Reconciling education policies and the everyday practices in schools in relation to reconciliation in Australia

Year: 2019

Author: Avrahamzon, Talia

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Since Australia’s formal reconciliation process began almost thirty years ago, the Australian education system has been viewed as having a critical role in un-silencing Australia’s past and increasing children and young people’s awareness of diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives on social, cultural and historical matters. The very term ‘reconciliation’ has been promoted in national and jurisdictional education policies, strategies, national curriculum documents and professional teaching standards. To date there has been little focus in the literature on understanding schools’ engagement in reconciliation per se, urban Indigenous education, or ‘all’ children’s experiences and understanding and embodiment of these education policies, curriculum and practices.

This presentation draws on doctoral research undertaken during the 2016 school year in primary schools on Ngunnawal Country, in the ACT jurisdiction of education. It explores how schools engage in reconciliation at the policy, school and classroom levels. The research included school and classroom observations, as well as interviews and focus groups with children, teachers Directorate staff and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents. Findings reveal that despite educators’ strong commitment to ‘reconciliation’, schools mainly reproduced forms of ‘colonial storytelling’ (Behrendt 2016) about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures and perpetuated the structures of the ‘silent apartheid’ (Rose 2007). In some cases, this led to the creation of ‘settled reconciliation’, in which good intent and celebrations of perceived Indigenous culture(s) silence diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ experiences and agency, and ignores ongoing assimilation and settler colonialism. The implication of these findings is a need for education policy and schools to engage more with and interrogate assumptions about reconciliation; about the purpose of schooling; and finally, about children’s development of and embodiment of racism, and their readiness to engage in transformative reconciliation. However, these findings also demonstrate the importance of ethnographic research in understanding the interplay between policies and everyday practices within schools and the education system.