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Creating a greater appreciation of diverse cultures through technology

Tech4Good

Posted on September 20, 2018

7 min read

Australia is a fast changing, ever-expanding and culturally diverse nation. Nearly half of us were born overseas, or have at least one parent who was, and we’re speaking more than 300 different languages in our homes according to the 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics Census.

The Census also revealed almost 650,000 Australians identify as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin, an increase from the previous results.

Living in a multi-cultural society like ours means we’re exposed to new traditions, ideas, ways of thinking, opportunities for innovation and it’s something we should celebrate more.

Through the Tech4Good Challenge, three dynamic non-profit organisations – BIG hART, SYN and Settlement Services International – are exploring ways to promote Indigenous culture, improve refugee and asylum seeker integration into society and celebrate the many voices that make Australia so unique.

BIG hART

For the past eight years, Australia’s leading arts and social change organisation, BIG hART has been working closely with the Indigenous communities in Roebourne, the Aboriginal heart of the Pilbara region in Western Australia, developing a special digital work with substantial social impact.

NEOMAD is an interactive, futuristic fantasy comic created by young people, for young people, and takes school students on a journey through real places, real people and the world’s oldest continuing culture,” says Associate Artist Mark Leahy.

“It’s a work that’s delivered significant social impact with this community, including digital upskilling and providing pathways to future education and employment, and we’re keen to scale the social benefits of the project to a national audience.

The National Curriculum reporting authority (ACARA) requires all teachers across the country to include Indigenous culture and history in the subjects they teach and with 99 per cent of teachers coming from non-Indigenous backgrounds, a safe cultural resource is needed.

“By continuing to partner with the young Indigenous people of Roebourne to develop a NEOMAD online education resource, we see an opportunity to not only create a program that is truly authentic, credible and respectful but also plays a role in helping to improve the digital skills of young Indigenous Western Australians, which according to the Australian Digital Inclusion Index are currently 22 points below the state average,” continues Mark.

The first stage of the program will see BIG hART teaching the young people of Roebourne a variety of digital skills including how to use Photoshop®, shoot videos and create graphic animations. Then, through a series of video tutorials, young people will demonstrate these new skills with stories about Indigenous culture and history woven throughout.

Teachers across the country will be able to access these video tutorials amongst other education resources online by paying a small subscription fee, with all funds going directly back to the Roebourne community for continual reinvestment and development of the program.

“We see this program as one that will build young people’s understanding and connection to Indigenous culture through the digital tech of the future, contributing to reconciliation and celebrating pride and diversity in our cultural heritage for all Australians,” says Mark.

SYN

“We believe young people should be creators, not just consumers, of media,” says SYN Training and Development Manager Evrim Sen who helps provide training and broadcasting opportunities to young people aged 12 to 25.

“We’ve been a community youth broadcaster for more than 15 years – all the content we put to air is created by our 500 young volunteers.”

SYN prides itself on producing content and broadcasting stories which are a true reflection of modern Australian society, and the lack of diverse voices represented in the Australian media does concern them.

“Approximately 75 per cent of broadcasters in Australia are white, English speakers and are over the age of 35. It’s incredibly difficult for young people to get a foot in the door and be heard, let alone people from diverse backgrounds,” says Evrim.

Through the Tech4Good challenge, the SYN team are developing a new training program that will help more voices to be heard beyond Melbourne’s CBD and right across Victoria.

“Currently, only students who come to our physical headquarters are able to benefit from our training, skills and expertise – we want to change this by using technology to break down geographical barriers to reach more young people across the state, to hear their stories too,” says Evrim.

“We’re creating our first digital training program that teaches students how to use accessible technology like smartphones to record and document their stories and experiences, and then upload them to our website to engage with a broader audience.”

Initially, the SYN team will offer the digital training program to teachers as part of the Melbourne City Experience program, so that students can capture their experiences as they go, edit them at home and then share them on SYN’s website for other young students to see.

“We’ve produced lots of tailored training programs before, but we haven’t developed a digital program that can reach mass audiences – it’s a big step for our organisation and we’re really excited to see what stories we’ll uncover,” says Evrim.

Settlement Services International

Settlement Services International (SSI) is a community organisation and social business that supports newcomers and other Australians to achieve their full potential. SSI works with all people who have experienced vulnerability, including refugees, people seeking asylum and culturally and linguistically diverse communities, to build capacity and enable them to overcome inequality – an experience Youth Projects Coordinator Dor Akech Achiek knows very well.

Fifteen years ago Dor arrived in Australia with his mother, two siblings and two cousins as refugees from Kenya, and settled in Toowoomba, Queensland.

“Settling into Toowoomba was one of the hardest times of my life. Everyone in my class came from a different background to me, no one understood my culture. Teachers made assumptions about me and I struggled to find common ground with Australian kids,” says Dor.

Unfortunately, many kids arriving in Australia today are facing exactly the same challenges as Dor did.

“Many have been through harrowing journeys to arrive in Australia. Add to that an experience of cultural dislocation, loss of social networks and the practical demands of settlements, and it’s no wonder many young people are disengaged and disadvantaged,” continues Dor.

Through the Tech4Good Challenge, SSI have been looking at ways to improve access to settlement information and create opportunities for young refugees and asylum seekers to bond with, and give back to, their new communities.

“We’re developing a mobile app, which will be an extension of our current YouthLinkz service, to help facilitate personalised relationships between young people and SSI case managers through a secure chat room platform and a chat bot to help users locate relevant settlement information quickly,” says Dor.

“New interactive video materials and toolkits will also support our case managers who often feel overwhelmed by our administrative systems and processes, which limits their ability to directly interact with and help young people.”

The final feature of the app is a push notification system which will keep parents and families informed of their children’s emotional needs to help support them.

“We’re confident this new app will go a long way in helping young refugees and asylum seekers improve their emotional wellbeing, achieve their settlement goals and create opportunities to contribute positively to Australian society,” says Dor.

Visit The Telstra Foundation’s Tech4Good hub to find out more about the Tech4Good Challenge and the 15 participating non-profits.