Growing teachers on country

Former RATE program participant Valerie Bulkunu delivering her motion in language at the 2019 annual conference

Life member Leon White along with colleague Kathy McMahon explain the history and purpose of the RATE program, following the NT Government’s announcement RATE will return in 2021.

Remote Area Teacher Education in the Northern Territory 1976 -1997

Remote Area Teacher Education (RATE) was an accredited model of community-based teacher education developed by Batchelor College for local Aboriginal school staff and nominated community members in the NT. The onsite program commenced at Yirrkala in 1976 and extended to other communities over the next decades.

The term Remote Area Teacher Education (RATE) was for a ‘both ways’ teacher education program that developed the skills and knowledge of local educators to teach in their home communities. RATE operated until its demise in the late 1990s.

Its efficacy can be shown by the fact that by 1995, 63 Aboriginal teachers were working in schools as classroom teachers, including some who went on to become Senior Teachers and Principals of their community schools.

What was the role of non-local staff in the RATE Program? 

The Department of Education (DoE) staff worked as tutors and Batchelor College lecturers. Non-local teaching staff worked collaboratively within their school-based teams with the Assistant Teachers. These non-local teachers worked co-operatively during practicum periods; planning, programming and team-teaching every day as a normal part of their classroom teacher duties. The role of these non-local teachers was important in the reciprocal learning processes which included the exploration, validation and affirmation of identity and culture.

DoE supported the program through the provision of:

  • housing for Batchelor College lecturers in larger communities,
  • a 0.5 allocation of a teacher to work with students in a tutorial role in afternoon sessions,
  • appropriate study space and resources in the community

What were some ideas that guided the design and delivery of the NT Remote Area Teacher Education (RATE) program?

In the design and delivery of RATE, collaborative and community-based learning was critical. The key driving power was the establishment of a community of Aboriginal educators from Northern Territory locations that worked together and learnt from and with their community Elders.

Not only did RATE students come to understand and use Western curriculum, they were guided and taught by their own Elders in community-based workshops. These workshops included the yearly Aboriginal Languages Fortnight workshops, where students undertook research projects with community Elders and linguists. These projects formed one strand of their learning which was then interwoven into teaching programs, with the guidance and expertise of community mentors.

What was it that RATE delivered that was important?

Accredited RATE provided in the community and school fulfilled three primary functions:

  1. Accredited pre-service teacher education for Aboriginal educators who, for a range of social, cultural and political reasons, needed to remain in community centred on cultural maintenance.
  2. In-service training where professional development with a pedagogical focus was aligned with both community aspirations and accredited training requirements.
  3. A powerful forum to create curriculum that had Aboriginal languages and knowledge at its centre. Language, land knowledge practices, cultural authority structures and family connections were all part of RATE curriculum. RATE students developed models of ‘both ways’ education appropriate for their communities. Examples of such curricula still in action today, twenty-five years later, are the Garma Maths Curriculum at Yirrkala and the Warlpiri Curriculum Cycle.

The RATE program provided participants the opportunity to maintain relationships and retain individual, family, community and cultural responsibilities whilst gaining recognised qualifications and developing expertise to become competent and effective teachers in their community.

There needs to be a strong investigation into what supporting the re-establishment of RATE means for workloads. Roles, assumptions and expectations must be clarified if the program is to be successful.

This article was first published in the Term 2, 2020 edition of the Territory Educator magazine.