i found a folder of my assignments on my father’s usb stick of all places. these are from a course on aboriginal education that i took in 2004. the course was very interesting and i’m glad that i’ve refound these essays – they are about some schools and ideas which i find incredibly inspiring. one day i hope i will find my list of political and educational inspirations that i was compiling in turkey, but meanwhile, here are a few things that were on it. worth a read i think, even if it is my own, deadline-pressed writing.
‘Providing Aboriginal people with the opportunity to become involved in school programs gives authenticity to local Aboriginal perspectives. Students, schools and communities all benefit from encouraging Aboriginal people to share their knowledge and life stories.’
Charles Davison, President, NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group Inc. Gordon Stanley, President, Board of Studies NSW. In Working with Aboriginal Communities: A guide to Community Consultation and Protocols, NSW Board of Studies, 2001.
Assess the importance of Aboriginal community involvement in education of Aboriginal children. In your response consider steps taken to address this issue and other ways that may be considered in the future.
The NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) position paper “Literacy and Aboriginal Communities” has this to say about community involvement:
“Aboriginal students often feel alienated in educational institutions and this impacts on their learning ability. The involvement of Aboriginal people in the preparation and delivery of learning material is important in making lessons relevant and in sending the message to all students, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, that Aboriginal people have a valuable contribution to make to Education. This is very important in the school system because children are vulnerable, they are often receiving their first introduction to the white system and learning to communicate the white way. They need the support of their own people to feel secure. Aboriginal Elders should be playing a prominent role in education, acting as a source of knowledge of language, family and kin systems, bringing story telling into the classroom and along with it an acceptance and appreciation of Aboriginal English and oral communication.”
This illuminates the broad importance of Indigenous community involvement in the education of Indigenous students. The fact that the presence of Indigenous adults within schools has many times been proven to be beneficial to the learning of the students is the primary reason for educators to consider encouraging involvement. As Merridy Malin writes in Aboriginal education, policy and teaching, “The evidence is clear: the collaboration of parents and teachers, whether at home or at school, results in ‘positive academic consequences’ for minority group children.” This is reason enough to endorse the policy. However, there are other factors that the AECG statement recognises only fleetingly. Focusing on the benefit to the individual student with a vague nod to society in general, it takes a conventional view of improvement of schooling such as the involvement of community. However there are, as Charles Davison and Gordon Stanley mention, several immediate stakeholders in schooling; the student certainly benefits directly, society less directly. The school itself is enhanced greatly by extension beyond the school fence, literally or metaphorically, and the community can also be significantly enriched by involvement in the local school, whether it be through control of the agenda, use of resources, meaningful employment, the solidification of shared culture, actual learning opportunities or so many other benefits. This is a very different model of the purposes and priorities of schooling from that of current mainstream ideology, but it has proven appropriate and beneficial to Indigenous communities, and would likely also adapt well to other situations if given the chance.
One question to consider is what actually constitutes ‘involvement’? Consultation is an important element, but not the whole story. Even within the subgroup of ‘consultation’, as Bev Smith writes in Community Consultation: It’s Essential, there are “a number of levels and types of consultative process in practice:
– none (‘we know best’);
– dictatorial (‘you will do this or else’);
– tokenism – ‘I don’t really care what you have to say, I’m only going through the motions’, ‘This is what we are going to do starting tomorrow. What do you think?’ (‘We had better consult and make it look good’);
– consultation – a bit of give and take (‘But don’t forget I’m paying you’); and
– effective consultation and participation”.
This displays graphically a range of procedures that are often considered to fulfil the role of consultation. Involvement, however, is an even wider concept, covering all the above ways, but continuing much further, to partnership, control and self-determination. It is this end of the scale which requires more consideration.
‘Partnership’ is the term which has been used in many government documents. It sounds a step up from consultation, but is never defined. In The most disadvantaged? Indigenous education needs, Penny Tripcony considers partnership as a joint ownership, which begs the question of what is jointly owned – “the school, the learning process, the business, the industry, the future of our society, our country…?” or even a joint enterprise, task, responsibility, risk or profit, all of which are still unclear. Furthermore the term has recently been linked, contradictorily, to a proposal to compel communities to enforce cleanliness and school-attendance standards on their children or lose financial support. Partnership is clearly not top on the scale of Indigenous community friendly terms and concepts.
As the banner most Indigenous activists march under, ‘self-determination’ probably is top of that scale. Self-determination in involvement in schools effectively means more engagement, and particularly more real control and decision-making ability, to be able to change not only content and teaching methodology, but even the structure of school life to suit the individuals, communities and ideals affected.
Some steps are being taken to involve Indigenous communities in schools with Indigenous students. A significant resource for all schools is the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG). As the organisation recognised by communities, it has great potential to facilitate necessary changes and can provide the school with support in contacting and involving local communities. However, the benefit relies on the service being accessed.
Aboriginal Education Assistants (AEAs) are another important resource for schools with five or more Indigenous students. AEAs provide a link to communities, but alone as individuals and low-status school employees they neither satisfy the definition of community involvement nor are they necessarily in a position to do what they think is needed. AEAs have been found to help increase the students’ self concept and self motivation, as Scott stated, however their effectiveness in terms of involving wider Indigenous communities depends on classroom teachers and how willing they are to cooperate. Furthermore, schools with under the required numbers of Indigenous students are not targeted so students who are already isolated from communities miss out.
The best examples of Indigenous community involvement to the extent of self-determination are found in schools with almost exclusively Indigenous population, which are largely run out of the communities they serve. Though hardly abundant, the following three examples demonstrate that involvement can function and produce positive results.
Irrkerlantye Learning Centre in Alice Springs is an excellent example of a school which has embraced community involvement. There are classes for students ranging from preschool to adult so young people are not separated from the rest of the community and learning is not artificially restricted to one stage of life. The school has become the centre of the community by providing resources, social and health services and the skills and knowledge required for the adult students to generate art, language and culture based enterprises. This has both enhanced community life and encouraged the school attendance of secondary students. (Malin & Maidment, 2003)
Maningrida Community Education Centre in Arnhem Land, also supplies food, transport and other resources which attempt directly to overcome the effects of disadvantage, health services and employment. This means that whether or not members of the community are controlling proceedings and making decisions, they are still involved, and physically present. The school has also been working on creating written versions of the two most widely spoken Indigenous languages of the area, Burarra and Ndjebbana. This is a collaborative project of great interest to the community and which could not happen without their involvement. (Schwab, 2001)
At the early childhood level, Kathy Watson and Dianne Roberts have written about Minimbah Preschool in Armidale, an example of an established institution which has successfully changed how it runs, specifically to involve family and community. Since Roberts was appointed its first Indigenous Director in 1987, Minimbah changed from a standard structure to a participatory one. Every Friday staff, parents and community meet to plan curriculum together, and “shared responsibility has promoted a high level of community involvement”. Everyone is encouraged to spend time telling or reading stories, singing and talking with the children, and workshops are held to make the community familiar with the preschool and educate them about issues of interest, and even to train parents as relief staff. Events at the preschool are even photographed and bound to provide teaching materials that are impressively community based. Encouraging the community to both participate in the life of the preschool and take responsibility for decision making has been wildly successful and the school, the community and the students have all gained incredibly from the experience.
The message these schools transmit is that wonderful things can be done. More work and change is naturally required before such achievements are common and better accepted, but the path is evident. If Indigenous community involvement in the education of Indigenous children in is to increase, the government and other authorities must be prepared to support new ideas from within the communities themselves. There must be opportunities to try new things, and successful models also need sustenance. These are broad changes in philosophy rather than specific projects, but a serious commitment to self-determination is the first step from which specifics follow, as putting power in the hands of those concerned renders unnecessary those changes from above which are not being made.
References from outside course readings:
Malin, M., & Maidment, D. (2003). Education, Indigenous survival and well-being: emerging ideas and programs. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 32, 85 – 100.
Schwab, R. G. (2001). “That school gotta recognise our policy!” the appropriation of educational policy in and Australian aboriginal community. In M. Sutton & B. Levinson (Eds.), Policy as Practice: Toward a Comparative Sociocultural Analysis of Educational Policy (pp. 243 – 264). Westport CT: Ablex.