On November 28 2014, one of the best ever conferences on Indigenous Education was held at the Darwin Convention Centre. It had to do with Indigenous Leadership in schools and the contribution being made to education by Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Staff.
Over 200 people, the majority being Indigenous Australians attended the conference. Fifty organisations, mostly school representatives from government and private schools were involved. While those attending were from all over Australia, there was a strong focus on Northern Territory schools and NT educational outcomes.
The conference was organised by the Centre for School Leadership at Charles Darwin University and the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Education. Conference highlights included demonstrations of indigenous cultural learning by students from Wagaman Primary and Sanderson Middle Schools. The conference put to bed some myths that have been part of societal thinking for a long time.
The commonly held belief is that nothing happens and no progress is being made in rural and remote schools. Indigenous education is equated with truancy issues and programs constantly thwarted by chronic teacher turnover.
There are over 100 remote schools in the NT and by no means do they all deserve the ‘too hard’ tag. For instance, Elliot School 750 kilometres south of Darwin has close to 90% school attendance. The principal has been at the school for 4 years and all classroom teachers from this year will be staying on in 2015. The conference confirmed that other remote schools are improving in these areas.
Several presenters attested that Indigenous educational success and progress in our remote and urban schools depends on relationships between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal staff. If they work ‘together as one’ students respond positively to learning opportunities. Of course care and empathy needs to be inclusive of students. Successful schools also engage with community.
Those successful and progressive schools identified during the conference have high standards and expectations. They engage with and support students toward positive personal attainment. Importantly, there is no disconnection between staff and students.
More than NAP
Our educational system tends to accept that the National Assessment Program (NAP) is the only yardstick by which educational success can be measured. That is because the Federal Government says so. Friday’s conference confirmed that there is much more to building student confidence and competence than NAP alone. Care and commitment go far deeper than preparing students for formal testing. Had senior departmental people and politicans attended the conference, they would have found this to be the case.
In the NT, 44% of our students are indigenous. More and more of them attend urban schools and they are the backbone of rural and remote schools. The conference confirmed Indigenous education is working and delivering outcomes, largely because of relationships building between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous staff. Relations between staff, students and community are also helping to build positive educational results. The conference was one of substance and uplift.
Time has moved on but key issues remain. We ought to watch with interest for further growth, development and educational fulfilment in this area.