Melitta Hogarth

Into this silence the children said – we are not the problem we are the solution

“…And in the naked light I saw ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices ever shared, no one dared disturb the sound of silence…”

(Excerpt from Sound of Silence, Simon and Garfunkel, 1965)

There is a silence echoing within government chambers,  as the need to address the disparities in Indigenous education is not spoken about. Indigenous education policy seems to be at a standstill. 

It has been almost a year with no review or evaluation of national strategies for educating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Strategy, the agreement between Australia’s education ministers, was made in 2015 and was supposed to “guide the education of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people from birth through to further education and employment pathways”. But it now seems redundant. It has been a year with no superseding policy and no action plan.

To me the silence is unforgivable. There are around 300,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children under the age of fifteen in this country today, and by 2031 around half of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will be under 25 years old. I am advocating for them.

Talking without speaking, hearing without listening

The government promised a “refresh” of the National Indigenous Reform Agreement, more commonly referred to as Closing the Gap.  However, a set of draft targets was released in December of 2018, ten months ago, suggesting what could be enacted.  That’s all we got.

And when we look at these draft education specific targets, they are simply a reimagining of the goals as set out in previous iterations of policy.  That is, the focus again falls on Numeracy and Literacy, Year 12 qualifications, attendance and so forth: same focus, similar goals, similar written words.

Then there was the review of the Melbourne Declaration on educational goals for young Australians.  The goals were set in 2008 within the first iteration and they also have not been met. Previous signatories and former education ministers have publicly lamented this lack of progress. 

The truth is the priority areas (or whatever they are called now) have not changed since 1975, The Report to the Schools Commission by the Aboriginal Consultative Group in June 1975 highlighted, way back then, the lack of progress in Indigenous education.  The fact that the priority areas remain stagnant and merely rephrased is something I wrote about in 2016.

The chasm

You could think all this failure and stagnation around educating First Nations people would inspire action and innovation to truly begin addressing the inequities.  Dominant voices within government espouse to wanting to “try something new, to change the way we work as governments – to work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians”.

 And yet, never has there been so large a gaping chasm between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the Australian Government than present times. Our voices and the Uluru Statement from the Heart have been silenced, denied and rejected.

Still waiting

To add insult, according to the commitments made within the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Strategy in 2015, was the promise that: “This strategy will be reviewed in 2018, which is a significant year in measuring progress against COAG’s Closing the gap targets. An evaluation will consider the effectiveness of the strategy as a framework.”

Well 2018 has long gone and we are still waiting to see the review.

The evaluation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-2014  was completed in November 2014 by ACIL Allen Consulting ,with the Strategy being endorsed and released late 2015. 

How much longer do we have to wait?

All we get is silence. 

We can wish

It is hard not to be cynical and postulate sarcastic laments. But we can wish.

Perhaps the delay is because, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison asserts in his Prime Minister’s foreword in the Closing the Gap Report 2019, “the main area of change needs to be in how governments approach implementation of policies and delivery of services.  Stronger accountability can be achieved through co-designed action plans that link targets to policy action, funding decisions, and regular evaluations”. 

Perhaps the government has been compiling an actual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Advisory Group made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators whose ‘business’ is education and know how targets can be achieved. 

Perhaps the government has finally listened and recognized that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth bubble, those under the age of 15, makes up over a third of the total Indigenous population.  This inevitably means that a large number of the population will be of school age.  Surely this must have some influence on the urgency of addressing the inequities and ‘closing the gap’.

The reality is that if a new iteration of the policy is not released soon, any momentum will be lost as was suggested in the Evaluation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-2014.  Without the policy, and making schools and systems accountable as well as governments, our kids and their educational attainment, their dreams of a future become silenced. 

Imagine

More recently, Indigenous and non-Indigenous students alike released the Imagination Declaration asking ministers “to imagine what’s possible…[and that,] it’s time to think differently”.

If you haven’t read it, you should. Be inspired.

As the children said, “We are not the problem, we are the solution … We urge you to give us the freedom to write a new story.’

But here we sit and wait for any response from government.  We wait for government to provide the next policy. And one last wish that if do we get one there will be no fudging to backdate it to include 2019, as the year is almost over.

The children, teachers and schools wait for an end to this silence.

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.  She recently completed her PhD titled “Addressing the rights of Indigenous peoples in education: A critical analysis of Indigenous education policy”.

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

The trickery used to marginalise and silence Indigenous voice in education

Indigenous education policy, reviews and reports have consistently sought for the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in all levels of decision-making. However, actions and evidence suggest otherwise: the silencing and marginalisation of Indigenous peoples continues. My research focuses on the various mechanisms put in place that counter the goodwill intentions shared by policy makers and politicians, specifically in Indigenous education policy. I believe there is trickery at play. There is allusion to the involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples but it is not really happening.

The good intentions of politicians

Quite often the will and want to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is foregrounded in political speeches and/or reports from Prime Ministers. Here, we find assertions from people in positions of political authority who say they want to address the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians. For example, International human rights charters such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples advocate for the inclusion of Indigenous voices. The political elite continually refer to these rights and say they espouse such desires.

What is really happening politically

In the lead up to the 2016 election, the National Congress of Australia’s First Nations Peoples released the Redfern Statement: An urgent call for a more just approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Here, the Congress highlighted the lack of Indigenous representation at a national level where decision-making and policy about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is made. By 2017 and with the release of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the call for Indigenous voices to be heard was made. However, the instant dismissal of the Uluru Statement of the Heart acted to silence Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and contradicted the sentiments shared by politicians and Prime Ministers elsewhere within the public arena.

The good intentions of education policy

Within the Australian Curriculum and more specifically, its cross curriculum priority, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, there is opportunity for these cultural gaps to be redressed. There is space to allow for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be engaged in and with the teaching and learning offered in schools.

It requires schools, principals and educators to build partnerships with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities. This is not a new innovation. Since the initial reports regarding Indigenous education, there has been a call to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures into teaching and learning.

What is really happening in education

However, policy and therefore, policy makers ignore the premises of a partnership where relationships need to be nurtured to be maintained; where trust needs to be built. This can’t happen when the schooling systems engaged in educating many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children usually work on three-year cycles, whereby teachers and principals transition in and out of community.

Further assumptions are located within the current Indigenous education policy, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Strategy 2015, where the lack of Indigenous representation within the Australian teaching workforce is also ignored. Indigenous people have no power or real influence on what is and is not taught in schools or more importantly, what is deemed necessary and what is not. In what has already been described in many papers as a content heavy curriculum and ignored in recent reviews and reports, the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures can easily be seen as ‘bolted on’ and ignored.

My experience as an Aboriginal teacher

I was a classroom teacher for almost 20 years with my final years being within schools with high Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student populations. As the only Aboriginal teacher within these schooling environments, my colleagues and the principals often called on me to be the mediator between the schools and the communities.

I was torn. My role as classroom teacher was seen by the school as a means to communicate with communities about the school’s expectations and yet, the community saw my role and position as a means to speak into the school space. The tug of war minimised my own voice. The schools and the principals failed to see what was happening and did not attempt to build relationships with the communities because they simply relied on me to be the go-between for them. This essentially, widened the gap between the school and the community. In turn, this made Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice within the planning and decision making almost an impossibility. Due to the actions (or should that be inaction?), the school had silenced the community.

Let’s flip the system

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to indeed have a voice in the decision making that effects them, there is a need to flip the system and to transform the ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are viewed by wider Australia. That is, Australia needs to acknowledge the biases and assumptions held within colonial Australia and allow for truth telling and conciliation of the past. This begins through education.

As Indigenous peoples we need to be more assertive. We need to harness the international human rights charters and use them to privilege our voices. We need to speak into policymaking on Indigenous Affairs and call out politicians for their empty rhetoric. We need to have more of a say in what is taught within schools. Our children are dependent on it. Our future is dependent on it.

 

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”. She can be found on Twitter  @melitta_hogarth

Melitta is presenting on her research at the 2018 AARE Conference.  On Monday 3rd December at 4pm she is presenting on ‘Musings of an aboriginal researcher’ and is chairing a Symposium on Wednesday 5th December on ‘Education research that engages with multiple voices: Flipping the Australian education system’.

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”.