The Learning on Country (LoC) program is a joint initiative between Aboriginal Ranger groups and schools across 15 Top End remote communities aimed at integrating ‘both ways’ learning into secondary school curriculums. It’s this combination of curriculum and culture that will support remote Aboriginal students to walk strong in two worlds.
The LoC Program enjoys strong community and institutional support because it brings together two knowledge systems that link culture and curriculum. The ‘two toolbox approach’ incorporates both Western and Indigenous knowledge systems to deliver culturally appropriate education and training for remote students’ learning and employment pathways.
The LoC Program is delivered with a key focus on the senior secondary student cohort. The teaching and learning programs are developed collaboratively between school and Ranger staff, with a focus on field-based activity, drawing on traditional and western knowledge systems. Activities include a wide range of Ranger groups' projects and responsibilities around land and sea management and are modelled on cultural knowledge-based activities as directed by Traditional Owners.
The intent is to incorporate LoC into the learning culture of both the school and the community of people who support it. Field workshops and school-based learning activities are linked directly to NTCET, Australian Curriculum and VET Certificate outcomes.
The foundation to this pedagogy is sound cultural learning and validation of the program by senior Indigenous cultural mentors. Culturally-based learning activities (intergenerational knowledge transfer) is delivered by Cultural Advisors and Traditional Owners, and can be undertaken as in-class workshops, day trips or extended activities such as cultural camps.
The Learning on Country (LoC) Program was an initiative of four Northern Territory Aboriginal Ranger groups and the schools in each of their communities.
In 2007, the CSIRO presented a report to the Commonwealth Government which indicated Indigenous land and sea management groups had experienced a significant growth over the decade, creating business opportunities in cultural and natural resource management particularly for Indigenous populations.
Over the last ten years, schools have been actively collaborating with Rangers and associated land and sea management groups to provide educational experiences for their students. However, a lack of ongoing funding impeded further development to develop a national program.
As a means of supporting the sustainability of this growth, the Learning on Country Program (LoC Program) was formally established in 2013 between four East Arnhem Land communities. By 2018 it had grown to nine communities including Maningrida, Galiwin’ku, Yirrkala and Laynhapuy Homelands Ramingining, Milingimbi, Gapuwiyak, Umbakumba and Angurugu.
In only six years, the communities began to see success from the program.
Following the success in 2019, a further six communities, Ngukurr, Numbulwar, Borroloola, Gunbalanya, Beswick and Barunga, were included in the program. The Learning on Country program is now being delivered across 15 Top End communities.
The Learning on Country Program is funded by the National Indigenous Australian Agency and administered by the Northern Land Council.
The LoC Program has a network of high-level and site-specific partnerships. The key partnerships are NIAA as funding provider, the Northern Territory Department of Education (NTDoE) and Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR).
Program funding was drawn from a number of different agencies until the establishment of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) in 2014 which consolidated funding for Indigenous programs into streams.
Steering Committee Co-Chair
I am a teacher at Maningrida College and the Steering Committee chair person for the Maningrida LoC program, and also Co-Chair for the LoC Steering Committee. I was born and grew up in Maningrida Community and raised on my mother’s homeland at Blythe River. My father’s homeland is Ji-Bena. I have been involved with the bilingual program in school for a long time, as a linguist and a teacher working with old people and anthropologists and I have been part of the LoC Program in Maningrida since its beginning, and am still a part of it today.
The Maningrida LoC Program gives the students’ knowledge and safety on country, and working with old people and Rangers ensures the important stories and connections are passed down to the next generation. The Ji-Bena Indigenous Land Management camp every year works with Traditional owners and students to pass on strong cultural knowledge and also give the students credit points towards their graduation. The LoC students doing their Ranger training become qualified and gain experience being a Ranger, so that they can look after their mothers’ country when they are older. These are just two examples of the strong two way learning outcomes that the LoC Program delivers.
Northern Land Council Chair
“Our future is our kids and I want to see them get the right education and go on to live healthy lives and care for their families – the Learning on Country program helps create that pathway for them. The program is extremely inspiring because it gives our kids a better education – a both ways education. Developed by Aboriginal people for our young people, it teaches them life skills that they need to survive in our culture and balanda culture.”
Cultural Manager with Yirralka Rangers at Laynhapuy Homelands
I am the Learning on Country (LoC) Steering Committee Chairperson and Cultural Manager with Yirralka Rangers at Laynhapuy Homelands Aboriginal Corporation. I have been working with the LoC Program for 10 years as Ngalapal (senior leader), an advisor and participant. I am inspired when I see the LoC program working with our Homelands kids and Rangers, it matches the vision of the old people to pass on our knowledge and stories. The partnership between the Rangers and the School provides a ‘Both Ways’ learning approach to help our kids develop and grow in two worlds (YoLngu and balanda).
The Traditional Owners and whole community get involved with LoC events telling dhäwu (stories) performing manikay (songs) and bungul (ceremonial dance) and telling the history and connection of our people with the land and sea, our djalkiri (foundations) and gurru (kinship).