Indigenous Education in the NT has been a matter of prime focus for many decades. While there have been some successes they have not been uniform or consistent. Initiatives, reforms, suggestions and new ideas come through in what seems to be an endless succession of reports. These reports go back to the 1960’s.
The most recent of these is the Wilson Review on Indigenous Education released in 2014 with a view to implementation from the beginning of 2015. However, some of the key recommendations in this review have, in times past, been initiated, developed the discarded. This means that many “new” ideas are not new but revisitations to what happened in earlier times.
The idea of newness comes about for several reasons.
* The rapid and constant turnover of teaching staff is a key factor in the provision of indigenous education. Teachers appointed to community schools often stay for months rather than years. There are exceptions but turnover and staff movement is generally the order of the day. This is very destabilising and does little to convince those living in communities of educational values and benefits.
* Very little is recorded to confirm what programs are in place. Too often incoming staff are confronted by a blank page. They start all over when it comes to progressing education because there is nothing to show what progress has been made. School policies, reports and documentation are generally scant. Sometimes records are non-existent.
* The question ‘education for what’ is very real. While the value of literacy and numeracy cannot be argued, students are discouraged because employment prospects within their communities are bleak.
* The concept of “reactive leadership” has become ingrained in indigenous education. Principals and school leaders wait for things to unfold and are not sufficiently a part of the developmental process. They lead from behind. This reluctance may be due in part to the politicisation of education. Principals are frightened to take initiatives in case they are reprimanded for over-zealousness, lack of consultation, or mistakes they might make.
These issues can cause distress. The fact that education so often advances no further than Genesis 1:1 is anathema. For things to be forever “in the beginning” is discouraging, raising community questions about the value and worth of education.
Direct Instruction teaching methods and a keen focus on eliminating truancy indicate that some progress is being made. Too often that motivation sputters and fades. Over time, remote education has followed a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ pattern of development. That irregularity will continue unless and until those with stake and interest in Indigenlous Education are in sync with each other.