Laisa's teaching is a lesson for others 


For many Indigenous adults, stepping back into the classroom is a step back in time to negative and irrelevant childhood learning experiences.

But for Charles Darwin University lecturer Laisa Whippy (pictured), Indigenous people’s return to study is an opportunity to discover education that is enjoyable, relevant and engaging.

The Tennant Creek-based lecturer is one of many across CDU who are changing the lives of Indigenous adults by recognising their culture, aspirations and experiences – and through this – gearing a positive learning environment that teaches core literacy and numeracy skills.

By encouraging them to talk about their experiences, culture and expectations, she said they begin to realise that the university was a place of learning and understanding.

“When they first come in, many are ashamed and embarrassed about their limited skills and poor childhood learning experiences but we talk about this,” she said.

“I explain to them that teaching practices are very different now and it’s ok to make mistakes, so just try your hardest.”

Laisa said she encouraged her students to talk about their many learning experiences and expectations in a group environment and took care not to single anyone out for their lack of skills.

“Many are embarrassed about making mistakes but I tell them: ‘This is a university and we are here to learn and no one comes here if they know things’,” she said.

Tennant Creek centre leader Kate Young said the students’ respect for Laisa’s was seen beyond the classroom.

“She is someone who can genuinely relate to her students who feel comfortable coming to her classes and don’t hesitate to greet her when they see her walking down the main street,” she said.

Kate said Laisa’s 40-strong client base was sourced from a variety of agencies including local job network providers, NT Parks and Wildlife, and Community Development Employment Programs.

“For many local Indigenous adults, this is their first positive experience in the classroom which gives them confidence to continue studying or working,” she said.

Laisa said the newly found confidence in her students was her main inspiration to teach.

“It is so wonderful to see them grow out of their shells and apply their skills to everyday experiences,” she said.

Her pre-vocational coursework includes hands-on approaches to learning including reading maps and menus, and taking her students on local tours to read signage and discuss government buildings and services they may use in the future.

Fijian born Laisa immigrated to Australia with her husband 36 years ago and joined CDU in 2002.

She said training as a primary schoolteacher and her cultural background were an asset to her current role.

“Fijian culture is similar in many ways to local cultures here so my students appreciate that and I bring across the basics of literacy and numeracy which for one reason or another many locals missed out as youngsters,” she said.