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Option 3: Aboriginal Education Issues

In the current Australian education context, wellbeing for Indigenous students is
increasingly concerned. Despite the efforts by both the government and educators
to promote inclusive education for every student, the educational gap yet exists
between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. Recent governmental and
institutional research indicates that Indigenous students has lower participation than
non-Indigenous students for many years (Australian Department of Prime Minister
and Cabinet, 2017; New South Wales Department of Education, 2015); also the
proportion of Indigenous youth who expose wellbeing issues is multiple times
greater than that of non-Indigenous youth (Australian Institute of Health and
Welfare, 2011). School retention and educational outcomes for Indigenous youth are
related with several issues, including cultural issues, personal issues, interpersonal
issues, transition issues, literacy and numeracy issues, and structural issues (Jones &
Harris-Roxas, 2009). As prescribed by educational policies, teachers are required to
promote effective education for Indigenous youth by dealing with these issues. The
standard 1.4 and 2.4 of the Australian Professional Standard for Teachers (Australian
Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), 2012) requires teachers to
create an environment of inclusion for Indigenous students in classrooms, also the
New South Wales Aboriginal Education Policy (NSW Department of Education, 2016)
commit educators to improve wellbeing and educational outcomes for Indigenous
students. This paper will examine school and social factors behind the educational
issues for Indigenous students, and discuss effective practices that promote
engagement and wellbeing for Indigenous youth in classrooms of secondary
mathematics curriculum area.

The educational gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous student persist for
years both in NSW and whole Australian. The federal Closing the Gap report
(Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2017) demonstrates that the
attendance rate and Year 12 attainment for Indigenous students is lower than those
of non-Indigenous students in the last two years. Similarly, the 2015 Aboriginal
Students in NSW Public Schools Annual Report (NSW Department of Education,
2015) states that Indigenous students in NSW has lower attendance rate and
retention rate than non-Indigenous students over several years. As for students
suspension, although the percentage of short suspension for Indigenous students
has decreased by 2.5% in five years, the percentage of long suspension for
Indigenous students has slightly increased (NSW Department of Education).
Moreover, as the total number of Indigenous students enrolment has increased, the
actual number of Indigenous students long suspended has increased every year
(Dobia, 2017). The gap is not only reveal in participation rate, but also in wellbeing of
students. It is reported that Indigenous youth are more likely to expose to the issues
of care and protection orders, psychological distress, suicide, and juvenile criminal
(Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2011). The statistical data indicates that

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the government and educators still need to work towards inclusion for Indigenous
students in education.

The social context is one factor that contributes to such educational issue for
Indigenous students. As the result of colonisation and cultural democide in
Australian history, Aboriginal people and communities has experienced trauma due
to series of physical and mental health, social, socioeconomic, cultural, and personal
developmental issues (Cunningham & Stanley, 2003; cited in Gilbert, 2017).
Moreover, some of the issues are interrelated and causal, which creates a vicious
circle of disadvantage. Recent literatures claim that the inter-generational trauma of
the Stolen Generations (Atkinson, 2013) and mental health issues left over by history
(Calma, Dudgeon & Bray, 2017) still affect the wellbeing of Aboriginal people and
communities. For individual Indigenous students, trauma can hinder them from
brain and cognitive development (Atkinson). Furthermore, some serious mental
health issues, namely mental health disorders such as Separation Anxiety Disorder
and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can result in behavioural or disciplinary problem
for students in school (Lyons, Ford & Slee, 2014).

Risk factors for academic engagement of Indigenous students also exist in school
practices. Discrimination, including racial discrimination and personal insult, has
negative impact on students low achievements, disengagement and self-sabotaging
behaviours, especially for Indigenous students (Bodkin-Andrews, Seaton, Nelson,
Craven, & Yeung, 2010; Bodkin-Andrews, Denson, & Bansel, 2013). Furthermore, the
effect of discrimination is asserted to be stubborn. First, the development of self-
esteem for students fails to offset the effect of discrimination (Bodkin-Andrews et
al., 2010). Second, multiculturation alone does not act as a protective factor; instead,
it could aggravate self-sabotaging issue for Indigenous students, because an
unexpected discrimination within a multiculturation context can have a more
negative mental effect on Indigenous students (Bodkin-Andrews et al., 2013). Thus,
in order to remove the risk factors in educational practices, educators need to
promote cultural respect for Indigenous culture as well as eliminate discrimination
simultaneously in schools.

As suggested by research, students retention and participation are influenced by

both suspension and wellbeing in school. Boon (2008) suggested that suspension is
the most significant risk factor for dropping out of school for both Indigenous and
non-Indigenous students. While, on the other hand, Gray and Hackling (2009) found
that students social connectedness had a positive relationship with their academic
engagement, which means students who have a stronger sense of belonging to the
school community are more likely to stay up to or beyond senior level in secondary
schools. Furthermore, the qualitative data of Gray and Hacklings research points out
that respect, relationship and responsibility are three dimensions that contribute to
a supportive school culture, which is essential for students wellbeing. These findings
suggest that inclusion of students to education can be fostered by a change in

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disciplinary practices, which requires teachers to apply pedagogies that promote

students wellbeing, as well as reduce the use of punishment and suspension.

Regarding the social and school risk factors that contributes the educational issues,
social-emotional wellbeing within schools is crucial for implementing inclusive
education for Indigenous students. Teachers need to develop pedagogies that
respect for not only the personality but also the cultural background of Indigenous
students. The theoretical pedagogies for social-emotional learning will be discussed
in two dimensions, which are individual self-concept and interpersonal development.

Self-concept helps build resilience for Indigenous students. Research indicates that
self-concept is a protective factor against academic disengagement and self-
sabotaging behaviours (Bodkin-Andrews et al., 2013). Self-concept involves not only
self-esteem, both also racial identity (Aries, Olver, Blount, Christaldi, Fredman, &
Lee, 1998). The development of self-concept for Indigenous students is consistent
with the suggestion that respecting for Indigenous culture as well as eliminating
discrimination (Bodkin-Andrews et al.). By developing self-concept, Indigenous
students will be more proud of their cultural identity and welling to share their
culture within schools. Thus, it is also a foundation for creating an environment of
cultural understanding. In practice, teachers can design learning activities that
respect to Indigenous culture by using Aboriginal ways of learning.

Interpersonal development within schools is another dimension for inclusion and

wellbeing of Indigenous students. This involves effective communication and positive
teacher-student and student-student relationship within classrooms and schools.
Indigenous students have different communication styles from non-Indigenous
students (Yeatman, 2009; cited in Dobia & ORourke, 2011), it can become an
obstacle for effective communication. Communication is an important instrument
for building relationships. Discussion within schools and classrooms can facilitate
respect and understanding of diverse perspectives, which can help build a classroom
community for every students (Kent and Simpson, 2012). While developing
classroom community means developing a process of understanding, sharing,
compassion and empathy (David and Capraro, 2011, p. 81), which can foster social-
emotional wellbeing for students. It is found that sense of belonging and
connectedness to the school are associated with higher level of academic
engagement (Gray and Hackling, 2009). Also, the proficient level of Standards 1.4
and 2.4 requires teachers to not only respect for Indigenous culture by themselves,
both also create an environment for students to understand the Indigenous culture
(AITSL, 2012). Developing effective communication and positive relationship in
classroom is crucial to achieve these standards. In order to develop communication
and relationship within classrooms, teachers can apply the strategy of dadirri, which
means deep listening, and cooperative leaning.

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In order to facilitating self-concept and interpersonal development for Indigenous

students, collaboration with Aboriginal communities is necessary. A research
conducted in Northern Territory found that a community-driven initiative could
improve respect for Indigenous culture for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous
students (Lee, Conigrave, Clough, Wallace, Silins, & Rawles, 2008). On the other
hand, the involvement of Indigenous community will make the educational decision-
making more respectful to Indigenous culture; also, teacher can get more support
for successful educational outcomes (Buckskin, 2015). The collaboration with
Indigenous community is beneficial for students as well as teachers.

The theoretical pedagogies for social-emotional learning are integrated into several
programs that developed by scholars or institutes. First, the Stronger Smarter
Philosophy suggests high expectation for Indigenous students (Stronger Smarter
Institute, n.d.). In this teaching philosophy, the stronger means positive sense of
cultural identity for Indigenous students, which consist with self-concept
development; and the smarter means adaption to school environment, which is
consist with interpersonal development. Second, the Aboriginal Girls Circle (AGC)
intervention program aims to develop young Aboriginal womens self-concept and
community connectedness. The pilot report claims that the program effectively
promotes social-emotional resilience for participants; however, further engagement
with community is required to achieve the aim of the program (Dobia, Bodkin-
Andrews, Parada, ORourke, Gilbert, Daley, & Roffey, 2013). Third, KidsMatter is a
project that focus on mental health and social emotional wellbeing for primary and
early childhood Indigenous children (Dobia, & ORourke, 2011; Smith, O'Grady,
Cubillo, & Cavanagh, 2017). The recent research conducted by Smith et al. affirms
that the KidsMatter project is effective in promoting social-emotional wellbeing for
Indigenous kids by developing a range of professional and culturally relevant learning
tools. These programs provide teachers with a range of choice to develop their own
practices for inclusive education to Indigenous students.

The idea of promoting self-concept as well as interpersonal development can be

integrated in designing lessons for the secondary curriculum area of mathematics.
First, mathematics can be taught by involving Aboriginal Ways of Learning. As
claimed by Matthews (2015), effective mathematics education should be linked with
students world and life experience. The 8ways approach can not only increase the
effectiveness of mathematics education, but also facilitate understanding for
Aboriginal culture. Second, mathematics teaching can involve more cooperative
learning activities, as the group learning methods can develop relationship between
learners (Borvkov & Emanovsk, 2016). For example, geometry can be taught by
Aboriginal flag drawing activity. In this activity, teacher shows Aboriginal flag to
students, tell students the meaning of each colour and the stories behind the flag,
then ask students to take some measurement of the flag in groups, and lead them to
find the width-height ratio of 3:2 by discussion. To assess students learning outcome,
each group is asked to draw an Aboriginal flag in the correct colour and ratio. This

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activity involves both storytelling, symbols and images, and cooperative learning. It
can develop the cultural awareness for Indigenous students, promote cultural
understanding, and develop interpersonal skills and positive relationship within the

In conclusion, inclusion for Indigenous student in education can be achieved by

fostering students social-emotional wellbeing as well as reducing punishment and
suspension in schools. In teaching practices, self-concept and interpersonal
development constitute the two dimension of social-emotional learning for
Indigenous students. The designed teaching activity involving Aboriginal ways and
cooperative learning is only one example for effective Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander education. In order to attain to educational policies and expectations,
teachers still need to develop their own pedagogies and teaching activities that can
foster Indigenous students wellbeing within school. This is one of the efforts that
teacher can contribute to deal with the urgent national priority of closing the
educational gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

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