An Identity-Centred Approach to Closing the Educational Gap


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Workshop presentation at MATSITI Deadly Career forum, Adelaide, 14 October 2013.

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An Identity-Centred Approach to Closing the Educational Gap

  1. 1. An educational proposal for the st 21 Century: An Identity-Centred Approach to Closing the Educational Gap.
  2. 2. Inspiration and Dedications • This research would never have taken place if it wasn’t for three important people. • 1) Djeralena and Jaleel Weatherall: My Aboriginal Language students (Bundjalung) 2011. • 2) Yunupingu. The first Aboriginal Principal in the N.T. and world renown Musician. • 3) Xtrata and the DEC of NSW: for providing me with the Premier’s scholarship to undertake this research.
  3. 3. Those who inspired this identitycentred research; My Deadly students!
  4. 4. So what is an identity-centred approach? • Such an approach is about recognising and valorising IDENTITY as fundamental to any person’s educational success. • So what does this mean simply? • It means that perhaps the educational systems currently in place have been looking at education from student-centred, content-centred or teacher-centred perspective to the detriment of Identity and the power it has to uplift the marginalised and afford them the educational successes they so rightly deserve
  5. 5. O.k., so tell me more about this ‘identity’ idea of yours…… Well, Identity; it’s what you are, it’s you being, your innate sense of self…’s what gives meaning to your entire existence…….. O.k., but does this really matter at school? Well, imagine that you are at school for a moment Johnny. How’s it feel………..
  6. 6. Feelings about school and the impact of identity………. • It feels great, says Johnny. • O.k. so Johnny, can you tell me about your class mates…. • Yeah, that’s Bill, Jack and Tom, and then there’s Sarah! Oh, I remember her!.. • “Johnny, focus! • Oh, sorry. But what’s your point of all this?
  7. 7. Johnny’s typical view • Well, keep looking around the room Johnny, what faces do you see? What common histories, stories and culture do you see??? • Oh, most of us, we’re just a bunch of Aussie’s kids ya know….that’s it……. • Oh, so how many of you were Aboriginal or migrants from another country? • Ah, none…..not the main group at school anyway. • Oh, I see. That’s a pretty common view Johnny, but what was your school identity really like….how did it make you feel……what kind of connection did YOU have to school.
  8. 8. The delusion of no connection • Ah, not much. School wasn’t really my thing. I went into plastering with Dad at 16, so was just a place I had to go, so I made the most of it socially. • But what about YOUR school culture Johnny…..did you ever feel out of place just from being you, just from the colour of your skin, the way you talked, the things your did and said that we a bit different to most? Did your school environment constantly remind YOU that you were a guest in a foreign world….a world of learning that was so different from your world at home. Did you often struggle just to get to school because you had so few people you could connect with culturally, interpersonally or just plain naturally….and how many of your teachers looked like they could be your dad, your brother….your uncle…and how many spoke YOUR lingo??????
  9. 9. Johnny’s not following… • Ah, I’m not following you….. • No, you’re note Johnny. Maybe ‘cause this is my story Johnny, and NOT yours…….. Maybe identity was in your favour at school Johnny, yeah, it was what it was eh!……..You fit the bill for what a proper thinker, proper behaviour, proper lingo and proper values. • But just imagine if my mob, my deadly Mob were all about at school. I reckon things would have been different eh. Yeah, it woulda made all the difference, but we’ll never know….I’m stuck behind these bars see….just like so many of my brothers…..
  10. 10. So what questions did Johnny raised after the conversation? • 1) Does Identity, whether overt or covert, really play a major part in our educational success? • 2) If you are likening identity to race, aren’t you just polarising people and making it about US versus THEM? Isn’t this sending us backwards as a nation? • 3) Isn’t the idea of a mainstream ‘white’ culture just an illusion. Isn’t Australia just a melting pot of numerous colonies and cultures that make Australia the multicultural mecca that it is? i.e. does Identity really matter?
  11. 11. The Power of an Identity-Centred Approach to REALLY close the educational abyss! • My answer to Johnny is, we’ll lets find out! Let go on a world trip to all kinds of Aboriginal nations and Aboriginal schools around the world, and let’s find out if proidentity processes, practices and pedagogies really DO make KEY differences. But before we go, let’s start in here, in Australia!
  12. 12. Acknowledgement of my Research Sponsor: Xstrata & DEC
  13. 13. My Quest to find Deadly Aboriginal Schools or Deadly Leaders in Australia. 1. The Colly Crew & Collarenebri Central School 2. Desert Pea Media 3. Cabbage Tree Island Public School & Dyonne Anderson 4. Aboriginal Independent ‘Murri’ S chool, Acacia Ridge.
  14. 14. The Colly Crew: Students of Collarenebri Central School
  15. 15. Key points from the CCS & the Colly Crew Visit . 1) If Educational engagement is a national priority for our educational managers and key stakeholders….we MUST TAKE CREATIVE ARTS AND SPORT TO THE NEXT LEVEL. What does this mean? •It means that we cannot simply continue to outsource our sports and arts practises on an ‘events ‘basis. It’s time to really shake curricula up even more and require greater EMBEDDED PRACTISE of the KILAS (Key Indigenous Learning areas) of arts and sports. Why? • because these practices precipitate improved engagement and performance at school. But what about Maths, English and Science ect.?? Isn’t the curriculum already full? Yes, but the Colly Crew’s improved engagement , attendance and performance at school illustrated that we need to explore ways to better integrate MAINSTREAM KLAs and KILAs within the scope of EXISTING EDUCATIONAL FRAMEWORKS. Why? Because KILAs are inherently linked with Aboriginal Identity…..and this, I argue, is the epicentre for educational success! For our people
  16. 16. Key points about visiting CCS & the Colly Crew. (part 2) • 2) Ownership of learning experiences, particularly concerning arts projects, be shared by should be wholly owned by community, so that single ownership issues do not arise. • This may upset those who have established companies working hard to develop resources to sell to further their success…..but we must ask the question, where is the Colly Crew now? The continuance of such successful arts initiatives must continue, rather than be discontinued because of contestations about ownership and rights. In the next slide, I willl discuss a school that is tackling this issue head on with great success!
  17. 17. Cabbage Tree Island Public School
  18. 18. A day at ‘Cabbo’. Thanks Dyonne! • After spending a day working with Dyonne Anderson, the deadly Principal at Cabbage Tree Island Public School, I quickly learned first hand, just how important sustainable identity practices are for the Aboriginal students and wider community. So what was different about ‘Cabbo’ to other schools then? There was: • 1) An Elders and Community Learning and Yarning space. • 2) A Community boardwalk build by the community for the community . • 3)A High number of Indigenous workers at school. • 4) A High Expectations philosophy and performance data reflected this. This means that Aboriginal students at ‘Cabbo ’were, for the most part either at or above national benchmarks for their key learning areas. • 5) An Overt celebration of Aboriginality throughout the school and there were constant affirmations of a POSTIVE and PROUD Aboriginal IDENTITY. And ….it is this, I argue, that is the imperative we need to nurture more evidently throughout the secondary level of education.
  19. 19. Deadly Leaders in an Australian Context. 1. Hymba Yumba Hub School, Brisbane 2. Alice Springs CAT centre & Yirara College 3. Lee Musumeci & Challis Early Childhood Centre 4. Graham Blackley & Bairnsdale College
  20. 20. Hymba Yumba Hub School Mr John Davis, Principal of Hymba Yumba, is a proud Aboriginal man & Leader! This visit proved to set The model for Productive Aboriginal-Themed Educational Learning Spaces. We will look at this in detail later in the presentation.
  21. 21. Hymba Yumba Hub School
  22. 22. Hermmansberg, near Alice Springs
  23. 23. Our Country: Our Identity; and issue of remoteness My visit to Hermannsberg taught me that we really need to improve how schools implicitly resonate a deadly sense of Aboriginal Identity within the context of a generic, high expectations educational framework. What do you mean? In Hermannsberg , there was a school, a hospital, a footy field and even a police service, which were all very important. But, the number of Aboriginal teachers, and even Aboriginal Educational leaders in Hermannsberg were very limited. School, as so many locals expressed, was still seen as separate from Aboriginal Identity as a whole. That is, there was clearly a desire by community members for greater unification of two educational worlds of the local Aboriginal Identity and general ‘Australian Curriculum’ of the 21st Century. Some community members expressed that too often one of the two aims was being lost in pursuit of the other…….and it is this issue that I hope to redress through an Identity-Centred approach to Aboriginal Education.
  24. 24. So what to do in remote communities? • From my study tour, I propose that we rethink how schools in remote Aboriginal communities cater for the sustainability of Identity-based employment opportunities and practices POST SCHOOL. • This was based on a Hermansberg Elder explaining that ‘We are at one with our lands, and we need to find a way to keep our young ones here, on Country; and we need to make sure they can get work that gives them a sense of pride and purpose in life’.
  25. 25. Yirara College, Alice Springs Sonia, the Deadly Aboriginal Teacher at Yirara.
  26. 26. Yirara College: and a yarn I will never forget! • Upon visiting Yirara College, which has a 100% Indigenous student cohort, I quicly learned that there was a high level of transience at the school, &, perhaps most importantly, that there were very, very few Aboriginal teachers. Sonia tells me this story from our meeting place out on the red dusty plains of her country…….. • Time for change. Time to rethink how students & teachers develop and maintain a rich, proud and meaningful identity whilst learning in school.
  27. 27. Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT), Alice Springs A deadly Super Tafe Facility in Alice. This facility is open to everyone and anyone…….. But, how many Indigenous students are going? What is the secondary school system like that precedes this, and is this influencing the limited number of students completing their studies……. And……who are the teachers?...... Again the dire need to more Deadly Aboriginal Teachers to lead the way…. Strong ownership by the local Indigenous board. Location is opposite the Yirara School and there are bridging programs available. This centre is seen as an Aboriginal rather than whole community service.
  28. 28. Challis Early Childhood Centre & Lee Musumeci , Armadale, W.A.
  29. 29. Graham Blackley & Darryl in Bairnsdale & Lakes Entrance Secondary Colleges, Vic.
  30. 30. So what did I learn from two of the best Principals leading positive change for Aboriginal Education. • • • • • • • My answer became: DO! Do the change…… look at the context, listen to the people, but most importantly DO. Both Principals initiated major reform in their schools t and Both developed strong ties with the local Aboriginal communities and both worked very hard to continually improve Aboriginal leadership within the school. Both worked far beyond their required duties and both sort additional funding, resources and programs that COULD facilitate improvement FOR Aboriginal people and WITH Aboriginal People. Both presented at conferences and continue to send the CLEAR message that we all must DO ABORIGINAL EDUCATION in all aspects of our teaching, and not jus intermittently. Both developed strong professional ties and…………………………………… by doing all of these things, both these inspirational leaders uplifted the ABORIGINAL IDENTITY OF THEIR SCHOOLS AND THEIR RESPECTIVE COMMUNITIES! Thanks Graham and Lee!
  31. 31. Aboriginal Schools Overseas; Is the evidence of a better way for Aboriginal Education? Today we will explore the school systems of the following countries: Canada (Aboriginal School system) US(Navajo Aboriginal School system) US (Alaska Aboriginal School system.
  32. 32. Canadian Aboriginal Schools(Pt 1): Vancouver, Agassiz and Lil’oet.
  33. 33. First Nations House, University of B.C. Vancouver, Canada.
  34. 34. The University of B.C and NITEP • This was such a deadly experience because it was a program specifically designed to build up the professional capacity of Aboriginal Teachers and Networks in Canada. • Each year more and more graduates were coming through and they were doing in a RICH, HIGH EXPECTATIONS, IDENTITYCENTRED CONTEXT! So Deadly.
  35. 35. Sea Bird Island Aboriginal Community
  36. 36. Sea Bird Island Community
  37. 37. Sea Bird Island Community
  38. 38. Sea Bird Island School…..ticks so many boxes for Aboriginal education • • • • So lets talk why. 1) Location 2) Buildings and grounds 3) Aborigial Imagery, art, culture, realia, history…’s everywhere in the school. • 4) Strong Aboriginal Teachers and very strong community ties. • 5) Great Leadership
  39. 39. So what are some challenges that SeaBird Island Community School highlighted? • It’s UNINTENTIONAL segregation because of location. • It cements many students’ reticence to engage in the wider world. i.e. every service is available on the band lands. • It’s false stigma as the “Aboriginal, Low achieving school” • It’s a partially differentiated curriculum. This is something that MUST be redressed; as Dr Chris Sarra’s work quickly taught me….we must play the educational game with the mainstream tools, rather than create a subset of them……we just need to play stronger and smarter with them, to make our deadly learners stronger and smarter, and prepared for the 21st Century world.
  40. 40. Canadian Aboriginal Schools (Part 2): Victoria & Duncan, B.C., Canada.
  41. 41. Duncan, B.C. Canada.
  42. 42. The Alaskan Aboriginal Schools 1. The Alaskan Native Cultural Charter School 2. The Alaska Native Heritage Centre
  43. 43. Aboriginal Schools in Anchorage, Alaska in the U.S.A and Deadly Principal Patsy Shaha!
  44. 44. Alaskan Aboriginal Heritage Centre
  45. 45. Alaskan Aboriginal Heritage Centre
  46. 46. Alaskan Aboriginal Services directly connected with Education.
  47. 47. Cook Inlet Tribal Council Fab Lab!
  48. 48. The Navajo Indians & their schools at Rough Rock, Red Mesa & Rocky Point, Arizona.
  49. 49. Why an identity-centred approach? Where’s the evidence & who is leading the way? Hawaii-NZ-Canada & USA leading the way. Let’s put Australia among this list!
  50. 50. So, what do I suggest we do? T The full circle moment! • My Proposal: Having explored the success, drawback and challenges of various Aboriginal schools, I found that the most productive institutional exemplar of Aboriginal educational reform actually came from AUSTRALIA. More specifically, from Hymba Yumba Independent Hub School.
  51. 51. Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 1: • Because It was Holistically Indigenous-themed without being labelled an Indigenous or Aboriginal School, per se. Are you saying that we shouldn’t have Aboriginal Schools then? No, not at all. But I am saying that in almost every such school that I visited, and based on all the yarns that I had with so many Principals, wherever a school was recognised as the ‘Aboriginal School’, polarised views , as well as derogatory stigmas, rapidly emerged. There was also MUCH less educational reciprocity, cultural reciprocity and, perhaps most poignantly, VERY LITTLE ATTENDENCE AND LEARNING FROM THE NON-ABORIGINAL COMMUNITY. There was also a ubiquitous difference in governmental investment between the non-Indigenous and the Indigenous schools, which only intensified resentment by the majority of the non-Indigeneous populace in these regions.
  52. 52. Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 2: • Because it embraced all member of the Aboriginal Community in explicit ways, and promoted Aboriginality WITHIN the context of being AUSTRALIAN. That is, students, parents and community members of ANY background could attend this school without sensing that they might feel ‘out of place’.
  53. 53. Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 3: • The school was in lands that are OFF Country. • Are you saying that we shouldn’t build schools on our lands. Lands that is rightly ours and a place our people identify with? • No, but I am saying that I repeatedly observed through my study a pattern of disengagement by the wider non-Aboriginal community while ever schools were built on Aboriginal or ‘band’ lands. How do we give our people the best chances in life, if they are segregated from the mainstream systems from the outset of their educational journey…..and, as equally relevant, how much are the nonindigenous students losing because they aren’t experiencing education from an Indigenous methodology?
  54. 54. Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 4: • Because IDENTITY is CELEBRATED in ALL aspects of the school day, not just during key events in the years calendar: For example: • ALL subjects from K-12 contain explicit Aboriginal perspectives that go far beyond syllabus requisites • More than 50% of the staff identify as Aboriginal Australians and the school Leader is an Aboriginal person. • School uniforms portray Aboriginal-themes • There is an Elders ‘ room that is centrally located in the school • Language, Sport and Creative Arts are EQUALLY valued in the school and there is an inherent expectation to utilise these activities to maximise students’ post-school opportunities .
  55. 55. Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 5: • Because it has strong capacity to run autonomously. • Do you mean that the ideal school should be an Independent school rather than a State School? • No. Not all. I mean that Hymba Yumba would not have all the success it has today without the Principal and executive team being able to make local decisions for the school. I strongly believe that we must enable school executive teams to make local decisions and, this light, I think that any state system that allows this to occur, such as the new NSW DEC’s Connected Communities , is helping our cause for better Aboriginal Education.
  56. 56. Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 6: • Location, Location, Location; It was near several feeder schools of both Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal backgrounds. And the location is NOT stigmatised as a low-socio-economic region. • This, I feel, is really important because it suggests that in the future, more and more non-Aboriginal people will gain an education from a school that is Indigenous-themed. The shift in the status of the region has also played a major part, I believe, in changing the face of Aboriginal Education, as it has finally been situated in the home lands of Teachers, Doctors, Nurses, Lawyers, Police Offices etc. In this respect, Aboriginal Education is being reframed and brought to the door of audiences that have historically assumed that such schools were not ‘for them’, but rather for Aboriginal people. It also allows for Aboriginal Education to have even greater affect on the social and educational hierachies.
  57. 57. Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 7: • Because it caters for students from Kindergarten age through to year 12. So, are you saying we should redesign our schools and not have separate Primary and Secondary Schools? No, but I am saying that, for the most part, establishing an Aboriginal-themed school, or Aboriginal school, has typically been more common in Primary school settings. Let’s take a look at some highly successful Aboriginal schools, or Aboriginal themed schools in NSW to help us understand a bit more….
  58. 58. Case studies: (K-6) Tabulam & Cabbage Tree Public Schools in NSW • • • • • Both these schools produce outstanding National and state-wide results in the recent past. Both have developed a strong culture of HIGH EXPECTATIONS AND ACHIEVEMENT. Both celebrate Aboriginal Identity proudly and the both communities embrace the school as a hub of the region. But………… what about after year 6???? What happens to our Deadly djardjums (Children), when they attend the next level? Sadly, the majority of students find that they are subsumed by a foreign and vague school IDENTITY whereby their capacity to operate as Deadly learners is seriously diminished because the school is not inherently Indigenous-themed in a holistic sense, as is Hymba Yumba and other like schools. The school leaders are not Indigenous, most of the teachers are not, and programs for Aboriginal people are often bolted-on or events based…………clearly it’s time for a rethink, don’t you think?
  59. 59. Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 8: • This school practises the educational philosophy of High Expectations. That is, the curriculum is not ‘dumbed down’ in any way, but rather is enhanced by Aboriginal perspectives. It’s a case of additional material is added to school learning programs, rather than a situation of providing alternate programs. In this way, students receive the best of both worlds, i.e Mainstream and Aboriginal Educations.
  60. 60. Are there other schools like this in Australia? Yes. Here are some just in NSW…: •Tabulam Public School. •Cabbage Tree Island School •Aboriginal Independent Schools… and there are so many more…it’s time to network like never before, and to a united, IDENTITY-CENTRED approach towards Aboriginal Education in the 21st Century.
  61. 61. The Boggabilla Central School Case Study. • 1970 Racially Mixed. • 2013 100% Aborignal Population. Is this really so Deadly……. • Today in BCS, it’s not the Identity-Centred Approach that I am trying advocate for…….where is the bicultural balance that Yunipingu so strongly advocated for??? An effective Identity-Centred approach should integrate cultures and learning systems, support Australia’s multicultural status and, most importantly do so in overtly Pro-Aboriginal contexts. We don’t need to through the baby out, or even the bath water……we need to RECONCEPUALISE EDUCATION SO THAT IDENTITY IS RECOGNISED AS AN IMPERATIVE FOR EDUCATIONAL EQUITY AND SUCCESS, no matter what our backgrounds may be.
  62. 62. My proposal for new Aboriginal-Themed schools • What would they look like essentially? • Where would they be situated. • Adequate Feeder schools to generate a strong bicultural balance • What ratio of Indigenous students to nonIndiegenous would there be? (Or should there be?). • School name: In language….. • Independent or State? In NSW…I propose State.
  63. 63. We can all lend a hand! An in doing so, we can lead the way for a brighter educational future for all Australians, and, of course, our Mob! Thank you!