"When are you fellas gunna teach these ere little black kids how to read and write?" Literacy for Aboriginal students: Learning from past failures

Year: 1996

Author: Munns, Geoff, Hancock, Jan, Green, Maxine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The overall absence of general educational success and specific literacy achievement evidenced in Australia's indigenous student populations greatly concerns Aboriginal communities, teachers, teacher-educators and the government. Bureaucratic rhetoric accompanies the launching of scheme after scheme to remedy the problem, but sadly, the reality shows little change. This paper will report on research in a learning context where questions about why Aboriginal students were not learning how to read were asked and answered. Classroom incidents from an Australian primary school, with a high Aboriginal student population, in inner-city Sydney will be shared. It will be revealed that there were key factors influencing these particular Aboriginal students' responses to their classrooms. What emerged was a curriculum which was more social than academic. A feeling of inevitability of low educational expectations was generated and mirrored that of the community outside the school. Whilst deficit logic was eschewed publicly by the school, there was a contradiction in classroom practices, especially in literacy events, which were imbued with implicit, yet subtle deficit logic. The research findings point towards the need for a new direction for curriculum and pedagogical practices when teaching Aboriginal students to read. Cultural inclusive curriculum and a non-threatening, yet challenging pedagogy are at the heart of the remedy to increase indigenous learners' literacy acquisition. Suggestions for future practice will be shared.