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Aboriginal Education Policy in Australian Schools Essay

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Updated: Aug 27th, 2021

Education of Aboriginal students requires additional attention from policymakers and teachers. The NSW DET Aboriginal Education Policy targets long-term strategies that will help Aboriginal students have educational outcomes similar to those of other students or better. This paper aims to examine the strategies recommended by official policies and approaches developed by researchers in Aboriginal education that help improve the learning outcomes of Aboriginal students.

Creating a non-threatening environment for Aboriginal students is the key to successful learning since these students may experience a lot of stress when encountering standard approaches. The DET AEP is a policy statement that was created as a response to the 2004 report that highlighted the issues in Aboriginal education. The main goal is to ensure that both Aboriginal and Torres Strait students receive opportunities equal to those presented to other students for obtaining an adequate education. Hence, the first approach that schools should use to meet the goal of the discussed policy is to ensure the inclusion of Aboriginals in the process of education. This can be achieved by introducing lessons targeting the history and cultural backgrounds of Aboriginals for both students and children. The introduction of these lessons should improve their understanding of their culture.

The necessity to develop a policy that highlights the specifics of Aboriginal education has arisen as a response to challenges and difficulties experienced by the Aboriginals in schools. The NSW DET Aboriginal Education Policy and NSW BOS (2003) highlight this aspect in paragraphs 5 and 6, while paragraph 10 embassies the need to provide an opportunity to understand the Aboriginal language for the non-Aboriginal students, which should help bridge the gap between the two groups. These statements emphasize the fact that a language that a child speaks has a connection to his or her identity, culture, and values and affects the learning process.

Schools should develop strategies that pertain to the specifics of the Aboriginal culture – such as their unique language and the difficulties that can arise with achieving proficiency in reading and writing. Harrison and Sellwood argue that teaching about the culture of the Aboriginals is essential for improving the school environment, and both teachers and students should be engaged in this process. It is essential to understand the impact of the first language and the variety of dialects that the Aboriginal community has. Learning from the community should be leveraged when implementing the learning of Aboriginal languages into the syllabus, and it is crucial to involve the Aboriginal community as a source of authority.

An educator who aims to ensure the establishment of an adequate learning environment for students of different backgrounds should beware of the culture and value differences, worldviews, language proficiency, communication styles, and the living reality. Perso and Hayward highlight a significant difference between the Western and Indigenous cultures that should be considered by educators. The authors argue that the latter are more collectivist, meaning that the focus is on group success rather than on an individual. In this context, a common practice of asking individual students questions and evaluating responses may be considered inappropriate for Aboriginal students since they may fear the judgment of others.

The teacher should understand that Aboriginal children are likely to avoid answering direct questions. Apart from prospects of emotional discomfort, similar activities where students have to promote themselves may lead to bullying from peers. Hence, the educator and school should focus on tailoring the standard day-to-day practices of assessing a student’s knowledge to engage the group as a whole rather than focusing on an individual (Perso & Hayward, 2016). Additionally, some high difficulty tests can be challenging for Indigenous students, which produces results that do not accurately evaluate the actual knowledge of these students. Performance tasks commonly incorporate activities that also require public demonstration of knowledge and can be considered improper by the Aboriginal children.

The policies implemented by schools should aim to help children that experience difficulties with literacy. In this regard, scaffolding, careful planning, and preparation of a step-by-step process are necessary. Rose contrasts the top don and bottom-up approaches, stating that the first one consists of narrative genre and learning language, and the latter includes learning phonics, spelling, and grammar. Rose’s R2L Model emphasizes the valuable effect that learning from reading and writing has on students. Hence, this Model suggests that teachers help students to read and comprehend the text through preparation, note-taking, and construction of the new text. It is a six-stage cycle that leverages both joint and individual work, for example, joint reading and joint rewriting as well as individual independent writing. In general, the R2L Model is based on the concept that students should be able to read fluently before beginning to work on complex tasks.

There are also some specifics of attaining mathematics skills in the context of Aboriginal education. The first important aspect that the authors point out is the need to recognize the knowledge gap that exists between different students and structuring the lessons based on this gap. Carbines et al. state that “the mainstream school mathematics curriculum is based on what has been described as the Western Mathematics paradigm”. However, to tailor these lessons to the needs of an Aboriginal student, a teacher must understand the cultural context and specifics of mathematics. Hence, there is a need for improving the cultural competency of teachers, similar to the recommendations presented by DET AEP that were discussed previously.

One should understand that Aboriginal students may experience difficulties when learning mathematics and numeracy. The traditional mathematics of aboriginals includes names and affiliations that often occur in their society, instead of numerals used in Western countries. Hence, for the Aboriginal student, mathematics is a part of linguistic learning, and it does not incorporate as much emphasis on precision when compared to the traditional perception of this science. Therefore, the institutions teaching Aboriginals should dedicate attention towards explaining the Western approach to mathematics, while comparing it to the one used by Aboriginals to achieve success.

Hence, the analyzed information suggests that teachers may find it difficult to accurately evaluate the knowledge and skills of the Aboriginal students since the traditional methods such as tests or performance activities do not correspond with the values and beliefs of these students. It can be concluded that focusing on group activities and incorporating different types of activities, such as specific answers and group work. Since the Aboriginal cultural values group perception, an educational facility can focus on developing strategies that emphasize teamwork in learning, which can help enhance the education process.


Harrison, N. & Sellwood, J. (2016). Strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. In Learning and Teaching in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education (3rd ed., pp. 70-99). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Carbines, R., Wyatt, T., & Rob, L. (2007). Evaluation of the mathematics in Indigenous context projects: A report prepared for the Office of the NSW Board of Studies. Sydney: Erebus International & NSW BOS.

NSW DET. (2000). . Web.

Perso, T. & Hayward, C. (2015). Teaching Indigenous students: Cultural awareness and classroom strategies for improving learning outcomes. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Rose, D. (2011). Teaching reading and writing to Aboriginal children (Chapter 5). In N. Harrison Teaching and learning in Aboriginal education (2nd ed., pp. 87-115). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

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