Aboriginal education

 

Selected statistic data

60%
Percentage of Aboriginal children significantly behind non-Aboriginal children by the time they start Year One [1].
40%
Percentage by which an Aboriginal student's chance of employment rises if they complete year 10 or 11. Completing Year 12 increases employment prospects by a further 13% [7].
36%
Percentage of people in remote communities have access to a library [9].
40%
Percentage of the Northern Territory's school-aged population who is Indigenous. Same rate for all of Australia: 4% [14].
10.4%
Unemployment rate for Aboriginal adults reaching Year 12 education level. Same rate for non-Aboriginal adults: 3.6% [17]. There is no difference for adults with a university degree.
24%
Percentage of people in remote communities have a school that goes up only to year 12. 29% have a school up to year 10 [9].
10%
Percentage of Aboriginal children who graduate from year 12 [8].
40%
Percentage of Aboriginal children who stay at school until year 12, compared to 76% among non-Indigenous children [4].
21%
Percentage of Indigenous people aged 15-64 who had completed year 12 in 2008. Same figure in 2002: 18%; figure for non-Indigenous people in 2008: 54% [11].
46.5%
Retention rate of Indigenous students in 2008. Same figure in 1995: 30.7% [12].
40%
Percentage of Aboriginal people with a vocational or higher education qualification in 2008. Same figure for 2002: 32%; for the non-Indigenous population in 2008: 65%, in 2002: 49% [15].
64%
Preschool enrolment rate for Aboriginal children in 2009 [16].
0.7%
Proportion of all teachers in Australia in 2004 who were Aboriginal [19].
20
Number of Aboriginal medical graduates in 1998. Aboriginal doctors practising today: 150 [20].

List of linked articles

List of short articles

Education is the greatest single weapon to overcome disadvantage and the impact of this denial of education affects me and other Indigenous people to this day.—Yvonne Butler, Aboriginal woman [5]

How the government cheats at educational targets

Education is a key issue raised by many Aboriginal community leaders and parents. Australian state and territory governments are watched closely what they do and achieve in Aboriginal education.

When the Northern Territory government set educational targets in a budget paper in May 2011 it grossly reduced minimum reading and writing standards for Aboriginal students compared to standards for non-Aboriginal students [18].

NT government education targets
  Aboriginal students Non-Aboriginal students
Student attendance 34% 98%
Year 5 minimum reading standards 36% 88%
Year 5 minimum writing standards 33% 89%

Federal Shadow Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion described the targets as “disgraceful” and asked how it could be acceptable “that the NT Government can consider reaching their educational targets when it is expected that two-thirds of Indigenous students will not attend school in the first place and a further two-thirds of the kids in primary school will leave with poor or unsatisfactory reading and writing skills.” [18]

Aboriginal teachers

Education has always been central to Indigenous economic, social and cultural development. A good education determines Indigenous children’s health, literacy, employment, social status and productivity.

Aboriginal children learn best and most efficiently when taught by a culturally-aware teacher, preferably an Aboriginal teacher [6].

Aboriginal teachers bring a wider range of cultural perspectives into schools and develop networks with the Aboriginal communities around the school, a valuable asset when addressing school children’s needs or problems.

But non-Aboriginal students could equally benefit from Aboriginal teachers. “If Aboriginal teachers could work in every school, a student would be able to relate to Indigenous people as part of the current community, not a ‘problem’ in the media,” observes arts student Alannah Kirby [13].

In 2004, only 0.7 per cent of all teachers in Australia were Indigenous.—Dr Lester-Irabinna Rigney, Associate Professor of Education, Flinders University, Victoria [6]

Is there a thing called “Aboriginal science”?

Many people, when talking about education about Aboriginal culture, automatically think Aboriginal art and traditional lifestyles. Surely, Aboriginal culture has no place in science, or has it?

There are many achievements that could find their way into an education curriculum:

  • Physics. Aboriginal people developed the boomerang and other sophisticated weapons (e.g. woomera).
  • Astronomy. They knew how the tides are linked to the phases of the moon, while Italian scientist Galileo Galilei was still proclaiming, incorrectly, that the moon had nothing to do with tides [21]. Others had figured out how eclipses work.
  • Maths. In some cases, Aboriginal people had sophisticated number systems [21].
  • Navigation. How could they traverse this great continent without compasses, but using stars and oral maps?
  • Landcare. Aboriginal people managed country carefully through controlled burning to maximise productivity. They possessed ethno-botanical knowledge linked to specific places and environments. This resulted in fantastically fertile soils [21].
  • Chemistry. Aboriginal people had an intimate knowledge of bush medicine, and how to treat poisonous plants to make them usable for food or medicine.
  • Warfare. They organised fierce resistance to the British invaders, and sometimes won significant military victories such as the raids by Aboriginal warrior Pemulwuy [21] or Jandamarra.

You might be forgiven for not knowing. The old paradigm of “primitve natives” is still deeply ingrained in Australian society, keeping us from opening to the notion of “intelligent and sophisticated Aboriginal nations” which is closer to reality.

Next time you talk or teach, show that there is far more to explore than the common stereotypes of Aboriginal culture.

The great anthropologists of the 20th century… tell us much about Aboriginal art, songs and spirituality, but are strangely silent about intellectual achievements.—Ray Norris, Chief Research Scientist at the CSIRO Astronomy & Space Science [21]

Teacher and student resources

Books

Seven Seasons in Aurukun Seven Seasons in Aurukun details the experiences a young non-Aboriginal teacher makes teaching at an Aboriginal community school and making a life for herself in a challenging new world.

It is a taste of the intensity of relationships in a small community where community leaders try to improve their circumstances and maintain culture.

Cover: Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in Schools Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in Schools (EATSIPS) is a resource to give educators knowledge, understanding and skills to better support Aboriginal students and further integrate Indigenous perspectives into the Queensland curriculum.

Sharing Culture

An Aboriginal man and student doing audio excercises. Aboriginal teacher and student at Sharing Culture. The business develops digital resources and supports the delivery of language programs.
Photo courtesy Sharing Culture

Sharing Culture offers web-based resources for parents, schools, communities and government departments to teach and learn more about Aboriginal culture.

Talking books, games, maps and music entice students while teacher’s handbooks provide activity ideas and background. Its Teaching & Learning Program aims to help communities and schools develop and deliver local language.

The for-fee Aboriginal-owned and operated service caters for Aboriginal, non-Aboriginal and adult audiences. A free trial is available.

Honey Ant Readers

Honey Ant Readers

Margaret James has such a passion for teaching reading and for early childhood education that she created an experiential, research-based reading program for Aboriginal learners.

She developed the program in collaboration with, and at the request of, Aboriginal elders and educators.

The Honey Ant Readers were motivated by a desire to improve print literacy levels of Aboriginal Australian students particularly in remote areas. Books have been translated into 6 traditional Aboriginal languages.

Crackerjack Education

Crackerjack Education offers digital and static resources for primary schools around Australia that match each Aboriginal code of the Australian Curriculum.

You can search resources by year level (Year 1 to Year 6), subject (Maths, English, Science and History) or topic (Language, Dreaming stories, cultural maths, cultural knowledge, poetry, songs and many more).

The site also sells resources in their online shop. Visit Crackerjack Education for more details.

National Centre for Indigenous Excellence

On 26 February 2010 then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd opened the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) in Sydney’s suburb Redfern. The NCIE is a centre for education, sports, arts and culture and aims to foster and develop talent in young Aboriginal students. Its four development pathways are Sport, Learning and Innovation, Culture and Arts, and Health and Wellbeing.

Up to 5,000 Indigenous students from around Australia are expected to pass through the centre each year. Most of the NCIE’s staff are Aboriginal.

The NCIE is located at 180 George Street, Redfern, New South Wales. Website: www.ncie.org.au.

Traditional knowledge

As you probably know before invasion Aboriginal people passed on knowledge only orally through stories, dances and images drawn into the sand.

“It would be a mistake, though, to say there is no written component to Indigenous transmission of knowledge, because Indigenous people use the land as their book,” observes Ernie Grant, a Jirrbal Elder from far north Queensland [10].

“How we got fire, animals, water, all these things are written in the land. If teachers coming from a literate culture can’t understand how people from the oral tradition transmit information, we have hit an immediate snag [obstacle].”

Aboriginal people can 'read' the landscape. Aboriginal people ‘read’ the land. Creation stories are written in the land, says Jirrbal Elder Ernie Grant.

Footnotes

Article sources

[1] Koori Mail 390 p.47
[2] Antar newsletter 8/2006
[3] 'Curricumlum is under attack', Koori Mail 511 p.4
[4] National Indigenous Times 135 p.13
[5] Stolen Wages committee submissions, http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/Committee/legcon_ctte/stolen_wages/submissions/sublist.htm submi,ssion #21
[6] 'Our teacher crisis', Koori Mail 417, p.24
[7] The Report of the Review of Aboriginal Education, NSW Department of Education and Training, August 2004, p.13
[8] 'Boarding scholarships are needed, says expert', Koori Mail 425, p.29
[9] 'Aborigines waiting up to three months to see doctor', Koori Mail 431 p.51
[10] 'Big questions on program at conference', Koori Mail 458 p.48
[11] 'Gains, but the gap is still wide, study finds', Koori Mail 463 p.9
[12] 'Analysis of Closing the Gap Report', Reconciliation News 5/2010 p.15
[13] 'Language lessons', reader's letter, Koori Mail 481 p.27
[14] 'Teacher drive hits the road', Koori Mail 483 p.22
[15] 'New figures paint grim gap picture', Koori Mail 485 p.7
[16] 'Free pre-school education urged', Koori Mail 494 p.21
[17] 'Gains, but Indigenous people still worse off', Koori Mail 499 p.45
[18] 'Education targets attacked', Koori Mail 507 p.34
[19] 'Our teacher crisis', Koori Mail 417 p.24
[20] 'Hub helps indigenous students', SMH MyCareer 26/1/2013
[21] 'Aboriginal scientific achievements recognised at last', SMH 21/4/2014