Almost 130 disadvantaged Ballarat residents have been given a second chance at changing their lives through education.
The Clemente Ballarat program has given scores of students a chance to further their education over the past 10 years in a humanities-based higher education program for people experiencing disadvantage and social isolation.
The program aims to break the cycle of poverty, inequality and social injustice for marginalised and disadvantaged people in Ballarat.
The program is a partnership between Federation University, Australian Catholic University and agencies including The Smith Family, United Way Ballarat, Centacare and the City of Ballarat – and all agencies, participants and learning partners gathered for a ceremony to mark the milestone this week.
Centacare chairman Dr Liam Davison said the program aimed to give people a sense of self respect, self confidence and enablement.
“It was adopted for those reasons by the two universities, which have a commitment to service to the community and the various agencies … all of whom said we should offer this program as one way of giving people a pathway in to whatever future they envision for themselves,” he said.
“A lot of the students have had their secondary education interrupted for some reason and were prevented from getting the most out of their schooling, but this program gently leads them back in and introduces them to the discipline of study, methods of reading, writing and thinking.”
Lesley Cooper said Clemente participants typically attended a lecture then had a tutorial session two days later where learning partners sat with them, helped them understand what they heard in the lecture, and gave assistance with any tasks or work that needed completion.
“It builds on a philosophy of education that’s very invitational, inclusive and supportive,” she said.
Many of the participants left before the end of the program, having gained employment or enrolled in further education.
Another class of students will graduate from the program next month.
Students in the program may have experienced social, financial, educational, or physical disadvantage. The student body includes members who are refugees, have mental health issues, have limited English, do not have a Year 12 leaving score, have been geographically isolated, have moved around a lot, and come from “the school of hard knocks”.
Professor Bridget Aitchison, ACU Ballarat campus dean, said the event was a celebration of dedication and passion to developing the lives of local community members in education, research and community engagement.
“We are able to use our resources and our position as a higher education provider to enable disadvantaged adults access to education in their community with the support of local partnerships,” Professor Aitchison said.
Federation University Associate Professor Jeremy Smith, chair of the Clemente Ballarat Steering Committee, said the 10 year milestone was worthy of celebration.
“The Clemente Program has been changing lives in Ballarat for ten years now. We provide educational opportunities, which can be critical turning points for members of our community experiencing social exclusion and inequality,” he said.