The problem of indigenous representation has been a major thorn in the flesh of the Australian society. Historical inequalities have existed between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in the spheres of education, health, justice among other social indicators. These have been attributed to the old notions created by early British colonialists about the indigenous Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. These ideas painted the native people as less cultured and less intelligent as compared to the British Invaders. They were demeaned to such an extent as being viewed as beasts with no rights to own land and enter into treaties with the whites (Chalmers, 2005).
This discrimination against indigenous people has continued throughout Australian history as evident in the atrocities committed against them. These include mass murder, separation of children from their parents in the guise of culturing them and pollution of their environment with industrial contaminants (Harrison, 2011). This has served to deepen the racial divide in Australia.
The impact of this stratification has not been more evident than in the education sector. The rate of advancement in school is much higher for non- Indigenous Australians than for the natives. With limited access to early education and an inferior year 12 completion rate by the indigenous children compared to non-indigenous ones, the inequalities could not be starker. In 2009, only seventy percent of indigenous Year 5 children passed the National Assessment and Literacy Program (NAPLAN) literacy test as compared to a ninety-four percent pass rate for non-indigenous students. The same discrepancy is evident in the academic performance of both groups in other school years (Ministerial Council for Education Early Childhood Developmentand Youth Affairs 2009).
There has been a systematic endeavor to eliminate the culture of the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and assimilate them into the white Australian society. This has been evident in actions such as the employment of teachers without experience in indigenous culture and forcing the native children to study the English language and mannerisms. As a result, many indigenous languages have been lost.
The Australian government has however taken very deliberate steps to try and save the indigenous education. It has done this through direct action to promote the education of native children and general legislation to stop discrimination and injustices towards Aborigines and Torres Straight Island people. This would help them feel more accepted in the Australian society hence reduce cases of school dropout and suicide among pupils.
The direct steps taken to promote indigenous education include ensuring access to basic education in rural communities, increasing literacy levels among Aboriginal children and ensuring high progression and completion rates for these children. Other policies have been formulated to foster integration in the Australian society. These include the assimilation policy and freedom ride Government also introduced discrimination legislation in 1975 to reduce suicide cases resulting from racism (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2010)
The greater acknowledgment shown to Aboriginal culture as advocated by the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities and the Australian government has seen increased educational levels among the marginalized communities. This has given them greater access to employment opportunities.
The publication of policy documents is indicative of government goodwill to promote indigenous education. These include the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait IslanderEducation Policy (NATSIEP) which was launched in 1988 with the aim of realizing equality in education by the year 2000. However, this goodwill and policy formulation has not translated to actual results and the gaps are still as wide. Needless to say, NATSIEP objective had not been realized way past the year 2000 mark (Buckskin 2009). This begs the question whether all the government spending on policy is justifiable or a different approach should be considered (Gray & Beresford, 2008)
Of greater note is the effectiveness of partnerships in achieving the goal of improved education for the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. The idea of partnerships brings onboard all stakeholders involved in the education of the native children. Parents, teachers and all community members combine their energies to ensure improved school attendance hence performance levels for the students. It also serves to create awareness about the inequality education between natives and non-natives and seeks to address it through collective collaboration.
The first objective of an effective partnership program to improve education results for Aborigines is to encourage school attendance. As seen earlier, good performance in the classroom and national exams is directly linked to attendance levels among Native students (Gray & Beresford, 2008). Measures adopted to encourage attendance include feeding programs in some schools. Provision of breakfast and lunch would motivate the children to come to school in the morning and stay throughout the day (Bourke, Rigby et al. 2000)
Provision of incentives has also proven effective in ensuring high student retention rates. These include offering them rewards for regular attendance and good performance at the end of the school term. This system has been proven to bear better results than punishing students for non-attendance by cutting off some privileges such as parents welfare and access to the schools swimming pool by truant children (Wellington 2007).
Another angle of the partnership approach to improving Indigenous education aims at trying to understand the complex social-cultural issues that contribute to student absenteeism (Beresford & Partington 2003). The argument is that student absenteeism is not just simply caused by the students attitudes but by greater factors in their environment. These include family finance, family expectations, cultural versus school calendars, home chores, accessibility of the school, teacher expectation, bullying, family mobility among others. These have a significant effect in determining whether these children go to school and stay there.
The lack of money for basic requirements for schooling such as clothes causes some of these Aboriginal children to shy away from school as they become acutely aware of the familys poverty (Gray & Beresford, 2002). In some remote areas in Northeastern Australia, the school calendar sometimes crashes with some communal activities or with the climate in that region. This results in a situation where students stay away from school for long periods as they are engaged in cultural activities or due to adverse weather conditions (Bourke, Rigby et al. 2000;17).
Studies have shown that the Aboriginal community is a highly mobile one (Bourke, Rigby et al. 2000.1). This is entrenched in the communitys traditions and occurs due to cultural and climatic reasons such as attending a wake on the occasion of the death or moving from lowland area to avoid floods during monsoon season. During the dry season, they move back to the plains to support their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. This adversely affects consistent school attendance by the children (Schwab 1998).
The student's perception of his/ her teacher is important in determining their attitude towards school hence their likelihood of staying in school. It is therefore imperative that teachers endeavor to build a good rapport with these children, to be more understanding, humorous and amicable. They should set realistic academic targets for these disadvantaged children (Bourke, Rigby et al. 2000).
Central to the success of a partnership approach to tackling impediments to indigenous education is collaboration among all stakeholders; school staff, parents and the community. The traditional blame game as to who is responsible for students absenteeism should stop. Teachers should follow up with their students at home through visits and not only necessarily when the child fails to turn up at school or misbehaves but also to give a good report on the child. (Mellor and Corrigan 2004;Hayes, Johnston et al. 2009). The school doors should also be open to the community so as to cultivate trust.
In the course of my research for this work, I have been utterly amazed by the inequalities that exist in the Australian society. For a country that prides itself in the first world first world ideals of freedom, equality and prosperity for all, such hardships that encumber Aborigine and Torres Straits Island children are truly a national shame and failure. I think that the greatest lesson for me has been that national endowment does not automatically translate to prosperity and happiness for all citizenry. The mark of a great society is one that does not look down on some of its citizens, no matter their race or descent. No government policy shall bring change but its the simple acts of humanity such as care for a neighbor that shall make a real impact in the education and general welfare of the marginalized communities.
My understanding of the Aboriginal history through interaction with their oral and written literature; the dreaming, has enabled me to appreciate better their heritage and realize how much they have to offer to the Australian diversity. In light of this, all those historical atrocities meted on the indigenous people since the time of British colonization cannot be justified. Prime Minister Rudds speech in apology to the Stolen Generation was a step in the right direction in the journey of national healing and reconciliation and in making these people feel they belong to the Australian society. Another important lesson was the cultural factors at play in the Aboriginal society that could affect the childrens school involvement. These include gender roles as highlighted by Mr. Tony Turner during his visit in October.
To completely transform the fortunes of indigenous education, all stakeholders must deliberately and collectively to change their approaches towards the same. I highly urge teachers in classrooms to learn and teach the importance of acknowledging, recognizing and respecting the Aboriginal people their history and culture so as to enhance and promote reconciliations within classrooms context and in the larger school community. Greater involvement of Aboriginal people in education as teachers as well as guest speakers could bring more integration, change childrens attitudes and even help teachers themselves learn a new dimension of the communitys history. My personal call to the rest of the teachers is to strive to bring back the history and information on settlement and resistance in the current curriculum. This will help in eliminating the notion that the non-Aboriginal people are superior to Aboriginals. It will also help Aboriginal children to have successful education results.
Phillips, J., &Lampert, J., Introductory Indigenous: Studies in Education. The repercussions of representation,2005 Gordon Chalmers
Harrison, N (2011). Teaching and Learning in Aboriginal Education (2nd edn). South
Melbourne, Vic, Australia: Oxford University Press.
Ministerial Council for Education Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (2009). NationalAssessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy: Achievement in Reading, Writing, LanguageConventions and Numeracy. MCEECDYA. Canberra, MCEECDYA.
Buckskin, P. (2009). Review of Australian Directions in Indigenous Education 2005-2008 for theMinisterial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs.Adelaide, David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education and Research, University ofSouth Australia....
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