Developing a school-based preventive life skills program for youth in a remote Indigenous community in North Australia

Gary Robinson, Bernard Leckning, Richard Midford, Helen Harper, Sven Silburn, J Gannaway, Kylie Dolan, Craig Hayes, T Delphine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to describe the process of development and the pilot implementation of a preventive life skills curriculum for Indigenous middle school students in a very remote community college in the West Arnhem region of North Australia. The curriculum integrates proven educational and psychological techniques with culturally informed notions of relatedness and was developed as a contribution to efforts to prevent alarming rates of suicide among remote Indigenous youth. In this paper, the term, Indigenous refers to Australians of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.

Design/methodology/approach: Based on reviews of research literature on school-based suicide prevention and social and emotional learning in both general and Indigenous populations, and following detailed community consultations, a 12 week curriculum was drafted and implemented in two middle school classes (combined years 7-9). Lessons were videotaped and later analyzed and detailed commentary was sought from participating school staff.

Findings: The pilot program has yielded important insights into requirements of a curriculum for young people with low English literacy levels and with variable school attendance patterns. It confirmed the need to adjust both pedagogical approach and curriculum content for the program to have resonance with students from this linguistic and cultural background and with varying levels of exposure to multiple stressors in disadvantaged community settings.

Practical implications: The project has identified and resolved key questions for sustainable implementation of a preventive curriculum in challenging community circumstances.

Originality/value: There are to date no examples of the systematic adaptation and design of a universal preventive intervention specifically for remote Australian Indigenous youth. The project is the first step toward the formal evaluation of the efficacy of a classroom-based approach to suicide prevention in remote community schools.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)510-523
Number of pages14
JournalHealth Education
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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