Case Study 1
“It’s all about respect”
A Case Study of Teaching and Learning at Midvale Primary School
What do the school consider to be one of the best indicators of success? Why?
The school considers that the best indicator of success is improved school attendance. Improved attendance indicates that students are finding the study relevant and the school an inviting and safe place. Furthermore it may indicate that the community and parents are understanding that the education is good for their children and providing them with real opportunities and learning.
What is the current understanding among those who involved in Aboriginal education surrounding attendance for Aboriginal students?
Attendance is affected by a number of complex issues: Aboriginal students have very strong obligations to their immediate and extended families – this means that they will give higher priority to family obligations than to school, and this may include extended periods of travel to other locations. Aboriginal students may be affected by the economic disadvantage of their communities and parents may not have motivation or resources to send their children each day. The school may be perceived to be an extension of white Australian authoritarianism and surrounded by bad memories from parents own schooling – this may mean that parents do not encourage their children to attend, and also are disinclined to get involved or participate in the school community themselves. Parents may perceive that the school is not providing the relevant training for the students to get work locally. Once boys are initiated they are considered adults by their community, and this changes their perspective on their attendance and relationship to teachers. Local teachers need to be switched on to culture and prepare relevant lessons in a spirit of respect, and build relationships with the students and their families before students become self motivated to attend.
What is the type and level of involvement of Aboriginal people at the school? What are the challenges facing the school? How have they tried to address them?
The involvement of Aboriginal people in the school includes the 77 Aboriginal students (35% of 220), four AIEOs and some (or all?) members of the ASSPA and P&C, and of course the parents, siblings and extended families of the students and AIEOs. It sounds as though there is a strong commitment by the school to including Aboriginal students and families in the life of the school as much as possible. It is unclear as to whether there are any Aboriginal teachers, or administrators.
The major challenge for the school is the underlying economic poverty of the region. The lack of resources amongst many families in the school community means that some students are more affected by bad health and tend to have less healthy diets, or come to school without having had breakfast or lunch.
The school aims to address these issues by being working towards being a ‘Multi Agency Full Service School’. This means connecting students and parents with services and information which will be useful at a whole life level. Some of the specific things in place at the school are: An Otitis Media program with a local hospital, an emergency lunch program, a nit check program, and a breakfast program.
Bullying is also a problem – the Stop, Think, Do program has been put in place to address this.
Another problem is getting the teachers to adapt to the challenge of teaching effectively amongst the urban poor, when very few of them have any knowledge of Aboriginal culture. Specifically the teachers need to be able to earn the respect of the students and form meaningful relationships with them. It sounds like with the development of the teaching team some of this is being addressed, and teachers are able to get beyond the crowd control to understanding and working on underlying issues with students.
What do you think is meant by the statement: “Midvale Primary School faces a number of challenges which must be attributed to poverty rather than indigeneity”?
This is a recognition of the underlying cause of problems rather than the stereotypical bad labeling of the victims race being the problem. It changes the perspective, so instead of being falsely vilified, the Aboriginal culture can be celebrated, while the poverty and its consequences can be addressed with a united front.
What is Otitis Media? How are Stop, Think, Do and FAST working towards the challenges facing the school?
“Otitis media is inflammation of the middle ear, or middle ear infection”
The Medical Journal of Australia has this to say:
“… otitis media …. is very uncommon in First World countries and is best regarded as a disease of poverty. The World Health Organization has indicated that a prevalence rate of otitis media greater than 4% in a defined population of children is indicative of a massive public health problem requiring urgent attention. That otitis media affects up to ten times this proportion of children in many Aboriginal communities is an indictment of the poor living conditions in these communities. The associated hearing loss has a life-long impact, as it occurs during speech and language development and the early school years.”
And then goes on to say:
Only with urgent attention to improving housing and access to running water, nutrition and quality of care, and giving communities greater control over these improvements, will this massive public health problem be solved so that Aboriginal children can take their rightful place in this, the century of communication.
Stop, Think, Do is a program developed to help resolve conflict. The program involves students doing role plays of conflict situations and practising alternative ways of reacting. It is intended to help the students manage their anger and to deal with conflict in a positive way. This directly addresses the bullying issues and tensions in the playground following disagreements.
FAST (Families And Schools Together) is a broad program designed to bring parents into schools. It targets students who are struggling academically, and families that are struggling financially. It is designed to be fun so the students are keen. It is very structured. It includes arranging the family to have a shared meal, do some singing and play games. The desired outcome is that parents become more likely to approach the school.
What role do the AIEO’s fill at the school? What are the varying levels of commitments being made by the teachers at Midvale Primary School?
AIEO’s act as a kind of middle person between Wadjella (non Aboriginal) teachers and Aboriginal students. They are able to understand the intricacies of family connections and obligations. They are able to act as mediators between the cultures helping each to understand the other. They are able to work with the Wadjella teachers to include more relevant Aboriginal content into lessons.
The teachers at Midvale had a huge range of differing levels of engagement with the Aboriginal population of the school. Some were able to join fully and produce lessons with some content in local languages, and were motivated to become educated themselves about the subtleties of the local culture. Others were less committed and did not make the transition to more inclusive teaching.
What importance do relationships have in the success or not of a program?
Quality relationships are essential to the success of any teaching endeavour whether with Wadjellas or Aboriginals. Taking the time to earn respect by investing effort into understanding other people’s worlds builds strong bridges between people and makes many more things possible. If there are no relationships built then education becomes an authoritarian directiveness which is cold and much more likely to be rejected and rebelled against.
Case Study 2: “It Brightens Your Eyes Up”
A Case Study of Teaching and Learning at Hedland Senior High School.
What are the major challenges facing Hedland Senior High School?
Hedland Senior High School is located in a place of extremes – wealth and big industry associated with mining versus remoteness and and semi urban economic poverty. The school has about 170 Aboriginal students. Islander students, Malay, Chinese and Anglo make up the remainder of the 680 students. Hedland school has 70 staff (ratio of 1 to 10), but only 3 AIEOs (ratio 1 to 57). Whether there are any Aboriginal teachers or administrators is unclear.
The school identifies retention rates as their major challenge. Currently only a small portion of Aboriginal students make it to the end of high school. The implication of this is reduced opportunity for employment, contributing to the ongoing negative cycle.
What is being done to address these challenges?
1) connecting with the parents and the community, and inviting them to be part of the school – trying break down the negative perceptions of school that Aboriginal parents may have from their own schooling. If parents and the community are welcomed and participate there will be greater two way learning and ownership by all participants – this will be great for students! The use of the three AIEOs assists with building these connections and bridging the culture gap, so there is more understanding of both sides by the other.
2) connecting with local industry to arrange regular job placements so students see school as relevant and useful for their real lives. Students will not commit their time and energy to something they do not see as relevant.
3) ensuring that programs continue even though staff may change, and working hard to limit the number of staff changes so the education is not disrupted.
4) missed literacy and numeracy skills are addressed through Fast Track / Access programs – designed to help fill the gaps, reduce ‘shame’ and so increase retention rates. For year 8 & 9 there is a ‘Learning through Language program’ with similar aims.
5) the use of community events like NAIDOC week to invite and involve parents and the community in the life of the school.
What has been the history of Aboriginal students who have attended Hedland Senior High School in the past?
Hmm, this does not seem to be clear in the case study apart from the information that a majority of them have previously had to ‘drop out’ before completing it. With the introduction of some of the new programs students experienced camps, and visits to universities and TAFEs in Perth and Darwin. Some have done very successful workplace placements. The school website does not advertise its previous students history (http://www.hedlandshs.wa.edu.au)
What roles do the AIEO’s have in the school?
The AIEOs provide an essential link between cultures, helping each understand the other. They assist with understanding the subtleties of the local culture, they support Aboriginal students directly and can help with resolving behavioral problems. The local Aboriginal communities see the AIEOs as advocates for their students. This hands on negotiation and problem solving means that issues that could have caused students to drop out can be resolved thus improving the retention rate.
What is AITAP? Who is involved? What is its purpose? What do you think about this initiative? Do you know of any other such program? What is the purpose of the ‘Follow the Dream’ program found at http://www.eddept.wa.edu.au/abled/docs/FollowTheDream.pdf ?
The Aboriginal and Islander Tertiary Aspirations Program is designed to inspire students attempting year 11 and 12 and support them to complete their course. The program affirms their cultural identity and attempts to also broaden their horizons by arranging visits to Universities, TAFES and other career related institutions in Perth and also Darwin. This is achieved by running camps and workshops to build students confidence and motivation.
Sounds like a great program – but how many can participate? Is it limited in number because of funding? The Port Headland Aboriginal and Tores Strait Islander Education Partnership sounds good also but has a limit of 20 participants. Likewise the Follow the Dream program has similar objectives and methods – involve the community and provide skills to encourage participation – but how many can access these programs? Shouldn’t this level of support be available to ALL students?
Follow the Dream facilitates support to participating children and their families by bringing together the shared wisdom of community members and highly committed teaching staff. Involvement in the program from sectors in the community, including schools and industry has proven to have positive results for the children.
What is traditional lore/law? How does this impact upon Aboriginal students in the school?
Traditional law is a critical part of the culture and provides a set of rules and consequences that are binding on members – in a similar manner to the Anglo laws. There are a number of consequences on Aboriginal students. These include not being allowed to use the names of deceased persons – The video showed a teacher who was given a new name by the community because her name was the same as someone who had died. More significantly are the laws relating to initiation and the transition from childhood to manhood for boys at age 13 which changes the students relationship to teachers and schooling immediately. The duty to follow traditional law has a higher priority than the anglo directive to remain at school so on occasions students will leave school for extended periods to fulfill their obligations to their law – eg attending funeral ceremonies.
The implication of laws are very subtle and local. This puts the onus back on the teachers and school to engage with the community so as to be sensitive and respond appropriately. The AIEOs perform a vital role in bridging this gap. Teachers must tread carefully, but honestly and not expect to always get it right. It is better to genuinely engage with the law than to avoid it for fear of making a mistake and offending anyone.
Can you see any similarities or differences from Midvale Primary school and Hedland Senior High School?
Midvale is a very urban setting, whereas Hedland is a town based undertaking, but close to the bush. Both settings have the issues of poverty and attendance. The Hedland school seems to have a stronger and larger Aboriginal community behind it. Midvale seems to have a more dislocated Aboriginal community. The goals of inviting and involving the parents and communities seem to be equally pursued by both schools. Working with older students in Hedland the direct issue of Otitis Media has gone away, though the residue of reduced literacy from it is still a core one. Both schools could use more AIEOS and even better more Aboriginal teachers and administrators. Hedland has a bigger range of programs in place, but is also a larger and more complex school.
Case Study 3: “Making it relevant”
A Case Study of Teaching and Learning at Luurnpa Catholic School.
What are the major challenges facing Luurnpa Catholic School?
The major challenges are absenteeism (50% attendance due to combination of transience and wagging), low literacy (English is a second language for most students), post primary retention rates, health problems (hearing, nutrition) and substance abuse (alcohol, petrol). These are compounded by the transience of the Anglo teachers and administration staff, in what is admitedly a very remote location.
What is being done to address these challenges?
The number one strategy is to involve the parents and community in the life of the school. As covered previously in the Midvale and Hedland case studies the empowerment and involvement of the community has many benefits. At Luurpa every opportunity is used to invite parents and community into the school – Kukatja book launches, assemblies, fetes, fun days, new program launches. Parents are invited to join discussions, and speak in Kukatja.
At Wirrimanu the community council has reinstated the community warden role to collect students who are supposed to be at school. This sends a message to the students that their community values the school and wants them to go.
Of course there is always the critical necessity for teachers to make learning relevant.
“You really have to find a way to motivate the students, to make your program interesting enough so that they would stay and actually learn.”
Quote from teacher in the Luurnpa case study
Teachers endeavor to ensure returning students are welcomed and to integrate their experiences into what is taught.
The use of ATAs helps to make the education relevant in a similar way to the AIEOs discussed previously. The school has to work hard to keep recruiting the ATAs and training them up. The ATAs are seen as invaluable, and are greatly missed when they are absent due to their own family commitments.
There are a number of programs for literacy development:
1) the Kimberly Literacy Program – a guest teacher for PP – 3 for a term, using the FELIKS philosophy – teaching English as a second language, and valuing the first language or languages.
2) the production of books in the local language Kukatja – this is combined with community involvement by inviting parents and community to the launch of these books.
Building the health and self awareness of students is seen as critical for the overall success of the school and well worth the time and effort. The health program includes dental (daily teeth brushing), hygiene (daily showering), fitness (daily activities and swimming in the pool), diet (lunch provided daily), and hearing management (BBC to clear ears and noses, amplification aids in class)
Retention of students into secondary school is addressed with the Pathways program – achievement of 10 TAFE like modules which are set up to cope with transient students and transient staff. Links with real world tasks are created with the Bike construction program. Students do cooking classes and Art making is promoted and celebrated.
Finally the school is working hard to overcome the issue of transient Anglo staff:
“If continuity of staff cannot be maintained, the next best option is continuity of programs.”
Luurpa Case Study
Handbooks for the school and associated programs are regularly produced so that new teachers can continue the programs right from when they start.
Using your information on what you have discovered about Traditional Lore/Law why do the school have separate classes for males and females at the secondary level?
My understanding of the traditional transition from childhood to adulthood involves the separation of males and females into separate parts of the camp. This is illustrated very clearly in the film ‘Ten Canoes’ where the younger brother is part of the young men’s camp, and is not allowed to associate with women despite his clear desire to do so. It seems that this could be a very relevant way of maintaining traditional culture within schools by having the boys and girls separated when they reach the initiation age – to complete the transition there would have to be male teachers for the boys and female teachers for the girls. The community’s preference would be important, and the implementation of their desire would confirm that they really can have positive influence within the schools.
What are the two different types of Absenteeism? What is done to try to accommodate both types?
Transience and ‘Wagging’. Transience being unavoidable due to family and community commitments should be coped with by endeavoring to make the education modular and portable so students can easily come and go from it without missing opportunities. Disinterest, or plain ‘wagging’ can only be solved with a combination of community involvement and parent support along with the creation of relevant and interesting courses and activities. Programs are in place at Luurpa to address both of these issues as discussed above.
What is traditional lore/law? How does this impact upon the life of the school?
Traditional lore/law is the rules and associated consequences embedded within the culture. As stated before Anglos also have their traditional lores and legal system. There are two obvious impacts – the need for families to travel to fulfill their obligations resulting in ‘transience’ of students, and the laws affecting the transition from child to adult which change the relationship of the student to teacher, and affect absenteeism.
Do you seen any connections or contrast to both Midvale Primary School and Hedland Senior High School?
Luurpa is the opposite extreme to Midvale. It is totally not urban, and is embedded within the deep bush. The Anglos are the minority with only two students versus 100 Aboriginal students. The issue of educating students about their culture is non existent, more critical is educating teachers so that they can build relationships and create relevant lessons. The issues of retention and absenteeism are bigger – I would guess because there is less Anglo structure around to legitimise school attendance. The need for real relevant education is similar to that of Hedlands school. Students are more likely to attend if they see a meaning and purpose in their education and connections with their future work and life. The issue of connecting with the community and parents is the same as for Midvale and Hedland – an essential and never ending process, perhaps only finishing when the school is entirely run by and for the local Aboriginal community. The school is currently suffering from a high turnover of Anglo staff, and urgently needs more local people to be teachers, assistants and administrators.
Case Study 4: “A school Characterised by Laughter”
A Case Study of Teaching and Learning at Kurrawang Christian Aboriginal Directed School.
What is the difference between CAPS and other Aboriginal Independent Community Schools?
CAPS has a strong Christian focus:
Kurrawang is committed to giving children an education which is founded on Christian principles and values
The parent school for Kurrawang (Coolgardie) is more specific:
Staff are devoted Christians who seek to serve the Lord, and who view their job as a high calling, not only to teach but to be a living witness to the Risen Christ.
Some of the other independent schools had a church backing then but were not so explicit about their Christian agenda.
What is the parent role in this school? How is this the same or different from the other 3 schools in the case studies?
Kurrawang seems to have had the best success with involving parents of the four case studies. This may reflect the control that the community have over the school, with the school board being composed of Wongi Aboriginal elders. The ASSPA seems to be active and effective so that parents can contribute and influence the direction of the school.
“It is acknowledged from both perspectives that the spirit of the community and the school working together make a powerful combination for mutual benefit.”
Kurrawang Case Study document
Who sets the policy within the school? What is the role of the principal?
The school board sets the ‘over-arching’ policies. The members of the board are Wongi elders who mostly live in the community and are able to visit and participate in the school to monitor how things are going. The principal is able to bring issues to the board to get advice on how to proceed. So the board has direct control over the school and are able to direct the actions of the principal who acts as an intermediary between the board and the staff.
What are the challenges facing Kurrawang Christian Aboriginal Directed School?
The challenges sound very similar to that experienced by the other schools – literacy/numeracy, health, attendance/retention and getting parents involved.
How are the community meeting these challenges? the life of the school?
The community/school are meeting these challenges by implementing a range of programs:
The literacy program equally values the Wongi language and also emphasises the need for students to use Standard Australian English. The students are taught about ‘Genre’ and Context and how it is important to use the right language in the right situation. The program uses the idea of ‘Scaffolding’ and attempts to work from dealing with whole texts and then breaking them down into parts as required. Texts are selected to suit the students needs. Staff cooperate to coordinate the program, with a specialist staff person available to run small groups. Extra assistance is available for students who have been away or are behind (helping with transience). Older students are invited and rewarded for reading and teaching younger students which increases ownership and participation.
The ‘reporting’ program seeks to give regular feedback to students and their parents about what they are doing, including what they may have missed if they were away. The school attributes improved attendance rates to the effectiveness of this program.
The health program is designed to build good habits and patterns, and to encourage parents to take more control of their children’s health. The activities include aerobics, coughing/blowing, teeth cleaning, breakfast awareness, fruit provided for lunch, and recently sandwiches.
These programs seem to be working well and are well supported by the parents and community.
Do you seen any connections or contrast to both Midvale Primary School, Hedland Senior High School and Luurnpa Catholic school?
Of all the four case studies, Kurrawang appears to have the best connection and ownership by parents and community. The power is held by the elders, who are members of the community. The staff ratio is about 1 to 8 which is excellent, and includes one AIEO. The school has some good programs in place. Despite the differences between the four schools the Kurrawang programs are similar in intent to many of the programs at Midvale, Hedland and Luurnpa and deal with similar issues: literacy, absenteeism, health, retention and community involvement. Staff turnover appears to be less of an issue than that for the other case studies – this may reflect the requirement for teachers to have a specific religious calling and commitment, and perhaps also the higher support of their school board and the community. Substance abuse is not mentioned as an issue at Kurrawang – this may also reflect the community values and commitment to the school. The emphasis on fun and laughter as part of learning is refreshing! This more positive outlook might reflect that some of the more challenging issues are being successfully dealt with at the community level, so the school can focus more on education and less on pastoral care and behaviour management.
All of the schools studied are great examples of the challenge of making education truly work and be relevant to the students. In many ways the rawness and challenges of them make for more bold and much more interesting education than what I suspect goes on in most middle class Anglo suburban schools.
I strongly suspect that the ideal pedagogy for Aboriginal and Islander schools is one that would work well for any school in the world. It would be a radical shake up, but worth it. Personalised, real education that is up to the challenges of the world – and is fun to boot!
Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otitis_media accessed 8/6/08
Australian Medical Journal http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/177_04_190802/coa10271_fm.html accessed 8/6/08
Hedland SHS http://www.hedlandshs.wa.edu.au accessed 8/6/08
Follow the Dream http://www.eddept.wa.edu.au/abled/docs/FollowTheDream.pdf accessed 8/6/08
Kurrawang CAPS http://www.aics.wa.edu.au/content/theschools/info/caps_kurrawang.shtm?3 accessed 8/6/08
Coolgardie CAPS http://www.aics.wa.edu.au/content/theschools/info/caps_coolgardie.shtm?14 accessed 8/6/08
Case studies of Midvale, Hedland, Luurnpa, and Kurrawang – in course materials provided by Notre Dame.