there will continue to reap the benefits that go with the creation of a community learning culture.