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The modern classroom of today consist of various students all with different cultures and

backgrounds, making every class unique. As a teacher, it is important to acknowledge these

differences for every student in as many ways possible to ensure every student feels they are in

the right environment to be engaged with and succeed in. When it comes to the education of

Aboriginal students, there are many factors that can have an impact on their learning,

engagement and success in the classroom. These impacts can be positive and lead to excellent

outcomes for the student or negative that could lead to disengagement and disruption. Cultural

understanding and identity, high expectations and engagement with policies are key concepts

that can assist teachers in achieving success for students with Aboriginal backgrounds. This

essay aims to discuss the critical issues behind Aboriginal students learning, engagement and

success through these key concepts, as well as strategies that can assist teachers in creating a

supporting environment for Aboriginal students to succeed using both relevant research and


In every classroom, there is a standard of professionalism every teacher must abide by in

order to ensure they are engaging in the content, the students and the education system in an

appropriate manner. These standards are essential when it comes to the education of students

with Aboriginal backgrounds as some content can be sensitive or misconstrued incorrectly if not

approached correctly. Standard 1 in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (AITSL),

specifically 1.4 requires teachers to have strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander student (AITSL, 2011). In order to fulfil this standard, it is imperative that teachers are

aware of how different cultures work i.e. the culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

By having this understanding and awareness, teachers can design lessons that help

engage Indigenous students in the classroom. Mooney, Seaton, Kaur, Marsh and Yeung (2016)

argue that cultural diversity and identity are two important factors, amongst others, of student

engagement in the classroom making it one critical issue that affects the success an engagement

of indigenous students. By having support strategies that create an environment in which the

student and school staff are both cross-culturally knowledgeable and as comfortable as possible

are important for good learning outcomes and student retention (Wenitong & Mindamarra,

2008). Therefore, the need for cultural awareness in the classroom is a critical issue that needs to

be explored.

With the recreation of the Australian curriculum, a higher emphasis on cross curriculum

priorities, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures (NESA, 2008),

allows for the histories and cultures of Aboriginal students to be shared. Mooney et al (2016)

highlights how essential it is that Aboriginal childrens cultural perspective are valued within the

school environment to minimise disengagement or lack of attendance leading to lower grades.

By schools and classrooms creating an environment which not only celebrates the histories of

this culture but also allows for students with Aboriginal backgrounds to feel empowered and

proud. Chris Sarra (2011) argues that Aboriginal students can and will succeed academically

when their culture is valued and encompasses these ides through the Stronger Smarter Institute

demonstrating how important it is to be aware of different cultures and encourage students to

bring them to the classroom, allowing them to have a sense of pride. By minimising the

exclusion of their cultural perspectives and increasing the cultural awareness for students,

students can feel value in schooling and a sense of belonging (Mooney et al, 2016) leading to

more engagement and success. Therefore, a critical issue that contributes to Aboriginal students
learning, engagement and success in the classroom is cultural awareness as how it is displayed in

a positive manner, that allows students to feel pride and importance.

The next critical issue that affects the learning, engagement and success for Aboriginal

students is high expectations. In classrooms, its important for all students from all backgrounds

to have high expectations set upon them by their teachers. When setting high expectations, they

are not simply aimed at increasing the work conducted in class, but school performance as well.

Sarra (2011) believes that one of the main problems in schools when setting high expectations

for Aboriginal students, is the preconceived idea from teachers that Aboriginal students are

automatically underachievers in schools. This preconceived idea in which creates negative

perspectives and expectations allows no room for students to feel the need to increase

performance and succeed. A program developed in a school in Cape York that aimed at

identifying and supporting Aboriginal students saw an increase in performance when the

education included enthusiasm and awareness with Indigenous identity (Wenitong &

Mindamarra, 2008). When high expectations are made, and positivity with culture combined,

students have the potential to feel supported and included in learning activities that will be the

factor in them succeeding.

Setting high expectations do not only apply to the activities in the classroom, but also the

presence of the student in the school. In the Closing the Gap Report (CGR) (Department of the

Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2017) figures for success amongst Aboriginal students, compared to

non-indigenous students were not positive. Taking literacy and numeracy as example, as it is a

key focus for the government, we can see the gaps between non-indigenous and Aboriginal

students and the need for higher expectations and results. When comparing data for students in

year 3, only 76% of Indigenous students are achieving minimum numeracy standards compared
to 96% for non-indigenous (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2017) and on an

estimate, Indigenous students are two years behind their peers in this subject (Warren & deVries,

2009). These sorts of results can be used to argue that high expectations are needed to increase

these results. Sarra (2011) argues that if high expectations are in place students will rise to the

challenge to meet those expectations. An argument in the report that has also had an impact on

these results is attendance.

The report acknowledges that there is a link between school performance and attendance

(Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2017), a result they want to improve by 2018.

The low attendance rate of Aboriginal students does not have simple fixes, as many students

have underlying issues such as housing, health care, mental health issues, family violence and

intergenerational unemployment (Mission Australia, 2016). For teachers, the attendance of our

students has a direct impact in their success. We however can do small things, such as setting

high expectations as well as talking to students about the importance of attendance. The

government Remote School Attendance Strategy (RSAS) which began in 2014, works closely

with the community and the school staff to ensure all students from any are have the same

opportunities to attend schools as students from regional areas (Department of the Prime

Minister and Cabinet, 2014). By being aware of this issue, and methods available to assist

Aboriginal students from both regional and remote areas, we can ensure that students willing to

rise to the expectation and know the importance of an education to ensure their success and


The high expectations of results and attendance can also help students improve their

work, considered how many Aboriginal students do not have English as their first language.

Oliver, Grote, Rochecouste & Exell, (2013) state that a significant issue that impinges on
Aboriginal learners acquisition of literacy skills, especially for those in remote communities, is

that the language of the school is significantly different from their home language. About one-

third of Aboriginal children living in remote communities speak a traditional language or a

creole as their mother tongue, and even those who speak English at home speak Aboriginal

English. This critical issue has an impact on the results of students as the language barriers can

give students the sense of failure if they are not given time and patience to improve, as well as

impose issues such as miscommunication and therefore learning. As Oliver et al (2013) discuss,

the lack of understanding and knowledge teachers have when it comes to students who speak

Aboriginal English can severely impact the performance of their students. Teachers must be

willing to have additional scaffolding and understanding of both the cultural perspective, as well

as the linguistic to ensure Aboriginal students success, learning and engagement.

There are however, methods teachers can engage in to improve these critical issues such

as government and non-government policies which teachers can use to help improve the

education of Aboriginal students. Two Way schooling, Aboriginal Studies, cross-cultural

awareness and cultural competency training (Moore, 2012) are just a few of the methods non-

government that can be used to improve success, learning and engagement as well the

government Aboriginal Education and Training policy (AET) (NSW department of education,

2008), as well as the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education strategy. As

disengagement occurs for multiple reasons, such as lack of understanding the importance of the

teaching content, lack of personal relation and teachers understanding of cultural needs, having

an understanding and awareness of the kinds of supports available, and using the policies in an

effective and appropriate manner, teachers can enhance the learning of Aboriginal students,

minimise disengagement, improve their practice and begin a change of the critical issues.
Beginning with Two Way schooling, its main aim revolves around the contrast between

Aboriginal and White cultures, languages, worldviews and ways of learning (Moore, 2012). The

students school day would be broken down into segments and matched to the domains of

Aboriginal life. Morning teaching is directed at the mathematics and English language of the

White domain, using standard pedagogy, while local cultural content is taught using Aboriginal

language(s) in local fashion at other times (Moore, 2012). This kind of teaching not only

integrates the westernised teaching ideals, it also allows for the Aboriginal culture to flourish and

be exposed to all students. Using this method adapted for a lesson like History can allow for

students to share their cultural history in their own ways, which eliminates the risk of

normalising and white washing history (Moore, 2012), minimising their disengagement.

Two Way is similar to Aboriginal studies as it adapts the language of invasion,

occupation and genocide with Aborigines the victims of oppression, systemic ethnocentrism and

racism and denial of human rights (Moore, 2012). The aim of Aboriginal studies is to nurture

culture of respect for and positive attitudes about, Aboriginal people and their cultures and

does so by ensuring they are consulting other Aborigines in the area (Moore, 2012) creating a

more inclusive and aware environment. Using this kind of teaching method, a teacher could

ensure that all students needs are being catered for, both in a cultural sense, and educational


Cross-cultural awareness and cultural competency training is another method teachers

can use to support Aboriginal students success. This type of training aims to improve cultural

awareness of cultural difference and the failure of institutional structures to meet different

needs, and to train practitioners to work in culturally sensitive ways (Moore, 2012). This is not

the only type of training available, as the government has also released programs to help plan
and implement better methods of understanding and meeting student needs. The AET, can help

teachers and school better plan and prepare for students with Indigenous backgrounds and ensure

all policies and supporting programs are fulfilled adequately. It details not only points to follow,

but questions to ask oneself when using it to apply a policy, as well as a reflect, plan, act guide

(NSW department of Education, 2008), creating a scaffold for educations to ensure they have

culturally understanding environment. As a teacher, involving oneself in these kinds of training

can improve the support for Aboriginal students, and minimize deficit conversations.

The final strategy that a teacher could use to ensure Aboriginal students success is the

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education strategy. This strategy was created as a

way of combating the issues raised in the CGR such as literacy and numeracy, attendance, school

and child readiness as well as transitioning points to post school options for any state in Australia

(Education Council, 2015). When teachers use strategies such as this with the support of other

documents, such as the Aboriginal Education and Training policy, it not only allows for the

teacher and students to engage in cultural awareness, high expectations and attendance but also

allows for all students from anywhere in Australia to achieve the same schooling and

opportunities as each other.

Overall, there are many critical issues that impact the learning, engagement and success

of Aboriginal students. Understanding that language barriers exist and cultural understanding

from teachers in both the classroom and the school can be detrimental to the learning,

engagement and success of Aboriginal students. When you add high expectations for both the

classroom and expectation of attendance students are given an opportunity to rise to the

challenge and succeed. understanding the reasons for disengagement such as lack of relevance in

the classroom lesson to Aboriginal students culture can help teachers combat this issue.
Engaging in new teacher methods such as using Two Ways teaching and using Aboriginal

Education and Training policy can help combat this disengagement and move towards better

results for all students.


Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. (2011). Retrieved from

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. (2014). Remote School Attendance Strategy.

Retrieved from


Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. (2017). Closing the Gap report. Retrieved from

Education Council. (2015). National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Strategy.

Retrieved from


Mission Australia. (2016). National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth Report 2016.

Mooney, J., Seaton, M., Kaur, G., Marsh, H.W. & Yeung, A.S. (2016). Contemporary

Educational Psychology, 47(1). 11-23.

Moore, T. (2012). Policy Dynamism: The Case of Aboriginal Australian Education. Journal of

Social Policy, 41(1), 141-159.

NESA. (2008) Learning Across the Curriculum. Retrieved from

NSW department of education. (2008). Aboriginal Education and Training policy Turning

Policy into Action. Retrieved from


Oliver, R., Grote, E., Rochecouste, J. & Exell, M. (2013) A task-based needs analysis for
Australian Aboriginal students: Going beyond the target situation to address cultural
issues. International Journal of Training Research, 11(3), 246-259.
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peoples. New York: Routledge.

Warren, E. & deVries, E. (2009). Young Australian Indigenous Students engagement with
numeracy: Actions that assist to bridge the gap. Australian Journal of Education, 53(2),

Wenitong, J. & Mindamarra, P. (2008). High Expectations. Interdependence, 33(2). 4-8.