Assessment Item 3: Final Exam

June 14, 2008

Outline the key areas required for a culturally appropriate and successful education for an Indigenous student in your teaching area.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Cultural Awareness
  3. Learning Styles
  4. Relationships
  5. Real Life Problems, Real Life Challenges
  6. Room to Succeed
  7. Attendance, Behaviour Management, Drug & Alcohol Awareness
  8. Conclusion
  9. Recommendations
  10. Related Links


One of my areas of teaching is middle school mathematics – Year 7 and Year 8 in particular.

The course where I work is currently tied up with the NSW Board of Studies curriculum, and a set of text books that were chosen some years ago (New Century Mathematics).

The challenge is to make mathematics exciting and interesting to the wide range of students and their associated diverse learning styles. At the very least my goal is to build confidence and help students feel at home with mathematical ideas.

I currently have an indigenous student in one class, and he is struggling.

Mind you there are also about another 10 of the 25 Anglo students are also struggling.

I don’t know what the indigenous student’s history is – how his reading, writing, comprehension are, I don’t know if he suffered from Otitis Media, I don’t know anything about his family and their connections to the land. I am just another typical Anglo teacher who is unknowingly promoting the old assimilation policy.

“Aborigines receive an education designed consciously and unconsciously … to assimilate them into the wider society; an education which is not congruent with their own cultural values”
Coombs in Craven, 1999 p 200

How can this sadly typical scenario be transformed? How can I make it culturally appropriate? How can I make it work better?

From my reading in the Aboriginal Studies course through Notre Dame University I have the strong impressions that there is hope for a win-win situation. The things that will help make this course culturally relevant, exciting and interesting will benefit both the indigenous student, the Anglo students and myself as well.

Cultural Awareness

“…perhaps the mathematics could be better
learned if it were wrapped in familiar
numeracies, contexts, language and
activity and if people could unpack their
fears and anxieties and re-learn in new
contexts. This is nothing really new…”

Numeracies in Indigenous communities by Caty Morris, DECS SA:
Draft paper developed for conference panel

As a teacher my goal is to make the learning relevant and interesting for my students. This means understanding their culture, and something of what they are interested in. This affects many aspects: the way that I would teach, what content I would teach, and how I would structure the lessons.

Cultural awareness for the indigenous student means:

1) Being aware that at 12 years old he is possibly on the verge of being initiated and becoming a man.

2) Being aware that I cannot expect that I can have eye contact, and that I must be very careful about not bringing ‘shame’ on him.

3) Allow that there is an indigenous perspective on all that I teach, and that I must acknowledge that and give it equal value with the Anglo perspective.

4) Taking the time to talk to the local elders and put some effort into understanding the local issues and perspective (a time challenge given how busy we are already… but one that should be tackled given the potential benefits)

5) Making connections to the local indigenous language, games, and activities with some of the content of lessons.

Learning Styles

There have been attempts to define an indigenous learning style, but the consensus is that in fact there is huge diversity of learning styles amongst indigenous students, just as there are amongst Anglo students.

“One should be somewhat wary about specifying learning style for a particular cultural group because of the diversity that is sure to exist within those groups”
Gibson in Craven, 1999, p205

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences states that our old assumption that intelligence is solely about linguistic and logic/mathematics skills is wrong. Instead, within plain old Anglo culture, Gardner states that we have at least 9 easily recognisable and diverse intelligences including: Kinesthetic/movement intelligence, Visual/Artistic intelligence, Musical intelligence, Interpersonal intelligence, Emotional/Intrapersonal intelligence, Spiritual intelligence, Environmental/biological systems intelligence, and Linguistic and Logical/mathematical intelligences.

There has been a tendency to assume that the special intelligence and hence preferred learning style of indigenous students are kinaesthetic/spatial, Collaborative/Interpersonal and visual/artistic/musical. This, I think, is a generalisation just as bad as the old assumption that Anglo intelligence was entirely linguistic/logical/mathematical.

Joining these ideas together I reach a conclusion that it is best to address the indigenous student with the same best practice that should apply to any Anglo student: Provide educational experiences that are accessible by all the different learning styles, and tailor some part of each lesson to ‘hit the spot’ for each student.

In the classroom this means including physical spatial lessons as well as linguistic mathematical ones. It means including visual/artistic activities, using music, movement, pictures, movies, and games. It means touching on the spiritual, the land and environment and ultimately on our identity and culture.


The key to working with students is to develop and maintain good relationships with them. This means giving them the respect that they deserve, and taking the time to talk to them and understand their worlds.

“Teachers who take a personal interest in their students and their life outside school will establish a positive rapport with their students and foster a favourable learning environment”
Halse & Robinison in Craven 1999

This is another case of what is good for the indigenous student is good for all students.

The relationship issue extends to valuing and including the parents and family of students in the life of the school. Indigenous parents may have had terrible experiences with their own schooling, and so it is essential to build new bridges with them, and demonstrate that the school is an inviting, safe and friendly place that genuinely has their child’s best interests at heart. When parents connect and value the school they will be more likely to encourage their children to participate and to make the most of their education.

Real life problems, real challenges.

The indigenous student, and his/her Anglo peers will be willing to commit their time and effort to work at school if they perceive that what they are learning is useful and relevant to them – either directly or for their future.

“One important point that came from community members was that Mathematics needs to be linked to the experiences of students out of school.”

How can I improve the connections in my lessons?

At a simple level games like Bingo and other traditional maths activities can be modified to use local indigenous names for numbers. At a more involved level activities like orienteering can be introduced that use skills in both geometry and also knowledge of the land, awareness of space and relationships. Estimating populations of animals in their ecosystems and calculating rates of growth and cycles that occur involves both Anglo mathematics and intimate local knowledge. Working with probabilities and measuring outcomes could be linked to goal scoring or other physical activities.

Where indigenous students have more adult responsibilities in their households, lessons involving budgeting, cooking, and managing bills and household expenses could be introduced with some good multi-disciplinary links.

Much more time and effort needs to be expended on developing life connected content. What few examples I could find on the net were not detailed, even those of the Aboriginal section of the NSW Board of Studies.

Room to succeed

Glasser, with ‘Choice Therapy’ indicates that people are always behaving in ways that increase the possibilities of survival, belonging, power, freedom and fun.

With respect to power, students have a need for learning, achievement, and success. With freedom students are looking for Independence and autonomy

These needs can be partly met in the classroom, students need the space to exercise their abilities, to get feedback on how they are going, and to succeed. These things are life affirming and apply equally to the indigenous student as to the Anglo student.

The gifts and talents of each individual need to be recognised and celebrated.

Perhaps most importantly, it should also be fun!

Attendance, Behavior Management, Drug & Alcohol

Awareness, Health and Fitness

Attendance is related to the indigenous student’s family commitments, and also the student’s perception of the value and interest of the subject.

I must be prepared to make my teaching modular so that when students are away for family commitments they will not be adversely affected. Interestingly, teaching in the Northern Rivers of NSW, many of the Anglo children also have extended periods of absence to visit their families elsewhere!

Behaviour management is the responsibility of myself as the teacher, and also the college of teachers so the whole school can provide pro-active programs about anger management and assertiveness. Rough and tumble can easily spill over into bullying and needs to be carefully monitored and managed.

Similarly drug and alcohol awareness is a whole school activity and concern. Regular guest lecturers from the medical and legal world help to clarify the message of restraint and moderation. This is combined with some specific lessons scheduled for different year levels to explicitly deal with these issues.

From the indigenous student’s perspective, we need to be sure that the normal issues of growing up are not compounded by a history of bad experiences, bad relationships, medical issues and cultural misunderstanding.

The school promotes health by having only good quality healthy food which is made locally for sale at the tuck shop. No chips or lollies are available. Subsidised food is available discretely to students who are unable to bring their own food, or cannot afford to buy it at school.

Health and fitness are promoted through the schools compulsory PDHPE program, along with regular sport and sports carnivals to celebrate the achievements of the students who excel at sport. Hearing and eyesight tests are available discretely to students that teachers suspect may be struggling in these areas.

The school that I work for is in a wealthy part of Australia, and many of the poverty related issues facing more remote schools are not evident. This means that more focus can go into the education because the need for pastoral care, multi-service integration, and financial assistance is less.


Creating culturally appropriate and successful education requires a significant and ongoing commitment by individual teachers, and the school as a whole.

There is much work to be done to give the local indigenous culture the place and space that it should have within the school, however on the positive side some bridges have been steadily built in the last few years by some of the staff.

Indigenous parents need to be specifically made more welcome, and have some influence and power offered to them, so that they can fully own and encourage their children’s participation in the school.

The needs of students are diverse, and should be met in a diverse and tailored manner – this requires attention to detail and commitment by the teachers and the school as a whole.

The end result is very good indeed, and well worth the effort. Students, teachers and a local community that are more culturally aware and more fully alive.

If the sense of rightness and relief following the apology to the stolen generation by the new government is anything to go by, we are all in for better times ahead!


  • Welcome and involve the local indigenous community into the school
  • Facilitate the dialogue between teachers and the indigenous community so that culturally relevant content can be more easily incorporated.
  • Invite local elders to participate in significant school events. (This is already starting to happen – some of the local indigenous people have a significant role in the upcoming whole school event which is our winter festival – the spiritual highlight of the school year)
  • Ensure that the national goal of Aboriginal education for all is genuinely achieved in the school in an ongoing way, with the understanding that only through mutual understanding can racism be defeated.
  • Promote diverse teaching styles to match the needs of diverse learners including indigenous learners in all classrooms.
  • Celebrate the indigenous culture so it can take its full place as a valid world view, and a critical part of our Australian identity.

Some related Links:

morrow on math

whats going on in your head

cd on maths in everyday life

Aboriginal education section of the NSW BOS


Assessment Item 2: Case Study Reflections

June 8, 2008

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 (

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 ?

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 accessed 8/6/08
Australian Medical Journal accessed 8/6/08
Hedland SHS accessed 8/6/08
Follow the Dream accessed 8/6/08
Kurrawang CAPS accessed 8/6/08
Coolgardie CAPS accessed 8/6/08
Case studies of Midvale, Hedland, Luurnpa, and Kurrawang – in course materials provided by Notre Dame.

Assessment Item 1: Part B

June 8, 2008


“A united Australia which respects this land of ours, values Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, and provides justice and equity for all.”
Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation

Reconciliation is a long and complex path that we Australians must take to make right the great wrongs that have followed from the Anglo invasion of Australia and the attempted removal of their culture (or even genocide) in the last two centuries.

There is such a litany of wrongs, even within many people’s living memory, I cannot understand how the Aboriginals can forgive us. What about compensation? What about justice?

We occupy the most habitable places in Australia, not coincidentally the same places that the Aboriginals lived in great numbers before the invasion. At least half of the Aboriginal population died of European diseases within the first years of the colonisation. Many more were murdered or massacred or enslaved.

The road is long and there is a long way to go.

We have that Aussie notion of a ‘fair go for all’, mentioned by the National Reconciliation Convention. What are the areas we need to work on to actually give Aboriginal people and their culture a fair go?

1) Landrights – understanding that being Aboriginal involves an intimate connection to the land.

2) Culture – acknowledging the importance of Aboriginal culture as part of our heritage.

3) Real history – owning the realities of the invasion, and throwing out the ‘winners’ whitewash that we have been brought up with.

4) Dealing with disadvantage – real assistance to deal with the end products of the last two centuries of colonialism. This is the practical end of giving a fair go.

5) Autonomy – communities and families need to be included in the decisions and processes that affect their lives, they need to be included and employed at all levels of government including education.

6) Formal recognition – place the Aboriginals in pride of place in our constitution as the original owners of the land, and formally apologise for wrongs done including the stolen generations.

7) Compensation – where to start?

The political moves to make amends have been long in the development, starting with the referendum giving Aboriginals the vote, moving through landrights, and the stolen generation. The recent formal apology to the stolen generation is a major step forwards, but there is still much to do. The effort is well worth while and will lead to a richer and stronger society that is more harmonious and whole – a truly excellent goal!

Aboriginal Studies: a national priority

“…is about social justice for all Australians – equity, human rights a fair go and mutual respect for our fellow Australians” (Craven R, 1999 p 14)

To get social justice we need practical changes, but also changes in what we know – education is a key to this and all Australian education should include real and alive information that acknowledges and values Aboriginal culture. This has been a national priority for 20 years.

What should be included in this education? A balanced history of the invasion, acknowledgement of the subtlety and sophistication of indigenous culture and society, promotes respect and diversity, includes an understanding of languages, arts, spirituality, political and environmental issues.

This study should not be limited to an isolated society and culture unit within the curriculum, but should be integrated across all of the curriculum. I have noticed that some modern text books contain significant reference to indigenous culture and practices – is this a good start?

In fact Indigenous Studies IS Australian Studies… There should be no distinction – we all need to know our ‘roots’, and these include not only the European imports, but equally that of the original human inhabitants of Australia.

Understanding leads to respect. This is the key.

Living Cultures

Despite the immense changes caused by the invasion and subsequent deaths and enslavement, there is still a vibrant Aboriginal culture that has contributed many leading athletes, artists, poets, writers, singers and politicians to enrich our shared life in Australia.

Many languages and much lore is threatened through the dispersal and upheaval, but councils of elders are being reformed, sacred ceremonies are being passed on, and languages are being taught to the new generation.

“Aboriginal and Islander people have maintained their world view, their respect for their land and sea, and their complex social systems with their reciprocal kinship obligations and rights”
Craven R, 1999, p28

It is a celebration of Survival!

“Programs to bring Indigenous arts and culture into schools play a large part in achieving the twin aims of Indigenous Education — appropriate education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students; and educating all students about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia. They play a main role in achieving the goals of Reconciliation
Craven R, 1999, p41(emphasis mine)

Misconceptions, stereotypes and racism: time for a change

Myths and stereotypes are fodder for vilification and the use of ‘us and them’ thinking – it is a language of paranoia and intolerance and the worst kind of conservatism.

The Pauline Hanson lead right wing backlash in recent times demonstrated that our society is not as far from such distastefulness as we would hope.  At best we can hope that the perpetrators persisted because they themselves were insecure and threatened by other pressures and changes in society.

Racists have a habit of focusing on humanities minor differences and ignoring our majority of similarities. The end result is intolerance, hatred and stupid segregation and double standards that make the society morally sick.  Taken to extreme it leads to massacres, removal of children and ultimately genocide.

What a blot on Australia’s history that we have in the past done all of these things.

One of the benefits of a whole Aboriginal/Australian studies is that it refutes the mis-information and replaces it with a balanced an fair depiction of the culture, spirituality and achievements of the original inhabitants.

“Racism is ignorance born of fear”
Oodgeroo Noonuccal (in Craven R, 1999, p47)

Unfortunately myths have a habit of hanging on well past their use by date. They can be subtly incorporated into the workings of institutions and language.  It is important to dismantle each myth again and again until they are ultimately laid to rest.

How can I combat racism through my teaching?
Make sure to include all references to Aboriginal history when talking about Australian history – ie teaching the whole truth about our history.  Include present events in current societies. Ensure that the present situations are illuminated with the context of historical events – ‘those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it’. Give students experiences from ‘the shore’ – ie concrete narratives from the Aboriginal perspective that students can relate to. Develop a knowledge of the local local Indigenous culture – in my case the Bunjelung Nation in the Northern Rivers region of NSW. Incorporate an indigenous perspective across the different subjects that I teach.  The whole school approach means that I should work with colleagues to promote cultural diversity.

Aboriginal Education: a history

Education until recently has been an instrument of conformity.  One size fits all and all shall be the same.

The use of methods and content developed for middle class English, American or Australian students across the board was considered acceptable until recently.

Now we recognise many different learning styles and intelligences.  Students are understood to construct their own view of reality in conjunction with their peers, family and community.  Real education is diverse and personal and depends on good relationships and challenging problems.

How ridiculous to expect indigenous students to learn using the cookie stamp methods and content that did not even work that well for middle class Anglo students!

Early on indigenous children were not included in schools at all.  The missionary endeavor attempted to help out, but was really intent on assimilation.  Some believed that the Aboriginals would die out if they were kept separate from the rest of society.  ‘Reserve’ schools were created by the state to enable schooling of Aboriginals separate to the Anglo students. Even in the 1940s with NSW finally allowing Aboriginal students to attend public schools the intent was still only to assimilate them.  In 1965 the policy of assimilation was replaced with the policy of integration – this was a step forward – a blending of cultures with some valuing of Aboriginal culture for the first time. With the referendum to make Aboriginals citizens in 1967 mission schools started to be taken over by the state. At the same time the immigration to Australia of many cultural groups following the second world war started Australia down the path towards multi-culturalism.  The dominance of Anglo culture was being transformed. Finally in the 1980s real changes were being implemented to include Aboriginal studies in the curriculum for all students.  Ongoing issues include health (eg Otitis Media) , absenteeism/retention, literacy levels, and appropriate resourcing and support for schools and students. Teacher education was and still is critical for the success of this venture.

There are many promising signs of hope, but we still need to keep working for real transformation.  I am reassured that the end result is a win-win situation – all students will be better off in a rich and diverse culturally enlightened society and school environment.

Craven, Rhonda (1999) Teaching Aboriginal Studies, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, Australia

Assessment Item1: Part A: Theme File

May 3, 2008

Adapting to a New Environment

Moving from the suburbs to a remote community means adjusting in lots of ways. There is a romantic and glamorous side: the beautiful country, the newness and rawness of a major change, the thrill of travel, adventure and meeting new people. There is also the reality of culture shock. Feeling alone in a strange place. Not knowing what is the right thing to do or say. Not having the familiar or comfortable easily accessible. Not understanding how things work, or why things are not ‘normal’.

Imagine this: the town you are teaching in can only be accessed by aeroplane six months of the year. It has one local store that sells lettuces for $4.00 a pop, and there’s not a caffe latte in sight.

The QUT article on culture shock wisely states that ‘culture shock is normal‘. And strongly recommends keeping an open mind, talking to people, staying in touch whilst also inviting new friendships, and not being too worried about making mistakes.

The advice from the video specific to living and working with Aboriginal and Islander communities is to be flexible, share with fellow workers and move one’s thinking to being in the centre of the world instead of seeing the location as the edge of the world.

It is important to be aware of being a role model and setting an appropriate example. In particular this means things like not wearing tight clothing (women & men?), and not drinking alcohol in public.

It is crucial to get past the culture shock, and move to a mindset where one can join with the community. This quote from the Gumala Mirnuwarni Education Project emphasises the need to be wholehearted in the:

Teacher’s commitment to the success of their students, and their attitudes towards the project from the beginning were significant reasons for the project’s success. Many teachers also worked to remind other teachers that, for Indigenous students to do well at school the expectations hold needed to be high

Cultural Awareness

This for me boils down to Respect, Respect, Respect. Suspend value judgements, and be willing to go beyond first impressions to an understanding of underlying reasons and rationality.

The rights of Indigenous people to own and control their cultures should be respected. Diversity of Indigenous cultures should be acknowledged and encouraged. Indigenous worldviews, lifestyles and customary laws should be respected in contemporary life.

There are many new concepts to deal with – Elders, Law, Pride, Shame

There are dos and don’ts – avoiding direct eye contact, treating initiated male students as men, being aware of the relationship between male and female teachers and students, allowing for different concepts of time, allowing for different perceptions of childhood and self.

The original inhabitants of Australia predate us by at least 40000 years, their cultures are complex and can not be comprehended or evaluated without taking a suitably respectful amount of time and effort.

There is a strong push to turn the tables and make us all more aware of Aboriginal and Islander culture:

The AEU believes that all teachers employed in the public education system in Australia should complete a comprehensive sequence of Indigenous studies as a minimum requirement for their employment.

Building Relationships

True for all students, and indeed all people – learning is better, more fun, and more effective when there is a genuine relationship between teachers and students.

How can we build better relationships?

Taking a genuine interest in people without being intrusive helps foster ongoing relationships. Being helpful and friendly is particularly appreciated.

The video points out that one factor working against teachers in remote areas is that the parents of the students more often than not had terrible experiences at school. Fortunately for all, the world has moved on and now the classroom should be an inviting and friendly place. The video suggests encouraging parents to participate in activities in the school and classroom to build connections and ownership through improved relationships. The inclusion of more Aboriginal and Islander teachers and teachers aids is an obvious and essential step towards improving relationships and understanding amongst all the participants.

How could I be a better teacher in this context? As the video suggests by being relaxed, enjoying a joke, showing care, and being respectful both inside and outside of school. I am not only the teacher, but also a fellow student of life.

The essential requirement of good relationships underpins the success of many official programs aimed at improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Islander children, though they are in my opinion not often not made explicit in the language of their reports.

Effective transition to school programs have the potential to help children–as well as their families and communities–feel comfortable, valued, and successful in school…-a0143008207


There seems to be lots of research to indicate that a large percentage of ATSI children do not regularly attend school.


Are the students not happy or engaged at the school? Irrelevant content?

Are families ‘too nomadic’?

One of the most important obligations or expectations of kin [in Aboriginal families] is that they maintain contact. Although people participate in mainstream Australian social life in many day-to-day activities, they place the highest priority on seeing relatives.

Are their parents passing on their feelings about their own bad experience at schools (and with western institutions in general)?

Are children staying up too late, are families affected by alcohol abuse and domestic violence? and are students not able to get enough breakfast or clothes for school?

From an Aboriginal point of view, non-attendance at school may be a positive reaction to a hostile social environment and a purposeful assertion of Aboriginal identity in the face of an institution which often denies this identity

The school cannot be a source of transformation or redemption if students do not come. The ones who come the least or not at all are the ones who most likely would benefit the most.

How to address this failure? Put in place teachers with cultural awareness, promote positive relationships at all levels, include ATSI teachers and teachers aids as much as possible, provide content that is relevant and interesting in the local language, do engaging and real tasks in the school and also in the wider community, provide a portable curriculum so nomadic students can pick up where they left off at whichever school they are at (like the modular Pathways Program). Involve and invite parents, elders and the whole community to participate in the process. Be aware of indigenous teaching and learning strategies.

Working Together

United we stand, divided we fall, … good American advice stating the obvious! We will all be more effective by working together rather than trying to conquer the world alone.

A dialogue between ATSI teachers and teachers aids and western teachers/teachers aids will without doubt be essential to ensuring an inviting and open learning environment, and to solving many of the alienation issues. Students can also be invited to participate in the teaching themselves – a good constructivist approach which promotes student interaction and real problem solving.

Even the Liberal/Conservative government recognised the need:

Communities … must work together in partnership
to overcome these obstacles. This can only happen if the
stakeholders have common objectives and a commitment to
making the partnership work.

The video highlights the need for the right gender of teacher/aid to be available to deal appropriately with men’s and women’s business issues.

Two Way Learning

The paper “Reconciling Indigenous And Western Knowing” by Neil Hooley of Victoria University of Technology was excellent. This is a definition of two way learning:

Beginning with the culture and understandings of learners, enquiry emphasises a unity of practice and theory and of so-called academic and practical knowledge, without privileging one over the other.

Hooley then goes on to say:

the major characteristics of good pedagogy for Indigenous students were again confirmed as including student-centred and negotiated teaching, flexibility, fairness, knowledge of Indigenous history and culture, small group relationships and strong community links. These factors appear unremarkable and should be pursued by good teachers for all students.

IE, what is good practice for indigenous students is good practice for everyone!

How do I make my teaching this good?

The video suggests the use of books and materials in local languages, co-opting older students to be translators for younger students, the inclusion of the history of invasion in middle school, the removal of ignorance as a means of reducing prejudice.

Teaching and Learning Programs

The video suggests that indigenous students learn best by observation and that they are very spatially aware.

Tasks need to be engaging, hands on, real tasks and the role of play is important (true for all students!)

We need to be looking for and celebrating the individual gifts and talents of each student.

We need to be able to work with multi-age groups, we need to be flexible and have lots of activities ‘stored and ready to go’.

This fits well with the sage advice of Howard Gardner with the theory of multiple intelligences. It is about recognising, valuing and utilising the many different learning styles that students have so that each student is challenged and ‘met’ appropriately. Again what is good for indigenous students is also what everyone should experience in their education.

There are some specific issues to deal with: eg hearing affected by middle ear infections – the BBC (Breathe, Blow Cough) program, and using microphones to amplify speaking.

Behaviour Management

Crowd control and behaviour management is an issue for all teachers. Behaviour issues in indigenous contexts may be exacerbated by frustration, cultural misunderstanding, racism, and top down decision making.

What can we do to improve?

The video suggests the inclusion of anger management programs that utilise drawing as a means of negotiation, Assertiveness training without bossyness or bullying, the recognition of the need for students to have their own power, and to win. The inclusion of indigenous teachers and aids helps to give conflict and behaviour issues a context, and helps with negotiation and understanding what factors outside of school may be influencing the issues.

The impression I got was that greater patience and care are essential, but on the plus side, having good relationships and connections with the students, cooworkers and the community goes a long way towards working stuff out.

Drug and Alcohol Awareness

A harsh reality of dis-empowerment and post invasion disenfranchisement, combined with a 40000 year biological and cultural separation from the mainstream of drug use.

The effect on indigenous students are on a number of fronts. Alcohol abuse within families leads to co-dependence, fighting/domestic violence, untimely deaths, and further impoverishment. The affected students bring this background with them to the classroom – they may be affected by lack of sleep, injury, and stress.

The message from the video was clear: we can’t “force empowerment on people”. Goodness knows westerners have enough of their own problems with alcohol and drug abuse.

What will help? Equal partnerships. Education that is open and relevant which helps prepare students to deal with the issues and make their own choices. Good role modelling by teachers. Promotion and celebration of personalities, events and activities that are drug and alcohol free.

Hope and excitement for the future, along with knowledge and community support will go a long way to breaking the negative cycle that drugs and alcohol are part of.