The Case for Change: A review of contemporary research on Indigenous education outcomes

Suzanne Mellor, ACER
Matthew Corrigan, ACER

Australian Education Review No 47
ISBN: 0864317859

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This paper is a review of current policy and research in Indigenous1 education. Evidence from a range of disciplines such as educational and developmental psychology as well as education more broadly, have been utilised in an attempt to shed light on why Indigenous peoples’ educational disadvantage persists, despite extensive government and community effort and resources. It is widely accepted that successful completion of secondary school is a necessary precursor to accessing the full range of further education, training and employment opportunities (Purdie, Tripcony, Boulton-Lewis, Fanshawe, & Gunstone, 2000). In the context of formal schooling, a number of writers have highlighted the importance of education as the key to alleviating the significant social disadvantages faced by Indigenous communities. Hunter (1997) found education to be the largest single factor associated with improving employment outcomes for Indigenous Australians and reducing rates of arrest. In addition, Malin (2002) argued that the extent to which Indigenous students are socially incorporated and supported within their classroom has implications for reducing poverty and stress and improving their health in the longer term. In contrast, Partington (1998) highlights the problematic nature of a western education for Indigenous people, which he characterises as a double-edged sword. For centuries, education has been used as a tool of assimilation, and this has been the Indigenous experience of western education. Nevertheless, for those who successfully negotiate it, education provides the key to self-determination and active and equal participation in society. The common thread between writers such as Partington (1998), Malin (2002) and Hunter (1997) is the importance of education (which is necessarily culturally appropriate) to Indigenous people. The crucial, ‘gatekeeping’ nature of education underscores the importance of finding the means by which to alleviate educational disadvantage efficiently and effectively, so that Indigenous peoples are able to achieve equality of education outcomes, experience the benefits that it bestows and exercise the autonomy that it brings to recipients.