Education PODCAST

St James College, Brisbane Leads Queensland in Education Pathways

Listen to the podcast interview with St James College, Brisbane Principal, Ann Rebgetz

St James College, Brisbane is the only Queensland finalist in the School Pathway to Vocational Education and Training (VET) Award.

According to the official government website: “Commencing in 1994, the Australian Training Awards are the peak, national awards for the VET sector, recognising individuals, businesses and registered training organisations for their contribution to skilling Australia.”

The college principal, Ann Rebgetz talked about the benefits associated with pursuing the award.

“This is a college that has students from many cultures and many backgrounds – and in that – we are seeing huge outcomes for the college in terms of students coming in at a certain level and exiting with their career pathway and their dream in their hands,” Principal Rebgetz said in the podcast interview above.

Further, the principal explained the “significance” of being a finalists in the awards.

“We’re very, very proud to be there, but it means that what we have put forward was considered to be at that benchmark, at the criteria, to be good enough to be a finalist,” Principal Rebgetz explained.

“And that’s what we’re very proud of, that we have been recognised for the work that’s been done in the college over a long period of time in terms of the data, in terms of the outcomes, and in terms of the impact on these students, on these families, and the impact on community and industry,” Principal Rebgetz concluded.

The 2019 Australian Training Awards Presentation Dinner is to be held this Thursday, 21 November in Brisbane, with finalists attending from across the country.

L-R Martin Wiseman, Deputy Principal, Anthony Hill, Head of Faculty, VET and Trade Skills, Kristina Dolejs, Assistant Principal – Learning, Innovation and Pathways, Ann Rebgetz, Principal, Margaret Beddows, VET and Trade Skills Officer, Isikely Kubunameca, Assistant Principal – Identity and Global Advocacy, Jessica Whelan, Director – Learning, Innovation and Pathways.

Read the podcast interview with St James College, Brisbane Principal, Ann Rebgetz TRANSCRIPT

Andrew: Thank you for your company. The 2019 Australian Training Awards Presentation Dinner is to be held this Thursday, the 21st of November. This is where we find out who the winners are and this is a big deal. According to the official government website, commencing in 1994, the Australian Training Awards are the peak national awards for the vocational education and training, which is also known as VET sector, recognising individuals, businesses and registered training organisations for their contribution to skilling Australia.

Andrew: For School Pathways to VET Award, there is only one Queensland finalist and that’s St. James College Brisbane. To have a chat about this, we have the principal of the college, Ann Rebgetz on the phone. Ann, how are you?

Ann: I’m very well, thanks, Andrew. It’s a delight to be here.

Andrew: Ann, can you tell us about the significance of getting this far for the college?

Ann: Andrew, it’s very significant. This is a college that has students from many cultures and many backgrounds, and in that, we are seeing huge outcomes for the college in terms of students coming in at a certain level and exiting with their career pathway and their dream in their hands.

Andrew: So a process, you’re a finalist, the only finalist in Queensland, in fact, I believe the other two finalists are from Tasmania. Explain to us just how significant that is.

Ann: It’s very significant. The Australian government has the category of school pathways in vocational education and training, and so the people who enter into that are from all over Australia. It’s a direct entry, but it’s a very rigorous process to get to the final stage. And so with that process and the submission that we put in and the evidence that we had to provide, we’ve been through a series of steps.

Ann: The second step was actually having an evaluator come to the college to actually look at it, what we have said we have done, to look at that in action, and to ensure that the quality and the outcomes are as we have put down. In terms of that, the next stage is interviews, which will happen in the coming week, which again, based on the criteria that the government has in this area, we will be judged against those criteria.

Andrew: The leap from being accepted and then becoming a finalist, is that the biggest part, or is that the biggest leap compared to actually winning?

Ann: Yes. To be a finalist at the Australian national level is like being a finalist in other areas at a national level. We’re very, very proud to be there, but it means that what we have put forward was considered to be at that benchmark, at the criteria, to be good enough to be a finalist. And that’s what we’re very proud of, that we have been recognised for the work that’s been done in the college over a long period of time in terms of the data, in terms of the outcomes, and in terms of the impact on these students, on these families, and the impact on community and industry.

Andrew: We’ve had quite a bit to do with you and over a long period of time. You’ve been at St. James College Brisbane for about a year now, and you’ve definitely consistently displayed a passion for every student achieving the absolute best that they can. Going through this process, what is the benefit to the students and the parents as well?

Ann: Well, the benefit is that the students come out as confident young people. They come out with transferable skills, which is absolutely essential for our economy and the future, and they come out as contributing members of society with choices ahead of them and they also come out with a sense of purpose around their lives.

Ann: It’s very interesting in terms of all of the reports that are now coming up from government are actually signalling that we really do need, as Paul Keating said in the Australian two weeks ago, to turbo charge our economy in terms of vocational education and training. Students, everyone, learns best when they combine academic theory with hands-on learning. If you’re teaching a science class, people learn through doing the experiments. If you’re teaching skills in any area, we need to learn by acknowledging the importance of getting our hands dirty, and that’s when it really sinks into our psyche about how we do something.

Ann: You can study how to throw a basketball, but until you throw that basketball, you can’t actually become good at what you’re doing. We’re passionate about saying if you want to be an engineer, it’s really good to get a Certificate II in engineering because you’ve got your hands dirty, you’ve learned how to construct an engine of a vehicle, which is one of our courses that we’re offering. All the way through, whether you want to be a doctor, a lawyer, a businessperson, a carpenter, a plumber, all of those skills are very important. And the more that you can get exposed to vocational immersion, the more likely you are to find your passion, your purpose, but also to come out at the other end feeling really confident that you are on the way through to achieving that dream.

Ann: And as an employer, an employer is looking for a very broad range of skills. And those skills include our technical skills, are enterprise skills, and if a student has had an exposure to an area, for example, in terms of law, we have students who’ve done a school-based traineeship in a legal office, or they’ve worked in a hospital and they want to be a doctor. They are streets ahead of the other student who’s going for that, and as we see people getting more and more educated, the competition in those journeys, it increases. And so we want to make our students very skilled in many skills so that they can confidently pursue that goal that they have in front of them.

Andrew: Ann, as you said, you push the students collectively as the college to be streets ahead and it’s very, very clear when you look around the school, you’ve got students that are very, very capable, but you’re also not afraid to take a student in that may be otherwise disengaged from education. Does VET help in that process?

Ann: Yes. It’s about skills training, really. And even the word VET, I’m not sure in the future if that’s a term that will stay with us because we really need to think multi skills, and that’s why the Australian government, in running the Training Awards, are really promoting best practice. They’re promoting innovation and the criteria for the Training Awards is leading practice in vocational education, strategic planning processes, student and staff focus and employer, and community focus. The criteria are broken down under those four headings.

Ann: It is about reaching to the marginalised. It is about re-engaging students who maybe have disengaged from school. There are many students who struggle in terms of academic learning, but when you actually can engage them in things they enjoy doing, they’re very good at it. It’s not always saying the pathway of what I call factory education, because it came out of the industrial revolution that classrooms were set up and so many students put in a classroom, that’s not always going to engage someone. If you think about yourself and travel, travel is when people love to travel and experience different cultures, different cities. And so what’s that doing? That’s saying I want to experience it. I don’t want to just read about it. And so what we want our students to do is experience and learn the skills so that they can just step out and enjoy their own journey.

Andrew: That means somebody that is academically gifted to the core looking to be set, they might actually be in in primary school right now, but it’s very clear that they could be on a pathway to an absolute top ATAR result. It would still be of benefit to go through the programs that your school has in place?

Ann: Yes. All schools are really trying to focus on digital literacy and digital design and learning, because we know how critical those digital skills are for the future. In focusing on digital, that’s hands on. We have certificates in digital design, and all of those certificates lead to skills being developed in 3D printing, in robotics, in drones, so it’s so important. Whether you classify it under a certificate or you classify it into your academic learning, it’s still hands-on learning. And that’s why I’m saying the set of skills is so important. And so through the Australian qualifications framework, which actually starts from certificate one, two, three, four, diploma, bachelor, master’s, PhD, that’s the eight-step ladder, if you like. In that eight-step ladder, we just encourage our students to climb the ladder.

Ann: In climbing the ladder, there’s different ways that you can come into that ladder. You can go sideways, you can go from the bottom up to the top. That’s why we want to look at flexible learning, flexible entry, flexible exits.

Ann: The Queensland education system has been really outstanding in terms of that. It leads other states, it provides opportunities other states have not had the flexibility in their access as much as Queensland. We’re very fortunate in Queensland to have a strong agenda and school-based traineeship. For example, in Queensland, the data in Queensland is much higher than most of the other states put together. In terms of running a school, you can take advantage of all those opportunities and look ahead.

Ann: I really think probably a good metaphor around that is to think of the school as a hybrid culture, and that in the hybrid, you’re teaching skills, you’re teaching theory, and it’s that hybrid of putting it together that will take our students into many directions.

Andrew: Ann Rebgetz, you talk about the many directions, and it’s been talked about worldwide and that’s accelerating the horizon of AI or artificial intelligence and robots and computers and super computers being able to take on so many of the tasks that humans have up to this point.

Andrew: How do you prepare students going through to integrate and be productive moving into the future with that on the horizon?

Ann: Number one, we’re an Edmund Rice Education Australia school, and we have a commitment to the touchstones of Edmund Rice. One of those touchstones, all of them, really, centre around the human heart and the generosity of spirit and the commitment to the community and the commitment and care of family and friends and society.

Ann: In terms of that, that human heart is what a robot doesn’t have, artificial intelligence doesn’t have. If we really emphasise the importance of self, and developing self, and a sense of purpose, and a commitment to society, and those human skills, number one, that’s going to give all of our students an edge. But you combine that with the confidence of other skills, which are the critical thinking skills, the creative enterprise skills, those are the skills again that the robots or artificial intelligence won’t have, because to be able to critically think very quickly, it’s hard when you’re managing people. That brings in the heart side and the sensitivities that, again, the robot doesn’t have.

Ann: I think we need to be very savvy around training our students to think, to create, to solve problems, to be globally aware, to be global citizens in terms of their steps into the future.

Andrew: With the 2019 Australian Training Awards presentation, dinner happening this Thursday, is that it for you and the college? What happens after that?

Ann: At the end of the day, Andrew, we look to improve what we do all the time, and one of the parts of criteria and the benchmarking of the Training Awards is looking at how you work to improve your outcomes. Our school has over 50% of the students who come from English as an additional language backgrounds. Many of them are refugees. We have 20 asylum seekers. We are working hard to get those students to gain incredible outcomes because their journeys have been so tough.

Ann: The background of students who’ve been in war-torn countries and have witnessed many of their family members killed, or hurt, or had to escape and never see them again, to help those students heal and then to find the hope and optimism of the future, is one of our key goals, and that’s why our students are different.

Ann: Many of them will speak out. They’ve grown up quickly. They have maturity and a confidence to take risks because they’ve had to summon enormous courage to make steps in their journeys in life. Our DUX of the school this year, we couldn’t separate, so we had a dual DUX, and the dual DUX are brother and sister who were Afghani originally, then Pakistan as refugees, and they’re now in Australia, but they’ve only been here but 18 months, and in that time they’ve managed to get to top of the school.

Ann: But before that, in Pakistan, they couldn’t attend school because they didn’t have the papers to allow them to do so. These journeys and stories are incredible and they’re very appreciative to the Australian government for taking them in and allowing them to come to Australia. We have many stories of appreciation and where people want to give back to society, but they also want to progress and find that dream, and find those skills, and be able to take those steps into the future because they see education as liberation, and our integration in that hybrid model really services all of our students to all get the outcomes that they’re aiming for.

Andrew: Ann, can you explain to us, with Australia taking in refugees, you’ve seen this firsthand, and then educating them and turning them into productive, contributing citizens, can you explain to us what the benefits are to this country in doing that?

Ann: Our mantra at the school is around global learning and achieving aspirations, and global learning, global citizenship. If we had true global citizenship across the world, we wouldn’t have wars. We would have peace. What it does by bringing in people from different countries who had very challenging circumstances, they understand, they want to contribute, they want peace, they, they want to be able to get on with their lives. You don’t risk and leave what you have unless there’s a really strong reason for it. Safety and life is essentially the biggest part of it. You want to survive.

Ann: What we do and why it’s important is that by making them feel part of our family, the St. James family or the Jimmies family, as we call it, making them feel part of that family, giving them confidence to say, “Yes, you can step out and grow as a citizen.”

Ann: And then mixing together with different cultures. Many of our students speak three languages or more. By the students coming together in different cultures, it allows them to understand others, to make peace, to gain skills, to understand about countries, to understand about economic enterprise, and to enable them to work together.

Ann: Really, it’s that collaboration and working together and to have a confidence around countries, because as the students say at St. James, when you come to St. James, you make friends with the world, and we have a small world. Connectivity and communication has made it a very small world. In terms of that, we’re equipping our students to take those steps, but the contribution back from the people that have come to Australia as refugees, it is immense.
Ann: We had our graduation ceremony on Thursday evening, and to see those families and how happy they were was truly inspiring.

Andrew: Those benefits very, very much. They’re enjoyed also by those that aren’t refugees, by those that probably have a fairly ordinary family and community life to come to the college. You’re saying that they get a great benefit out of coming into contact with refugee students as well.

Ann: Yes, because we don’t just have refugee students who come straight from war-torn countries. We have students whose parents may have been refugees and then they’ve grown up in Australia. We have students, we’ve got 70 international students who’ve come from China, Vietnam, Korea, and other Asian countries mainly. Those students are really contributing as well.

Ann: It’s quite a balanced world in terms of where people are coming from. It’s all over the world, and that means in terms of ourselves and keeping ahead, at the forefront as the leaders of the school, we have to be one step ahead of our thinking and be creative and say, “Well, how are we going to lead them to really great outcomes?”

Ann: We’ve just spent a week travelling to China in September, where we’ve signed five sister school agreements in three different cities in China and visited those schools, and that was a really wonderful experience to see what they’re doing in Chinese schools, but also to be welcomed so hospitably and to have a great interest in the exchange of ideas, that exchange of educational outcomes.

Ann: We had 16 professors and teachers come to our school who are in Brisbane at the moment, who are from China and there have a partnership with TAFE and they are learning what TAFE does in terms of making it more of a hybrid culture in terms of the shaping of school outcomes. They were very interested in what we do and said, “It’s wonderful to see that integration.”

Andrew: Wow. For the 2019 Australian Training Award presentation dinner, we wish you and the college all the best. Thank you very much for your time, Ann Rebgetz, spending it with our listeners.

Ann: Thank you Andrew. I just would like to acknowledge our staff and the community of the college. They’ve worked so hard and they’re so committed to our students to make this happen.

Ann: I’d like to congratulate them all. We know we’ve made it by being a finalist and we’re looking forward to celebrating that, and if we win, that’s an extra bonus. But it really is the recognition of our whole community. And thank you very much, Andrew.

By Andrew McCarthy-Wood

News Videographer/Photographer/Journalist and Media/Communications Consultant.