As Indigenous perspectives have been increasingly valued and incorporated into the curriculum, it is still unknown exactly how this has benefited Aboriginal communities in terms of work and educational opportunities. Has the curriculum gone far enough to provide us with sufficient knowledge on Indigenous values and perspectives to guide our understanding? The extent to which current knowledge has manifested in the improved employment prospects and quality of life for Indigenous people has yet to be determined-especially when factors such as teacher training and pedagogies are considered (Oubani and Oubani 2014).
It is a significant misconception to believe that increased support of indigenous Australians in health and education has automatically improved their outcomes in health and education. This is due to indigenous Australians often facing significant obstacles when trying to access available resources in both health and education. According to Kelaher et al (1999), indigenous Australians face many practical barriers to healthcare such as child care, transport, service hours, cost and lack of information. For example, indigenous women may find it difficult to attend health care services due to a lack of access to child care services and transport. This has led to disastrous consequences for Indigenous health, with many suffering from preventable diseases and morbidity from conditions such as heart disease, diabetes mellitus type II, infectious diseases including diarrhoea and respiratory infections. Indigenous Australians are also more likely than other Australians to be hospitalized or stay longer in hospital as a consequence with higher rates of infant mortality due to unawareness about the availability of health services (Kelaher et al 1999). Sensitivities to different cultural attitudes need to also be considered. For example, understanding variations between expectations on what holistic healthcare actually entails is essential as many Indigenous Australians view holistic health care as referring to whole communities rather than just bodies (Kelaher et al 1999).
Another area where the availability of specialised indigenous services does not always translate to successful outcomes is education. In tertiary education at least, indigenous liaison officers are often available for indigenous students to consult with when needed. Other resources include access to literacy support and financial support. Unfortunately, indigenous students are not always able to access all of the resources and facilities available to them due to varying reasons such as stressful family life, unstable accommodation and/or work and life pressures. This emphasizes the crucial role of teachers who are often students first point of contact. In fact, the quality of teacher-student relations is particularly important for students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds in general and should not be underestimated. A teacher's support, advice and empathy can significantly impact on a student's chances of achieving educational success. This can also mean doing that 'little bit extra' or going that extra mile to deliver fairer educational outcomes for indigenous students who can often fall through cracks in educational systems based on meritocracy. To some teachers, such effort sounds like a natural part of their role as educators- to others, reluctance to give extra support may be due to apathy, fear of giving students an unfair advantage or other personal reasons. However, it is only through actively and passionately supporting indigenous students in our educational system, that we can help them to overcome the disadvantages that barriers to resource access impose. The interpersonal aspect of teaching along with human contact is arguably more helpful in achieving equitable educational outcomes than teaching content alone- in combination with using diversified teaching strategies that cater to the unique needs of indigenous students.
Perhaps, the most essential trait for a successful teacher of indigenous students to have is awareness. That is, awareness that the classroom delivers a lived curriculum; one where individuals feel valued and acknowledged as well as awareness that as a first point of contact, teachers can often be a more powerful factor in students achieving educational success than any other available resource. Teachers should always firstly ensure that indigenous students are aware of the vast array of resources they have at their disposal, but should such students struggle to find the means by which to access such resources including indigenous support officers, the ultimate deciding factor in ensuring student success can often be the willingness of teachers to go that 'extra mile' and work within the students challenging constraints compassionately.
Unfortunately, many teachers do not feel confident in being able to meet the needs of indigenous students in our education system who consist approximately 5% of total students. There are some basic recommended strategies though that teachers can implement to help meet their indigenous students emotional and intellectual needs. These include avoiding relying solely on textbooks, understanding cultural values which affect student behaviour including eye contact or reluctance to ask questions, setting students high expectations, appreciating collective knowledge, understanding that English is often a second language for many indigenous students and relating classroom content to real world examples- ideally living things (Korff, 2015).
Of course, access to basic educational resources such as internet, printers and computers should not always be assumed either and where possible alternative access to resources made. For example, emailing through assignments if students are unable to print them. Such simple measures can help make Australia's education system more inclusive towards its marginalized and disadvantaged indigenous population, helping to alleviate the social inequality this community group faces with employment, health, education, housing and the legal system.
*For more information on using inclusive educational strategies for Indigenous students, please watch the educational music video above.
1) Kelaher, M., Baigrie, B., Manderson L, Moore L., Shannon C. & Williams, G., (1999), Community Perceptions of Health, Illness and Care: Identifying Issues for Indigenous Communities, Women & Health, 28:1, p. 41-61
2) Korff, J (2015), Teaching Aboriginal Students, Creative Spirits Info website, December 15 2015
3) Ouba, Dal (2016) Medicare Nightmare: The Great Australian Tragedy, Accelerate Australia: Sydney
4) Oubani, D & Oubani H (2014), 'Ensuring Curricular justice in NSW Education', The International Education Journal: Comparative Perspectives, Vol. 13, No. 1
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