#TeacherTuesday – Teaching in Australia

Posted on Apr 15, 2014

Picture from website: http://ehlt.flinders.edu.auAn educational impression of Australia by Aldo de Pape

A previous blog in this series of ten was devoted to the importance of speaking multiple languages in teaching children and the potential effects this could have on their learning outcomes. In this week’s post UNESCO #TeacherTuesday bloggers aim to take a closer look at how education is for children from indigenous communities.

Australia is a state known to be built on a melting pot of cultures. The country thrives on its cultural diversity composed by people from all over the world. It is, however, also known for its indigenous communities that have resided in the country long before immigrants set their feet ashore.

‘Aboriginal’ is a name given to all those who were considered to be an original inhabitant of the island upon arrival of the British colonizers in 1788. The name is misleading as it raises the idea that there is only one community, while in reality there are a minimum of six living in different parts of the nation.

There are many stories about how the Aborigines have been treated and it would take a lot more than this post to do justice to all the clashing facts between the colonizing and indigenous cultures throughout Australian history.

But it is clear that until today the treatment of Aboriginal Australians  has had its effects on the education of their children. A good attempt on what these exactly are and what has caused them can be found in this video made in 2007.

The UNESCO/EFA 2013 report states the following about the education of children from indigenous communities:

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“The difficulty indigenous children face is one reason for the wide gaps in learning between rich and poor students in Australia and New Zealand. Though these gaps are clearly visible in student assessments, they have not received sufficient policy attention, and so have persisted for a decade and a half. In Australia, around two-thirds of indigenous students achieved the minimum benchmark in mathematics in grade 8 between 1994/95 and 2011, compared with almost 90% of their non-indigenous peers.”

Slightly contrary to UNESCO’s observations that the government has not devoted enough attention to this topic, the Australian Department of Education has a separate section on its website dedicated to the Aboriginal communities. It offers insights on a great variety of levels from government policy through personal learning plans.

Our teacher of this week, Russell, explains the practical implications of the government’s policy towards Aborigines thus far.

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 “The challenges Aboriginal people face are still there today and we need to recognize these as a whole society, we as a people are still not recognized in our own constitution as the first peoples of this country.”

 Russell is an Aborigine Australian teacher (Galimori) working at a school in New South Wales situated in traditional Aboriginal land. Of the 680 students, 125 children in the school are from indigenous communities.  Even though, there is no proper recognition for the Aborigines in the Australian constitution, they are acknowledged in the country’s educational system.

 “Aboriginal education is compulsory in teacher training, but we can chose electives which are special interests.”

One of the problems that Russell sees is on the level of language:  “In my first school it was 98% Aboriginal and I had to speak Aboriginal English to give instructions to children (in some lessons) because they didn’t quite understand some directions as Aboriginal English was the language they spoke outside the school grounds. They spoke a dialect of English so they could understand, but they had to learn to translate from their home spoken language to the proper written English language. You have to teach them to cross over and back again as we write differently to how we speak.”  

Another obstacle that Russell observes is on the level of the Aborigine perception of education and school:“I get to know the students background especially the Aboriginal students. It’s more about what’s going on outside of school than in school….If you discuss that there’s going to be a test or assessment on a certain day, quite a few wouldn’t show. You have to get them used to being in those situations. A lot balk at it. They don’t realize that failing sometimes is good, it’s a learning experience. That’s what you learn from. You don’t have to be 100% right all the time.”

 “A lot of Aboriginal students don’t even finish high school. They get side tracked. I was the first person in my family ever to do a university degree.”

Despite the fact that the Australian policy makers can do more on the level of recognition and funding for its indigenous communities, Russell acknowledges that there has been considerable progress:“A lot has changed over the past couple of years a lot of the teachers have changed even. Their attitudes have changed. A lot of teachers still find it hard to teach Indigenous children in the classroom. Not because they don’t know what to teach, it’s that they’re afraid to do the wrong thing – to teach something incorrectly when it comes to the Aboriginal perspective on something. They’re nervous. They want to do the right thing but they don’t want to offend someone.”

“I hope that Aboriginal languages will be taught within all schools, the teachers should teach Indigenous culture and languages even if there isn’t an Aboriginal child in the classroom as I think it’s important for all children to know our history.”

What are your thoughts? What do you think the Australian government can do better in educating the Aborigines? Please do let us know and contact us via info@aswegrow.org

This is the eighth of a series of ten educational impressions launched and executed in collaboration with UNESCO. Find out more about the #TeacherTuesday campaign on the UNESCO website directly.



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