The Australian Council for Educational Research recently released its review into Indigenous Education, “The Case for Urgency: Advocating for Indigenous voice in education” highlighting five key challenges needing urgent action to close the opportunity gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
Challenge 1: Deficit and race-based assumptions in Indigenous education
Deficit and race-based assumptions are founded in the view that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students lack the ability to succeed at school. This can ultimately lead to lower expectations of Indigenous students not just academically, but behaviourally too.
It is not beyond the capacity of schools to combat deficit and race-based assumptions. Effectively integrating Indigenous culture into the curriculum will help embed Indigenous children’s connection to their culture, but also help schools challenge racism and deficit assumptions about Indigenous education.
Challenge 2: Living away from home to study – Boarding schools
The reality is that remote-living indigenous students must move away from home to continue their study past primary school. Students often find it difficult to maintain a family and cultural connection while they are away. Not only does this impact educational outcomes but more seriously, it affects student mental health where there is an increased risk of self-harm due to a disruption of social support networks.
On the contrary, boarding schools can also offer students a wealth of opportunity as long as students are given the opportunity to maintain family and community support networks.
Challenge 3: Raising school attendance and engagement levels
At a basic level, raising school attendance and engagement levels are essential to maximising education outcomes, this is where individual schools can have the most impact.
There are several programs designed to improve attendance ranging from explicit incentives such as sport, to integrating more Indigenous culture into the curriculum. Simply put, implementing a program that is valued by those who are participating is the most effective way to raise attendance and engagement.
Challenge 4: Providing the best start – Early childhood education
Children who start school ‘ready to learn’ are almost always at an advantage, and early education programs for students who are not school ready have an outstanding impact on their long-term outcomes.
Indigenous students often start school already behind their peers. Several factors contribute to this, but in order to implement change, children need access to quality pre-school education.
Challenge 5: Engaging Indigenous communities in educational programs.
It is more common than not that schools fail to lift Indigenous student’s outcomes due to lack of community engagement in the development or execution of programs.
The engagement of local indigenous communities at all levels of educational decision-making is imperative. This ranges from schools to service delivery, policy making and decisions where local knowledge should always be at the core.