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Meet Embrace Education – a decade old non-profit, university student-run organisation, with its latest ‘chapter’ in University of Melbourne opening just May this year. Its mission: to address the balance of educational quality amongst the disadvantaged in Victoria through free tutoring.

The Embrace Education organisation is a Monash University creation, the brainchild of Arts and Commerce students who wanted to provide education to disadvantaged children in Victorian communities.

Markedly non-profit, and student run, the Monash Chapter has been running for the past decade, assisting communities and schools across Victoria.

Only recently, in May 2016, the University of Melbourne (UoM) branch was opened under guidance from the Monash chapter, with the grand vision of opening chapters in all universities.

Catherine Cheng, the President of Embrace Education (UoM) spoke on how important the UN Sustainable Development Goals were and how her organisation was addressing Goal #4 – Equality Education and Goal #10 – Reduced Inequalities.

“All kinds of inequality really tie into each other – education inequality is one of those factors and that’s why we think it’s such an important thing to target,” said Ms Cheng.

A Social Policy student, Ms Cheng has led Embrace Education (UoM) to facilitate 10 trained volunteer teachers at a high school, with many more on the way.

The organisation as a whole relies on over 150 tutors, across Victoria, with a limited paid staff for volunteer recruitment.

Such a groundswell movement amongst students needs to be nurtured, as many of these volunteers are eager to pass on knowledge, advice and experiences to those from less fortunate backgrounds.

Embrace Education offers four key programs to assist students: homework clubs, individual tutoring, “hands-on help” for medicine hopefuls and in-class assistance.

Homework clubs, the most popular of the programs, offer an environment where students are made to feel welcome, can relax after school, socialise with friends and allow tutors to mentor the students going through secondary school.

Embrace Education at The University of Melbourne has already started in its single semester of operating at a school with two homework clubs operating with 10 tutors.

Ms Cheng stated that part of Embrace’s appeal was their capitalisation on their volunteer teachers’ recent experiences of VCE as well as the mentoring aspect of that.

“A large part of what we do is not just providing hard academic teaching, but also trying to spark that interest in education, get students interested in tertiary education and to have mentors or peers provide that “student to student knowledge”, said Ms. Cheng.

With the advent of the United Nations SDGs, Embrace Education found that much of their mission aligned closely to the goal of “ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

For them “educational equality” was an ideal that founded the organization.

This also slotted within the larger picture of “inequality” where part of Embrace’s mission is to ensure that by providing quality education, such service grants a person a “social mobility” to go beyond their limits and achieve their goals.

Such limits for disadvantaged people could be linguistic barriers, strange cultural norms, difficult home situations, diversity merging or gender roles.

To better target their efforts, Embrace Education uses the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA), a value that provides an “indication of the socio-educational backgrounds of students.” This means that the value tallied measures geographical location, proportion of Indigenous students and a parent’s occupation and education. To have a lower ICSEA score is to indicate a lower educational advantage the child will have in attending the school.

In assisting schools with lower ICSEA scores, Embrace Education ensure that educational equality is maintained across all schools, despite the “technical” argument that every student in Victoria has equal access to resources and the educational system.

“I personally believe that addressing educational inequality is such an important thing firstly because it leads to personal empowerment of students and ties into things like social mobility. I think that, education is a good in itself and also that addressing inequality is really important for our society as a whole, not just for those individual students,” said Ms Cheng.

For those interested in volunteering, Embrace Education is currently recruiting graduates and non-graduates and can be contacted via their website.

featured image: Allison Meier, Classroom / FlickrCC