Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

Black Lives matter; We matter

So, I lie awake not being able to sleep, as the fire of my Ancestors burns inside me for change. I roll over trying to hide from it all, as I am tired, having just worked a full-time week, raising my gorgeous kids and teaching them from home, working and living for my Community, my Mob, my family. We have just come out of Reconciliation week, the theme, In this together. Big times. And the phone calls start rolling in. “What are we going to do?” “Isn’t it terrible what is happening in America?” “I think we should put on an event or protest.” “We have to do something.” These are from our amazing Non-Indigenous, Other Australians, our allies. I love them dearly.

But what they seem to forget, is that for most of us Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders this is our fight every day. This has been our fight for over 230 years. This will continue to be our fight until we get old and pass over, and beyond.

Many of us speak about this, and want change all the time. We do Welcomes and Acknowledgements to Country when asked, because we want change. We help with Reconciliation Action Plans, Employability plans, Statements of Commitment, organise events, answer many questions and help you to understand your privilege.

Meanwhile we know very little has changed in the school system, for our kids; if anything it has become worse. We are scared it will never be right for our kids and the generations to come. What you can hear in my voice is desperation.

You see :

  • More of our kids are in out of home care than there ever has been.
  • More of our kids are incarcerated than there ever has been.
  • More of our kids are de-identifying because it is safer.
  • More are turning down scholarships because their non-Indigenous friends look on them with shame.

Please understand I am talking about Victoria.

But guess what, what we need is our kids to thrive, be proud, and to get through the education system, we need this just like all mothers and fathers do, like all grandmothers and grandfathers do.

And our kids are striving ahead despite all this, they are strong in who they are and strong in what they want their future to be.

People talk about the system being broken; it was never right from the beginning. A dominant system has landed itself on Country and believed it was going to work. Can people see that it cannot? What else will it take? Massive bush fires? That’s happened. A virus that could possibly have changed our lives for ever? That’s happened. Maybe change isn’t a bad thing. Maybe change is just what we need.

I have many of my Non-Indigenous allies saying they feel helpless, what can they do? I am sorry, I look back and I think, “Helpless?” Then you don’t see me. You don’t see us. You mustn’t see how helpless we feel. Not helpless in who we are, but helpless that there are too few of us to make change. Too few with so many responsibilities and expectations upon us.

This is for our allies, what is your declaration and commitment to us, to change? You don’t need to do it all, maybe start with one small thing. As you are part of the system, you are part of the majority. You can also speak out for change. We need you.

Just so that you are clear, I cannot speak for a whole race of people, but I will give you some ideas from me.

  • We can no longer be the only ones fighting for change, we need your voice in it. Change it.
  • Any workplace that you are in, make sure you engage with us from the beginning, and make our employment meaningful and long term. Change it.
  • Our voice should be in decision making from the start. Change it.
  • Read anything you can get your hands on written by us, recorded by us. Our voices. Learn. Change it.
  • Many of us still live in poverty. Change it.
  • You also need to fight back for curriculum change, and ways of teaching for all kids. If you are a teacher please read the amazing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and First Nations people that write in Education. Like anything else you don’t know, you research it. Go to your schools and ask the hard questions. Support them. This is a big one, because this could bring about systematic change at the highest level and could bring about the greatest change.  Change it.
  • Don’t just stand back and be a bystander. Change it.
  • We know the cultural interface place is hard, guess what? It is also hard for us. Be brave. Be open to learn. Change it.
  • If you ask Elders or our people for advice, actively listen. Make the change. Change it.
  • Understand not everyone sees the world like you do. To many of us, going out into the world feels like walking into an aliens’ land, in our own Country. Our worldview is different. And we prefer it. Understand this. Change it.
  • Treat our Elders with respect. On this Country their word is lore/law. Change it.
  • And lastly, but not least. Don’t see us as disadvantaged. We are strong. We are proud. We love. We honour family. We honour Country. And we will continue to fight and fight until we do not have breath. And then we will fight and fight some more. Understand this. Change it.
  • Have your declaration and commitment ready. We want to hear from you.

 What are you willing to do? Be brave. Help us make change.

Kathryn Coff is a proud Yorta Yorta woman living on Jaara Country. She is a respected member of her local Aboriginal community in Castlemaine and currently manages Nalderun Aboriginal Services in the Mount Alexander Shire. She chairs various meetings in community and sits on the Shire’s Indigenous round table.  Her commitment to moving into a space were the Indigenous Relational worldview is included in education for all students has seen her working in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools and led to her appointment in 2018 as Indigenous Practitioner in Residence at La Trobe University. Currently doing Higher Degree Research into Indigenous Relation worldview in Education, Indigenous pedagogy and two way mentoring. In 2017/8, Kathryn received an Emerging Leader award from Indigenous Fellowship for Leadership. Recently Kathryn was appointed to the Board of Koondee Woonga-gat Toor-rong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Led Philanthropic Fund. Kathryn believes that when Aboriginal communities are supported by non-Indigenous Australians who have open hearts and minds, amazing things can happen for the whole community and the way forward is together, walking side by side.

Is this what Dan Tehan means by ‘back to basics’? The Mparntwe Declaration

The Mparntwe Declaration was released at the end of last year.  I do not use the official full title of the document on purpose.  I do this as a final hurrah to 2019, the Year of Indigenous Languages and I do this because, as was pointed out, this was the first time a national education declaration has included Indigenous language in its title. I do this to emphasise that we are on Aboriginal lands first and foremost. 

You would be forgiven for not knowing much about the Mparntwe Declaration as it was revealed with little fanfare in mid-December last year, just as 2019 end of year festivities began, the White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted and an awareness of the horrors of Australia’s bushfires was growing.

But I don’t want the declaration to slip away from public scrutiny before we have had a good look at it and note what is happening. The Mparntwe Declaration is our new national declaration on education in Australia. It sets the national vision and goals for education for all Australians, agreed on by all of the education ministers in Australia. It replaces the Melbourne Declaration which supposedly did the same thing back in 2008.

You have probably already forgotten the turmoil involved, also at the end of 2019, when the latest PISA results were published, just a week before the Mparntwe Declaration was announced. At the time Australian Education Minister, Dan Tehan, told us that “alarm bells should be ringing” over poor student test results and states and territories needed to “get back to basics”.

It is ironic to me just a week later we were provided with a national education policy which simply rephrases and reinstates the old Melbourne Declaration. How can anything change if we are just given a rehash of the same things? Let me explain.  

The goals

As with the Melbourne Declaration, the Mparntwe Declaration has two goals.  Here are the two sets of goals. To me, they are the same goals simply rephrased.

Melbourne Declaration 2008

Goal 1: Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence

Goal 2: All young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens

Mparntwe Declaration 2019

Goal 1: The Australian education system promotes excellence and equity

Goal 2: All young Australians become confident and creative individuals, successful lifelong learners, and active and informed members of the community

The ‘elaborations’ which follow each goal are also mostly a rehash. But there are some differences and I found them interesting.

Comparisons of the elaborations of Goal 1

The first elaboration of the first goal in the Melbourne Declaration was to “provide all students with access to high quality schooling that is free from discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, culture, ethnicity, religion, health or disability, socioeconomic background or geographic location”. It has been extended in the Mparntwe Declaration with an additional bullet point stating another parameter is to “recognize the individual needs of all young Australians, identify barriers that can be addressed, and empower learners to overcome barriers”.

So the social justice agenda found within the Melbourne Declaration is elaborated in the Mparntwe Declaration with additional bullet points on the needs of all young Australians who face disadvantage when engaging and/or accessing education.

If ordering is an indication of priority, we can note that the dot point “ensure that learning is built on and includes local, regional and national cultural knowledge and experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and work in partnership with local communities” has been moved from the second bullet point in the Melbourne Declaration to seventh bullet point in the Mparntwe Declaration. 

Also the emphasis placed in the Melbourne Declaration to “promote high expectations for the learning outcomes of Indigenous students” has been removed from the Mparntwe Declaration and is encompassed within the new bullet point whereby “young Australians of all backgrounds are supported to achieve their full educational potential”

While the silence of the specific references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students may be in effect to address deficit discourses of the previous Melbourne Declaration, the stronghold of colonial norms of deficit remains. 

That is, the Education Council’s website (the website of all education ministers) may well state that “through the Declaration, Australian Governments also renewed their commitment to celebrating and learning from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge and histories and ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are supported to imagine, discover and unlock their potential”, (note the commitment to celebrating and learning from) however newspaper articles across Australia continue to espouse colonial rhetoric by highlighting the OECD pointed out that, in maths and reading, Indigenous students are lagging behind their non-Indigenous counterparts by two-and-a-half years and two-and-a-third-years, respectively.”

Comparisons of the elaborations of Goal 2

Goal 2 has remained essentially the same, although the order in which the previous parameters were stated have changed, as well as an elaboration, and there is a refinement of the key points.  

Within the area of Confident and creative individuals, all of the nine dot points from the Melbourne Declaration have been maintained with the notable addition of ‘imagination’ to the Mparntwe Declaration – “have the imagination, knowledge, skills, understanding and values to establish and maintain healthy, satisfying lives”(my emphasis added). 

Is the inclusion of ‘imagination” here a nod to the Imagination Declaration released in 2019?  The Imagination Declaration is a group declaration by young Indigenous people who had gathered in East Arnhem Land in 2019 for a Youth Forum. It was a message to the Prime Minister and education ministers asking them to “imagine what’s possible” for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth. Famously, the declaration said, “We are not the problem, we are the solution”.

I ‘d like to know the purpose of using this term here in the Mparntwe Declaration. The Oxford dictionary defines imagination as “the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses” or “the ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful” – pray then why would people need to form new ideas or be creative when it comes to simply living?

The doom and gloom and neoliberalist ideologies of self-empowerment do not end there, as in addition to the previous Melbourne Declaration bullet points, the Mparntwe Declaration includes the need to be “resilient and develop the skills and strategy […] need[ed] to tackle current and future challenges” as well as to be “able to recognize, adapt to, and manage change” all while “understand[ing our] responsibilities as global citizens and know how to affect positive change [and still] have a sense of belonging, purpose and meaning that enable[s students] to thrive in their learning environment[s]”.

Interestingly enough, there seems to be a shift from engaging with our “Asian neighbours” in the Melbourne Declaration, to engaging with our to “Indo-Pacific neighbours” in the Mparntwe Declaration The change in term of reference from Asia to Indo-Pacific aligns with the joint statement from ASEAN earlier this year. The Mparntwe Declaration seems to be neatening up the edges of policy and ensuring that it is aligned to the changing attitudes of colonial Australia. 

This becomes explicit when we consider that hidden within the rhetoric is also the push for the recognition of colonial Australia and a nod to conservatives by encouraging students to “have an understanding of Australia’s system of government, its histories, religions and culture”.  Not only is the fear of the fall of Western civilization addressed with this simple parameter but also, ensures an easy ride in for the religious discrimination bill currently in its second draft.  

The Mparntwe Declaration’s Commitment to Action section has also remained virtually the same as the Melbourne Declaration but with some distinct exceptions.  Most notably in my field, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education has been singled out from other marginalized groups as a central focus area needing its own commitment.  I have written about the tensions of Indigenous education policy previously in this blog in Words matter: how the latest school funding report (Gonski 2.0) gets it so wrong, and in The Conversation in There’s little reason for optimism about Closing the Gap, despite changes to education targets.

And though I acknowledge the need for a specific target, my fear is it places Indigeneity in a silo rather than recognising the complexity of humans. 

The elaboration of the Commitment to Action in the Mparntwe Declaration on supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners to reach their potential has drawn from a variety of already existing policies hodge-podged together.  For example, the Vision from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Strategy is present verbatim.  Statements directly from the Melbourne Declaration in the previous Commitment to Action that looked to improve the educational outcomes of Indigenous youth and disadvantaged young Australians have been borrowed.  Other components of this section are the reformation and re-imagining of statements made within the 2019 Closing the Gap: Prime Minister’s Report

More notably, what is the ‘education community’ so consistently referenced in the Mparntwe Declaration? There is no definition of who makes up the ‘community’?  Is this the new term of reference for the stakeholders?  An attempt to remove the perceived commodification and marketisation of education to the notion of a community suggesting a relationship? 

Very little to nothing is new or visionary in the Mparntwe Declaration.  Perhaps this is what is meant by ‘back to basics’?  Rehash what has been said already with some minor changes to address political agendas and then wonder why our educational outcomes are not changing.  

Melitta Hogarth is a Kamilaroi woman who is Senior Lecturer in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at University of Melbourne.  Prior to entering academia Melitta taught for almost 20 years in all three sectors of the Queensland education system specifically in Secondary education.  Melitta’s interests are in education, equity and social justice.  Her PhD titled “Addressing the rights of Indigenous peoples in education: A critical analysis of Indigenous education policy” was recently awarded the Ray Debus Award for Doctoral Research in Education.

We need more Indigenous voices to help attract and keep Indigenous teachers

I am a Murri man from South East Queensland. I have connections with the Quandamooka People from North Stradbroke Island and to the Aboriginal Community of Cherbourg, Queensland. I am proud of my Aboriginal heritage and would like to contribute to my people through education and research.

I have worked in Indigenous education for over twenty years. The majority of my experience has involved developing and teaching vocational programs to Aboriginal communities throughout NSW. I also have experience working at a strategic level with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education in Queensland Catholic schools. I have lectured at universities and I had a recent posting as a teaching Deputy Principal at a school in Alice Springs with a nearly 100% Aboriginal student enrolment. With this experience, I want my Aboriginal voice to contribute to the literature in Indigenous education.

The critical shortage of Indigenous people in the teacher workforce in Australia

The National Teaching Workforce Dataset, 2014, shows that there were 3100 Indigenous educators working in the profession in 2015, who made up 1% of the total teacher workforce. This was in contrast to Indigenous students, who made up 5.3% of the total Australian student population in 2015.

The recent More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative (MATSITI) of 2017 aimed to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people entering and remaining in professional teaching positions in Australian schools. Despite this initiative and further calls for urgent investment to increase the Indigenous teacher workforce, the small number of Indigenous teachers is an ongoing issue for Australian schools.

My research focus

My research is to analyse existing literature about Indigenous teachers who have remained in the profession and why they have chosen to remain, rather than focusing on the reasons for the critical shortage of Indigenous teachers and emphasising the problem. I specifically want to look at what impact Indigenous teachers have in the profession, in Australia and in an international context, particularly on outcomes for Indigenous students.

This post is a start to the literature analysis, attached to my PhD study that will privilege the voices of Indigenous teachers who have remained in the profession, despite the challenges they face in undertaking their roles in schools.

I hope by investigating the issue through a lens of exploring what has worked and kept the small number of Indigenous teachers we do have in the workforce, that I can provide a different way of understanding the issue. I want to emphasise what works in attracting and keeping Indigenous teachers teaching, over what doesn’t work. 

My findings so far

Numerous studies, including the 2018 Australian Principal and Deputy Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey, demonstrate that unacceptable stress levels are affecting teachers at all career stages. The World Health Organisation says that education and health are highly correlated. That is, more education indicates better health and vice versa.

Teacher burnout is common in Australia because of unacceptable stress levels. However, there are numerous programs that support teacher wellbeing and in turn, help promote teacher retention. However, little is known about the effectiveness of teacher support programs for Indigenous teachers, which is problematic because we know from past research that Indigenous teachers have reported experiencing high levels of racism and stress.

Director of the More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative Professor Peter Buckskin said

One of the things we need to talk about is race and racism. People need to acknowledge their own racism and how it shapes their thinking.”

He also said

Good practice when you teach for diversity is teaching for difference – and treating that difference not as a deficit, but as a strength.”

My list of some of the literature that I have found so far

Students, teachers, community members and those interested in the issue I am researching might like to check out some of these.

  • Resilience  (by Christopher Day and Quing Gu, 2010) Resilience is an important part of teaching. Teaching is a demanding job and research has demonstrated that it is one of the factors that helps keep teachers in the profession.
  • Collaboration and teams (by Christopher Day, 2019). This paper investigates the research into how relationships and collaboration are fundamental to successful teachers.
  • School conditions and culture (by Bruce Johnson, Barry Down, Rosie Le Cornu, Judy Peters, Anna Sullivan, Jane Pearce and Jane Hunter, 2014). This research also investigates how resilience is a crucial aspect for retaining teachers in the profession. It investigates how an alternative thinking might better support early career teachers in the workplace.
  • Leadership (by Matthew A. Kraft, William H. Murinell and Shen-Wei Yee, 2016). This looks at how different facets of school organisations affects the high turnover of teachers, among other things. Leadership is one of these that is investigated.
  • Work Engagement (by Cheryl L. Kirkpatrick and Susan Moore Johnson, 2014). This study looked at how positive work engagement had a positive effect on mid-career teachers who had been in the profession between 4-10 years.
  • Increased resources (OECD, Teachers Matter, 2005). The OECD looked at the global issue of recruiting teachers into the profession and retaining those teachers. Providing teachers with adequate resources was demonstrated to increase teacher effectiveness and their likelihood on remaining in the profession.
  • Reduced workloads (OECD, Teachers Matter, 2005). The same OECD report showed that teachers were under an inordinate amount of pressure and stress with demanding workloads. The study provided examples of where workloads were manageable, that teacher retention increased.

From this early investigation into the literature, I have realised that it is important that I continue to contribute to this area of research.

In terms of educational policy development, there has been an oversight on how we go about retaining Indigenous teachers in the profession. By adding their voices to the literature, I will be privileging those teachers, their students, families and communities. I am hoping this will help provide the catalyst to inspire the next generation of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to enter the teaching profession and make a positive contribution to Australian society.

The image above is Ren Perkins with some of his students from Alice Springs

Ren Perkins is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland’s School of Education. He is an experienced executive officer with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. He is skilled in communication, public speaking, facilitation, Indigenous education, and community engagement. Ren has a strong background in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educational leadership and policy development. He has had extensive experience in working within the Higher Education sector and has seen the benefits a good education can provide for the most marginalised in our society. He is passionate about the work he does and enjoys working in collaboration with others.

Ren will be presenting on A literature analysis on the role of Indigenous teachers: Indigenous teacher’s voices on why they stay in the profession at the AARE 2019 Conference on 3rd December.

Hundreds of educational researchers are reporting on their latest educational research at the AARE 2019 Conference from 2nd to 5th December. Check out the full program here.

Before we begin again, I want to tell you why last year was horrendous

The education year is about to begin but I can’t let 2018 go. Not yet.

I want to share with you how last year was for me, a Kamilaroi woman, a former schoolteacher and now a university lecturer and educational researcher. My urge to share is simply because I need to be persistent and I have to keep on trying to communicate how it is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, like me, in Australia today.

I consistently investigate the biases and taken for granted assumptions upheld in our society in my work as a researcher and I want to tell you that last year was absolutely horrendous for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  And yet, it was also a significant year where we celebrated the strength and persistence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and we began discussions about truth telling and acknowledging the detrimental shared history of colonial Australia.

This time of the year, the lead up to January 26th, is always a nightmare for me. But last year the nightmare did not stop after January 26th. It went all year. Nowhere was safe.  Every month, we were reminded that our bodies were political, our lives in ‘need of saving’ by the coloniser and implicit and explicit racism splashed across many forums on a daily basis.  There was no escape. Let me explain.

The January 26th debate

I purposefully do not name this day.  The debates that occur about it on social media forums every year are an excellent example of White Privilege in action, ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples know their place in wider Australian society. 

Last year it was headlines such as “Why I’m proud of Australia and you should be too” and “Australia day: Most Australians don’t mind what date it’s held, according to new poll”.  This year we got Australia Day debate: Poll reveals most Aussies want celebrations to stay on January 26.  

Within every one of the discourses triggered by these headlines is the reminder that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples need to “get over it” and “move on”.  But it doesn’t take into consideration the arguments of how January 26th is a recent date set nor recognise that the detrimental effects of colonisation continue

The shared history is inconvenient and again, not something that can be changed, so we are told let’s just “forget it”. Let’s dismiss the history of genocide and massacres and “move on”. 

Malcolm Turnbull said the date would not change while he was Prime Minister and it didn’t.

Ironically Malcolm Turnbull, along with his predecessor, Tony Abbott, espoused a wish to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in their Closing the Gap reports.

February

Talking of Closing The Gap, February marked the tenth year of the Closing the Gap initiative. Yet again, the annual report saw few of the goals achieved.  The National Indigenous Reform Agreement, more commonly referred to as Closing the Gap, was introduced in 2008 with the intention to address the inequities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples’ livelihoods encompassing health, education and employment. 

But in 2018, once again the reports were not positive.  Once again, the failure to achieve the targets was lamented and once again data was provided as to why governments can’t close the gap.  And the money spent, a reported $130 billion (paywalled) over the years, raised further discussions. 

Few commentators acknowledged the complexities of policy making and the lack of Indigenous voice being involved in the decision-making.  The call to be heard in the Redfern Statement by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was lost. Some politicians even placed the lack of progress squarely with the communities (paywalled).  Such notions emphasise the political agenda of self-empowerment (that is, blaming Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perceived failures and current conditions on the idea that the people do not take up the opportunities made available to them) and silences the Indigenous right for self-determination

So the Australian Government abandons the policy and moves on to another review with new targets as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples wait and remain silenced.

March

Yes we were only into March when an all-White panel on the morning show, Sunrise, advocated the further removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their homes for their well-being.  One of the commentators suggested a second Stolen Generation was necessary.  The segment caused outrage throughout Indigenous communities and led to protests outside the studio.  The audacity of the panelists to feel they could speak about Indigenous issues from a position of knowing caused instant reaction.  However, it also illustrated the enactment of privilege.  Our political bodies are consistently the subject of discussion and this instance, sought to remind us that colonial Australia was not afraid to voice their solutions for the perceived ‘problem’. 

Formal complaints were made to the Australian Communications and Media Authority about the mistruths shared within the segment and in September, Sunrise was found in breach of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice.  But it was all too late.  The perpetuation of stereotypes and mistruths were already out there being normalised and re-interpreted within colonial Australia; further pushing any chance of reconciliation back.

April

In April, the dilemma of silencing and the inconvenience of Indigeneity in colonial Australia continued as Australia hosted the Commonwealth Games.  Indigenous protestors were in the news again. Protesters re-established the mantra of the ‘StolenWealth Games’ first used in 1982 protests.  Media discourses perpetuated the inconvenience of the protestors and the makeshift camp, Camp Freedom, highlighting the number of caravans, tents and so forth.

Organisers of the games emphasised how they were using fencing to ‘cage in’ protestors. The protest and activism was an inconvenient truth upsetting the celebrations of colonisation.

May

This marked one year since the Uluru Statement of the Heart, which the Turnbull Government subsequently rejected. In the outright rejection political voices aired their concerns of a perceived “third chamber of parliament” as reasoning for the dismissal, ignoring the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  The extensive consultation process that had been funded by the Federal Government became another point of critique about the perceived exorbitant funding extended to Indigenous affairs. 

Advocacy for the Uluru Statement of the Heart has been maintained seeking to further the recommendations made.  Still, the call for a voice and space to speak into what happens in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs seems ‘a step too far’ for government with the now Prime Minister Morrison again dismissing the renewed push

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples having a say in policy and actions that affect them is actually written in policy but, as always, it is all just words.

June

Reconciliation week falls at the end of May/early June.  The 2018 theme was ‘Don’t keep history a mystery’ and it kept the notion of ‘truth telling’ front and centre.  Embedded within the recommendations in the Redfern Statement and the Uluru Statement, the week challenged non-Indigenous Australia to question how much they don’t know about the shared history.  Denial of the historical past needs to be addressed.  We cannot have reconciliation without it.  For goodness sake, this year was the first time that Reconciliation Week had been celebrated in Tasmania!  We have a long way to go.

Still in June, another news frenzy occurred where students at a university in Australia decided to dress in blackface.  There has been a rise in this practice in recent years with models, sporting teams and so forth all being called out on their racism (or ignorance).  Although, I would suggest it is hard to argue ignorance when there has been such an influx of condemnation of such behaviours on social media and the repercussions shared on the news including suspension and so forth.  It is a position of privilege that you can feign ignorance of the stereotypical assumptions linked to blackface and post to a social media platform photographic evidence of your actions.  But even better is the almost instant disclaimers that in no certain means were the actions intending to be racist or malicious.   

July

But then came July and the world seemed bright if just for a while as we recognised the achievements and contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women during NAIDOC week with its wonderful theme, Because of her, we can.  It was a powerful theme championing the often-silenced women who have, persistently and with great strength, fought for equal rights.  The week provided opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to voice their appreciation of their mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters and ancestral mothers but also, allowed space for recognition of the various achievements in all fields and disciplines. 

As an Aboriginal woman, the theme was empowering and yet humbling; reminding me of the women who faced such adversity in the past with tenacity, grace and pride.

August

In August we came crashing down with the appointment of the once self-proclaimed Prime Minister of Aboriginal affairs, Tony Abbott, as Special envoy for Indigenous affairs.  Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples shared their frustrations about the appointment and the irony of yet another white male being positioned as a knower about Indigenous affairs.  Recognition of the dramatic reductions in funding to Indigenous health, employment and so forth while he was Prime Minister seemed to counter the notion of closing the gap and yet, here he was returning to focus on attendance of remote Aboriginal Australia in schools (paywalled).

Abbott’s focus tends to be on remote Aboriginal communities and yet, the largest Aboriginal population in Australia is actually found in New South Wales where the majority live in towns and cities. So why focus on remote communities?  And why should Tony Abbott have an input into overhauling Indigenous education?

September

Yet another media frenzy around race and representation exploded in September with the publication of a political cartoon of Serena Williams featuring a stereotypical exaggeration of racial features.  The alignment to Bill Leak’s political cartoon in 2016 of an Aboriginal man not knowing his son was soon raised and again, our politicised bodies became the subject of many a forum. 

Australia’s ignorance regarding race was exposed in national and international media.  But as usual, the denial by the cartoonist and the interpretation by the editor emerged in support of their colleague and no progress was made in Australian racial relations.  Reflection on why it may be perceived as racist and/or sexist did not occur.  Instead, we were told it was the PC world gone too far.  Within weeks, the world had moved onto the next big news story but at least one Aboriginal researcher was still reeling in a year of constant disruption.

October

This was not a month of reprise.  Instead, the government took it to another level with One Nation’s leader, Pauline Hanson, bringing forward her ‘It’s okay to be White’ motion to the Senate.  And worse still, the motion was almost passed with government members voting for it.  It was a slap in the face to me.  The controversial motion spoke to the perceived anti-White racism on social media and the challenge on Western civilisation.  Commentators drew connections of the motion to the White Australia Policy.  Again, the positioning of the coloniser as the dominant norm was established placing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander on the margins.

November

Some positive news for educators arrived in November with 90+ elaborations released to assist classroom teachers to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures in the Science classroom.  Indigenous educationalists and scientists assisted in developing the list; contributing their own knowledge to help in closing the cultural gap.  Yet, this action could not escape the criticism and scaremongering of some commentators.

For years there has been advocacy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures to be embedded rather than ‘bolted on’ to the curriculum.  And yet here came the resistance.

December

Abbott started up on what to do to improve attendance in Indigenous education.  He wants the introduction of police officers within the school setting and a review of the Australian Curriculum to simplify it (read as let’s get rid off the cross-curriculum priorities and general capabilities and just focus on numeracy and literacy). You know how it goes.

I could not wait for the year to be over.  It is, well and truly.

Let’s start again soon, shall we?

Melitta Hogarth is a Kamilaroi woman who is also the Indigenous Education Lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland within the College for Indigenous Studies, Education and Research.  Prior to entering academia, Melitta taught for almost 20 years in all three sectors of the Queensland education system specifically in Secondary education.  Melitta’s interests are in education, equity and social justice.  She recently completed her PhD titled “Addressing the rights of Indigenous peoples in education: A critical analysis of Indigenous education policy”.

The image featured on this post is from Adobe Stock

Words matter: how the latest school funding report (Gonski 2.0) gets it so wrong

Much has been said about David Gonski’s second review of school funding in Australia. It is a document made up 46,327 words aimed at advising the Australian Government on how school funding can be used to improve student achievement and school performance.

Within those 46,327 words in the 150-page document, Through Growth to Achievement: Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, the term ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ‘ is only used 10 times. This is less than 0.1% of the total focus within the entire document.

Deficit discourse

It gets worse. When reference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander is used in the document, it is predominantly based on ‘deficit discourse’, that is discussion that represents people or groups in terms of deficiency, absence, lack or failure. And it sets up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander to be considered different to the dominant norm.  For example:

“This holds regardless of a student’s circumstances, whether they are students with disability, students in rural or remote locations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students,those from non-English speaking backgrounds, low socio-economic backgrounds, gifted and talented students, or any combination of these” (p. x, emphasis added);

“The review Panel heard from a range of stakeholders that there are common fundamentals needed to support all students – those in capital cities and territories, those in rural or remote locations, students with disability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students,students from non-English speaking backgrounds, students from low socio-economic backgrounds, gifted and talented students, academically advanced or less-advanced students, or any combination of these” (p. 4, emphasis added); and

“The strategy seeks to lift students’ foundational skills in STEM learning areas, improve Australia’s STEM performance in international comparative assessments, reverse the declining number of skilled graduates in STEM-related subjects, and address the under-representation in STEM of girls, of students from low socio-economic status backgrounds, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and of students from non-metropolitan areas (p. 37, emphasis added).

By consistently listing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander uniqueness as a deficit, it maintains the dominant norm and perpetuates stereotypes.  The use of “or any combination of these” is also an interesting clause.  It seems a blasé term of reference acting to minimise the varying forms of inequity that peoples face and in turn, dismisses the lack of focus on addressing inequity.

Representation

Another mention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within the report includes an explicit mention of the need to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teacher representation.  As I see it, this limits the expectations of Indigenous peoples. They are seen as teachers not also as principals or educational leaders.

In the same way the document lacks promotion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within educational decision-making, even though this is advocated within numerous current policies.  Instead, the reasoning given for increasing representation is that “it promotes student creativity, motivation, deeper learning and problem-solving skills” (p. 73).

The reasoning seems very lack lustre when considering that an entire chapter within the document is focused on “Creating, supporting and valuing a profession of expert educators” (Chapter 3 pp. 56-81). This chapter draws on the work of Professors Jo Lampert and Bruce Burnett and their project, National Exceptional Teaching in Disadvantaged Schools programwhich seeks to address disadvantage by seeking exceptional pre-service teachers to fill ‘hard to place’ schools’ staffing issues. Little mention is made of the clientele of these schools or the reason for the schools being deemed ‘hard to place’ except for a mention of low socio-economic status schools.

Missed opportunities for positive acknowledgement

Yet, aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educational research is used to emphasise the importance of classroom teachers and their role in education as well as the involvement of parents and community within the classroom setting.  For example, the Families as First teachers programis mentioned to illustrate the important role of parents supporting cognitive development. This program grew from a project within Kuranda to build parents capacity to assist their children in early childhood.

The omission of recognition of this being an Indigenous-led project now adapted within schools nationally, further silences the achievements and success of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Further to this, the notion of mentoring is also discussed.  While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are not explicitly mentioned, the Promising Practices in Supporting Success for Indigenous Students report (OECD, 2017) was used as the substantiating evidence for mentoring.

The needs based funding loading specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students is omitted from the actual report but needs based funding is championed as “levelling the playing field” (p.6).

The Review Panel was established “to examine evidence and make recommendations on how school funding should be used to improve school performance and student outcomes”, so these omissions are interesting.

One mention only of Cross-Curriculum Priorities

There are three cross curriculum priorities of the Australian National Curriculum. These are: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia, and Sustainability. The cross curriculum priorities are part of the national curriculum, which is made up of three dimensions: specific disciplinary knowledge (such as English, science, maths), general capabilities (such as creative thinking, social and emotional skills) and the three cross curriculum priorities (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia and Sustainability).

Mention of the cross curriculum priorities is limited to one occasion within the report. And on that one occasion, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures is omitted.  That is, when describing the Australian Curriculum, the report states,

“The Australian Curriculum can be depicted as a cube of three dimensions: disciplinary knowledge, skills and understanding in learning areas such as English, mathematics and science; general capabilities such as personal and social capability; and cross-curriculum priorities such as Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia” (p. 38).

Why the omission?

I believe the omission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures may have been intentional. Previous reviews and reports commissioned by the Liberal Government by the likes of Kevin Donnelly have argued (paywalled) that the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures within the curriculum is “hostile towards the institutions, beliefs and grand narrative associated with Western civilisation that makes this nation unique”.

So is the omission purposeful; to align with the Liberal agenda of shifting focus? At least the inclusion of Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia as the lone cross-curriculum priority is interesting. Considering the Liberal’s stance on climate change it is probably not surprising that Sustainability, the other cross-curriculum priority is also omitted.

In its defence, the report does acknowledge the numerous reviews undertaken addressing rural and remote education and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education and that it “has sought to complement them, rather than go over the same ground. [Stating that,] our specific focus has been on improving school education outcomes for all students across Australia” (p. 14).

However if the review panel’s focus was on improving student outcomes and school performance, how can the needs of specific groups that are identified within governmental data sets as struggling to meet national minimum standards be so readily dismissed and silenced?

 

 

Melitta Hogarth is a Kamilaroi woman who is also the Indigenous Education Lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland within the College for Indigenous Studies, Education and Research.  Prior to entering academia, Melitta taught for almost 20 years in all three sectors of the Queensland education system specifically in Secondary education.  Melitta’s interests are in education, equity and social justice.  She recently completed her PhD titled “Addressing the rights of Indigenous peoples in education: A critical analysis of Indigenous education policy”.