Although it may be argued that there has been a growing acceptance of Aboriginal educational frameworks being incorporated into the learning of both primary and high school students within Australia, some commentators and researchers have questioned the usefulness of such culturally inclusive practices (Johns, 2011). To date, such commentary though is largely based upon overall generalised statistical trends (e.g., government reports) or carefully selected case studies that are not nuanced enough to probe the complexity of the issue at hand. It is the purpose of this paper to offer empirical evidence seeking to clarify the role of cultural identity and cultural respect with regard to patterns of learned helplessness for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.
Utilising a large sample of Aboriginal (N = 342) and non-Aboriginal (N = 1462) high school students drawn from 5 high schools across NSW, a set of Confirmatory Factor Analysis and Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) techniques were utilised to examine the impact of cultural identity, perceived cultural respect, and academic self-concept on patterns of academic learned helplessness for these students. Latent interactions (Klien & Moosbrugger, 2000) between academic self-concept and the two culturally orientated measures were also tested to clarify the role of these variables in predicting helplessness.
Preliminary correlations indicated that higher levels of academic self-concept were associated with lowered levels of learned helplessness for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students. The cultural variables were positively related to helplessness for the Aboriginal students and negatively related to helplessness for the non-Aboriginal students. When placed within a SEM framework, academic self-concept was reaffirmed as a negative predictor of helplessness for both groups, yet the role of the cultural variables became more complicated. For both groups, significant latent interactions revealed that higher levels of self-concept and perceived cultural respect acted as the optimal condition for protecting students against learned helplessness.
The results of this investigation suggest that the role of cultural identity and academic self-concept within the learning environment is dynamic and complex, and that future quantitative research investigating of the role of identity must utilise statistical techniques sensitive to such complexity.