eMentoring and indigenous and Torres Straits people
To cut a long story short, one of the remits of the eMentoring project I am managing for Aged Care Queensland (funded by the Dept. of Health and Aging) is to recruit indigenous and Torres Straits people as eMentors and eMentees. This is because they are identified as a group of people who require support in the workplace, but do not get it as much as they should. eMentoring is part of an ongoing strategy to recruit and retain more indigenous and Torres Strait people in the aged care workforce.
However as yet, I have been unable to recruit any one from that cultural group into the project.
Barriers to eMentoring
I went to Cairns this week and spoke to several people involved with providing education and employment services to indigenous and Torres Strait people and asked them why they thought the eMentoring project has not attracted participants from that cultural group. The main issues were lack of access to the Internet, especially in remote areas such as Thursday Isalnd. Internet coverage is very unreliable in rural/remote areas. Lack of computer skills was one of the other main issues.
But things were a little more complex than the usual lack of access and skills. Other feedback I receieved was:
- Indigenous people are very unlikely to engage with any form of electronic communication because they much prefer face-to-face communication;
- Building a rapport and feeling of trust is vital when working with indigenous people -this would be very difficult with computer-mediated communication (CMC);
- Literacy levels are very low in indigenous communities so text-based communication would be problematic;
- Communication tools such as video and audio would not engage indigenous learners because of the complexity of the technology;
- People would not want the shame of 'failing' if they could not get their heads around eMentoring;
- Partners could put up barriers because of jealousy, especially if the mentors/mentees were of the opposite sex;
- The lack of privacy due to living in a close community could prevent people using community computers.
Having said all that, the people I spoke to emphasized the great need for mentoring, especially for indigenous people entering the workforce or moving to a new job. It was felt that face-to-face mentoring was by far the most desirable mode of delivery. And there would need to be intensive work done to build rapport and trust (5-6 meetings are required before trust begins to form), especially when the indigenous person begins a new job or education program.
I am not altogether sold on the idea that indigenous people would not engage with video or audio technology. If it was provided and made very easy to use, people may find it a much more user-friendly mode of communication, especially as their culture is of oral communication.
Somehow I feel very uncomfortable with the feedback I received. It felt to me as if indigenous people are being prevented from having the opportunities to engage with technology because a number of assumptions have been made. Sure, we need to pay considerable attention to the feedback I have discussed, and make sure people get the face-to-face support and education they need. Yet at the same time, I also think we should do all we can to provide opportunities for online learning and networking for those who are interested. If we do not provide alternative modes for learning, how can people say whether they like them or not?
I have become more and more convinced that small rural communities need to work together to provide access to computers and Internet, as well as training. As educators, we need to think about how we can hook into local libraries, schools and learning networks and collaborate to provide education opportunities to the wider community. So, for example, if I go to Chinchilla to provide a blogging workshop to staff in aged care I should make sure it is open to the whole community. This increases flexibility of learning, and it also goes some way to address the issue of sustainability.
This may mean that we have to do things for 'free' which could prove to be a stumbling block for administrators and accountants. But I truly believe that thinking about the 'greater good' is one way of dealing with flexibility and sustainability in education.
I would love to hear from anyone involved in providing education to indigenous communities. What would be your advice to me about how I can engage indigenous people in my eMentoring project?