November 14, 2018

Achieving Excellence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education

Upon his appointment to the role of Special Envoy for Indigenous Affairs in the new Morrison Government, Tony Abbott said he would focus on education ‘as the absolute key to a better future for Indigenous kids and the key to reconciliation’.

But what’s really needed to improve education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students?

Dr Kevin Lowe of Macquarie University, an education researcher and Gubbi Gubbi man from south-east Queensland is one of a team of 13 academics from 10 universities who systematically reviewed and interrogated over 10,000 studies between 2016-2018 to shed light on the educational experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and their families.

The purpose of the project is to critique policy and practice and to provide research-informed directions on how education could be structured to provide success for students.

Dr Lowe is quick to maintain there is no quick, tick box solution to achieving excellence. ‘For students transitioning to adult education there are no silver bullets. It really does come down to building good relationships. The most engaged students will always be the ones that have a high level of trust and respect for the teachers. That’s often based on the teacher knowing about the students, their families and their local histories.’

‘In the past there has been a lot of misinformation about specific Aboriginal learning styles which has problematised the student with an assumption that Aboriginal students can’t handle complex text. This simply isn’t true. All students learn differently and a variety of quality forms of learning still need to be taken’ he said.

The comprehensive research project encompassed preschool to post-secondary education and the emerging themes in the research showed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learner identity is closely linked to cultural identity and connectedness. The main points of the research are:

  • That student’s Indigenous identity as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander student needs to be understood and supported by the institution.

  • Empirical evidence demonstrates that racism negatively impacts the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from primary school, through high school, and to later life.

  • The impacts on students are harmful, wide-reaching and life-long. They influence academic achievement, self-concept attitudes to language, emotional wellbeing, physical health, school attendance, and post-school pathways – and eventually school choice and engagement when those students become parents.

  • In future, professional learning practices must more genuinely (a) ensure that Indigenous peoples contribute to leading these activities, (b) explicitly address issues to do with culture, (anti) racism, power, and relationships in schooling, and (c) localise the politics of knowledge.

  • Curriculum must be developed locally, at the institution level in order for students to understand what the teacher has to teach. Place-based decision-making is crucial for effective learning.

  • Authentic, purposeful and relationally based engagement between institutions and Aboriginal communities lay the ground for successful student engagement.

  • Approaches to learning must engage students emotionally, as well as behaviorally and cognitively.

  • The involvement of parents and community and having local staff employed and supported make a positive difference to remote students success.

  • That parents’ value and are invested in programs that speak directly to providing their children with effective teaching, high value programs that are seen to support students’ identity and cultural connection.

  • As a former TAFE Teacher, Dr Lowe recommends TAFE educators reach out to students and find out how they define success from an Indigenous perspective by discovering their aspirations.‘At TAFE it is so important to tease out the question of success as it can be about so much more than outcomes for Aboriginal students. Just taking that approach leaves so many attributes ignored. Success can be linked to community well-being and a strong commitment to deepening knowledge of place based local learning’ he said.

    ‘While all the kids I’ve ever spoken to said they wanted a job at the end of their course, Aboriginal kids also say they want to be identified and valued as Aboriginal. Having confidence that the TAFE and teachers have high expectations and recognize their student identity is connected to culture, place and family will ultimately build resilience and stronger students’.

The good, the bad and the unlikely

The good, the bad and the unlikely

The Abbott Government has been erratic in vocational education, as in many other areas, in its first 18 months of office. It started badly with early decisions to reduce quality controls, appoint supporters to key government advisory posts and further cut unions from contributing to policy on vocational education.
Visions for TAFE future lost in dash to private profits

Visions for TAFE future lost in dash to private profits

The struggle for the future of public sector provision of vocational education and training is gearing up for its next big engagement, the NSW election on March 28.
Vision for TAFE

Vision for TAFE

On March 28, NSW residents will go to the polls in what will be an election where the future of TAFE as we know it will be on the line.The Liberal\National Government has set out a clear agenda that involves massive fee increases for courses, over 1000 TAFE staff to be slashed and no certainty in ongoing funding for TAFE Institutes across NSW.
TAFE NSW as the backbone of the state's training system

TAFE NSW as the backbone of the state's training system

The NSW Liberals & Nationals Government supports TAFE NSW as the backbone of the State’s training system. TAFE is a dynamic organisation which sets the benchmark for quality and delivers the skills needed in a growing economy.
TAFE cuts: through the eyes of a family

TAFE cuts: through the eyes of a family

My eldest son completed VCE in 2012. At high school, he had vague ideas about becoming an architect like his grandfather, however I suspect this was because he thought it would be a bit like a more sophisticated version of playing with Lego. His real love was building “stuff” not buildings.