Catalyst program has a mission of social inclusion

missionaustraliaA new partnership between Flinders University and Mission Australia will promote learning and self-confidence among a group of disenfranchised and marginalised South Australians.
The relationship brings to Flinders University the internationally acclaimed Catalyst Clemente (Catalyst) program.

Mission Australia State Director, Jillian Paull and Flinders University Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Barber signed the agreement at Mission Australia’s State Office on Thursday, January 14.
Ms Paull said Catalyst would begin in South Australia with around 12 participants sourced from Mission Australia services and other local organisations such as Housing SA and Families SA.

She said Catalyst had proved valuable in increasing the social and economic participation of disadvantaged Australians since it was introduced in NSW in 2005.

“Catalyst helps students identify new possibilities for their lives – possibilities they may have believed were out of their reach,” Ms Paull said.

“The idea behind Catalyst is that poverty is more than just exclusion from material goods – it’s also about social exclusion.

“The way out of poverty is to give people access to more than just a wage or vocational training – it’s about engaging them in activities that lead to social interaction, learning and community participation.

“Catalyst uses the arts and humanities – such as literature, drama – to do just that. It builds participants’ self-esteem and creates a feeling of community engagement.”

Professor Barber said Flinders was pleased to be the South Australian partner in the program.

South Australia’s first class of Catalyst students will enrol in a “Short Stories and Their Writers” subject to be offered at Noarlunga Centre.

Students will be required to attend once a week for 12 weeks for the short stories lecture and tutorial and a 90-minute learning and counselling session with their mentors. A complementary IT course will also be offered.

Each participant who successfully completes the subject will receive a certificate of completion. Those who complete four subjects will receive non-award certificates from Flinders University.

“This program is an example of how looking for new ways to deal with social problems – and the collaboration between community agencies that results from innovative thinking – can achieve significant results for people who may otherwise not have access to services most of us take for granted,” Professor Barber said.

“The potential of education, including higher education, to change lives is well accepted, and we are satisfied South Australia’s Catalyst program will lead to similar successful outcomes as have been achieved elsewhere.”
Ms Paull said Catalyst Clemente began in New York in 1997.

“The founder, Earl Shorris, believed that tertiary-level education in the humanities could assist socially disenfranchised or marginalised people out of cycles of poverty and homelessness,” she said.
“Humanities subjects are used because they require people to think about, become engaged in and reflect on what they are learning and how it relates to the world in which they live.”

More than 150 students in NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria have been exposed to tertiary-level subjects including Australian history, philosophy, Australian literature, art history, politics and media since Catalyst began in Australia in 2005.

Ms Paull said many of the students had achieved credits, distinctions and high distinctions, and some had been motivated to enrol in fulltime university study.

“The success of the program proves that for many people, all it takes is a start for their lives to be transformed,” she said.

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