"From little things, big things explode....."

Year: 1999

Author: Stehbens, Clare, Anderson, Lynette, Herbert, Jeanie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The media hype which accompanied the 1999 Australian Federal budget stated that this would be the budget which in particular would benefit the education of "Indigenous Australians". Key Budget strategies announced, included the National Indigenous English Literacy and Numeracy Strategy and the National Indigenous Students' School Attendance Strategy.

While not underestimating the potential importance of a National Indigenous Attendance Strategy, the research which forms the base of this paper, highlights that the uncritical willingness on the part of many schools and the community to locate the blame for Indigenous non-attendance in deficit notions of the students and their families, ignores the systemic factors which impact on Indigenous students' participation in the school. Related to this are issues of institutionalised and personal oppression, control and violence which occur both directly and indirectly as part of the daily life experiences of many Indigenous Australian students within the school setting. Such matters are in tension with demands for "safe" school environments and departmental behaviour management policies which may not be culturally neutral. Indigenous Australian students are over-represented in many States' data on student suspensions and exclusions, particularly of secondary students.

Where schools have attempted strategies to address this situation, often they are failed by a system which is under-resourced and inadequately trained to respond to these students. However, international statements and agreements on the rights of the child and Indigenous peoples emphasise the importance of children and Indigenous parents being able to choose the kind of education that is to be given to their children. At a local level these sentiments are often embodied in State and local educational policy documents. However, statistics in relation to school attendance and achievement for Indigenous students indicate that these students are not fully exercising and in some instances may even be being denied their rights to an education.