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Aboriginal Education

A stark contrast is witnessed when the educational experiences of the aboriginal people are compared to the rest of the Australian population. Aboriginal students rank poorly and as a result face extreme challenges in their efforts to move through the grades in the education system. A below-par education outcome amongst the Aboriginal people has remained unchanged in the last couple of decades and it’s assumed that their performance is affected by a number of factors which may not affect other Australians.

Some of the more prominent factors which hinder Aboriginal education that have been identified by scholars include: “geographical dispersion of the population, minimal use or knowledge of standard Australian English, and a high degree of chronic health conditions” (Gordon et al: p 8). Adding to this, certain educational policies and actions that were implemented by the Australian government in the past further exacerbated the situation. Before the 1960s, the central government delegated the responsibilities of management of Aboriginal affairs to the state governments.

Unfortunately, these state governments implemented differing Aboriginal educational policies across Australia. An erroneous perception existed during this era and the assumption was the Aboriginal people were innately inferior hence only required minimal schooling. “This perception was consistent with the general policy of excluding Aboriginal people from contact with non-Aboriginal people and the specific policies in some states of excluding Aboriginal children from government-run schools which persisted into the 1950s” (Corner: p 45).

Recent government statistics have proven that only a very small percentage of Aboriginal children were actually educated in the state schools in Australia in the 1940s. It’s estimated that roughly 25% of Aboriginal children were receiving some sort of formal education, and most of their learning occurred in Christian missions. “The high number of Aboriginal children in Christian missions between the 1940s and 1970s was the result of earlier policies that effectively promoted racial assimilation” (Mellor; p 18).

The formal education being taught in Christian missions later turned out to be flawed because it placed a lot more emphasis on Christian principles as opposed to Aboriginal culture and language. The 1967 referendum was the turning point in the way the Australian government handled Aboriginal affairs. A shift in educational policies was witnessed and a lot more impetus was put into improving the social and economic circumstances of Aboriginal people. Since the referendum, Aboriginal educational policy shifted from exclusion and segregation to deeper cultural inclusiveness.

Despite this change in policy, the standards of education amongst the Aboriginal people haven’t improved remarkably. A large number of children had a close relative who was affected by the previous archaic policies of the Australian government. Such psychological scars had a negative effect on their education outcome. “While some children overcome this type of adversity, for others it can take many generations of continuous access to education for a family to be able to overcome disadvantage and function effectively” (Zubrick et al: p 161).

Government initiatives Designed to Improve Aboriginal Education The Australian government has implemented national education programmes designed to reverse the trend of academic underperformance within the Aboriginal population. “The Indigenous Education Act 2000 provided the necessary funds needed to run programmes administered by the Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST)” (Government of West Australia: p 3). DEST offered funds for Aboriginal education and this time round, the culture of the Aboriginal people was supposed to be enforced instead of being eroded.

The IEISP and IEDA programmes focused on improving the literacy levels and enrolment numbers of Aboriginal children. “Furthermore, these programmes offered supplementary recurrent assistance to education and training providers in schools or systems with more than 20 Aboriginal students” (Zubrick: p 169). The IEDA programme was also supposed to offer support to Aboriginal societies that are trying to raise educational awareness within its community.

The Aboriginal Student Support and Parent Awareness (ASSPA) is one such organization and the IEDA programme is designed to help them as they try to encourage parents to be more involved in educational decision-making in schools and increase the Aboriginal people’s interest in education. Another programme called NIELNS was initiated by the Australian government and its primary objective was to ensure that Aboriginal students are at the same literacy and numeracy levels as the rest of the students across Australia.

NIELNS focused on six major factors in its bid to attain educational parity. These factors include: “improving attendance, overcoming hearing and nutritional problems, positive pre-school experiences, getting good teachers, using the best teaching methods, and achieving accountability” (Zubrick: p 169). Moreover NIELNS appreciated Aboriginal culture on issues relating to Aboriginal students and it ensured that all children leaving primary school can read, write, spell and enumerate well at the appropriate level. Issues Affecting These Initiatives

These are some inherent disadvantages which Aboriginal students face despite the best efforts of the Australian government to bring parity within its educational system. Historically, Aboriginal students have displayed low levels of participation in the formal education system. “There were few Aboriginal students who stayed on to Years 11 and 12 in the early 1970s, whereas participation rates of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children in primary and compulsory secondary education have been similar in recent years” (Comer: p 45).

The situation worsens at older age groups (Post-Compulsory Education) where Aboriginal children show the least tendency to pursue further education when compared to other students. High enrolment of Aboriginal children in younger age groups is a positive measure but the true reality is Aboriginal children have averagely lower school attendance rates when compared to other children. The number of Aboriginal children participating in post-school education has significantly increased over they years. Again, this masks the true reality; most of them are enrolled in enabling and non-award courses.

While the Australian government may be lauded for instituting serious education policies which have tried to reverse its ills of the past, a clear distinction needs to be made between quality education and quantity education. Should the success of an education system be based upon the number of certificates being issued or how many students actually applied what they were taught in school? It can be assumed that the Aboriginal people may still feel aggrieved and the policies being introduced by the government should go beyond the education sector. Other more important economic issues like job creation should be tackled with similar vigor.

Maybe the missing link in this education policy is a viable job market which can absorb all citizens regardless of their race. References Beresford Q (2003). “The Context of Aboriginal Education”. In: Beresford Q, Partington G, editors. Reform and resistance in Aboriginal education. Perth: University of Western Australia Press; 2003. p. 10–40. Comer J (1998). Cold new world: Growing up in a harder country. New York: Random House; Pp 45-56 Department of Education, Science and Training (2003). National report to Parliament on Indigenous education and training, 2003. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2005.

Pp 1-8 Gordon S, Hallahan K, Henry D (2002). Putting the picture together. Inquiry into response by government agencies to complaints of family violence and child abuse in Aboriginal communities. Perth: State Law Publisher. Pp 8-17 Government of Western Australia (2005). Acts Amendment (Higher School Leaving Age and Related Provisions) Bill. Perth: Parliament of Western Australia. Pp 2-9 Mellor S, Corrigan M (2004). The case for change: A review of contemporary research in Indigenous education outcomes. Melbourne: Australian Council of Educational Research. Pp 18-25

Northern Territory Department of Education (1999) Learning lessons: An independent review of Indigenous education in the Northern Territory. Darwin: Department of Education. Pp 21-28 Purdie N, Tripcony P, Boulton-Lewis G, Fanshawe J, Gunstone A (2000). Positive self-identity for Indigenous students and its relationship to school outcomes. Canberra: Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Pp 33-41 Watts BH (1981). Aboriginal futures: Review of resources and developments and related policies In the education of Aborigines. Brisbane: Education Research Development Committee; Pp 12-21

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