The review recommends expanding the Clontarf program and introducing a similar program for girls.
Our photo shows a Clontarf graduation barbecue in Alice Springs last year.
The draft review of Indigenous education in the Territory by consultant Bruce Wilson, released today, does not support “continued efforts to use biliteracy approaches”; says secondary education for bush students should be delivered in the Territory’s major towns with appropriate residential support; and on the fraught issue of attendance, says effort should be preferentially targeted to early childhood and primary children and to secondary children already attending on average at least three days per week.
On biliteracy Mr Wilson says Indigenous children need to learn English they way other children do:
“One of the key issues facing the Territory is the number and proportion of Indigenous children who enter school with little or no English. In some schools, the proportion of the cohort in this position approaches 100%. In some cases, schools have sought to establish initial literacy in the first languages spoken by these children. The approach to be adopted has been the subject of educational debate, policy shifts and community disagreement.
“This review has made a decision to focus on the English language skills and knowledge that underpin success in the western education system. Some people will find this a challenging position. The recommendation is based on the view that Indigenous children learn English in the way that other children learn English: through rigorous and relentless attention to the foundations of the language and the skills that support participation in a modern democracy and economy.
“The review does not support continued efforts to use biliteracy approaches, or to teach the content of the curriculum through first languages other than English. This report recommends the explicit teaching and assessment of foundational elements of English literacy, including phonemic awareness, phonics and vocabulary.”
He says the attempt to provide secondary education in the bush has failed:
“The Collins review [Learning Lessons, 199] mounted a strong argument to extend secondary education to remote and very remote schools. In the years since that report, the Northern Territory has spent hundreds of millions of dollars establishing and supporting secondary provision in these schools. The effort has attracted dedicated teachers and gained the support of many communities. This review’s visits to schools and analysis of data demonstrate that the initiative has largely failed. NAPLAN literacy rates for very remote students in Year 9 are about 10%. Almost none of these students gain a certificate at the end of their schooling.
“Heroic efforts to construct a viable secondary program in many remote settings are bedevilled by low enrolments, poor attendance, a limited subject range and inadequate facilities. The review found secondary programs without a clear intention to achieve a qualification and with no systematic overall structure, often staffed by teachers with primary school training responding as well as they could to students seeking a secondary education. Where programs are designed to lead to a qualification, they usually offer students a very narrow range of options. Many students in these locations are still engaged in busy‐work. Students are often only minimally literate, largely disengaged from school, attending sporadically, looking forward to the end of their schooling with little prospect of gaining a formal qualification and in many cases without a realistic chance of gaining worthwhile employment locally.
“Young people engaged in these programs are fulfilling the legal requirement that they remain at
school without benefiting from the moral requirement that they gain something worth having from this experience. Accordingly, the review recommends a dramatic shift in how secondary education is provided. This report proposes that secondary education should, with a few exceptions, be delivered in the Territory’s towns (Darwin, Palmerston, Alice Springs, Katherine, Nhulunbuy and Tennant Creek) with remote students provided with residential accommodation.
“This will require careful management, dedicated resourcing, sensitive negotiation with families and communities and a continuing effort to maintain home links. It is, however, the only means by which many students can be offered a high quality secondary education. The report argues that it is unsustainable to continue to offer secondary programs that lead nowhere.”
Mr Wilson says the education system has its limits when it comes to addressing the disadvantage of Indigenous students:
“Before discussing opportunities for improvement, it is important to recognise the limits of the reach of education in achieving outcomes for Indigenous young people. The review identifies areas in which they experience substantial disadvantage, including health, social conditions in some families and communities (e.g. use of drug and alcohol), nutrition, developmental difficulties, non‐English speaking backgrounds and low levels of adult education.
“Schools and school systems cannot control these issues and should not be blamed when matters beyond their control limit their achievements. Approaches to Indigenous education from the earliest years should take account of those influences and seek to ameliorate, counter and overcome them to the extent possible. But our ambitions for Indigenous children should not be lowered because of these difficulties. Our aim should still be to raise levels of achievement in the Indigenous population so that they match achievement in the population as a whole.”
On attendance he reasserts the 80% benchmark for making progress:
“Attendance patterns in the Northern Territory have declined on the last decade, especially in very remote schools. Despite major programs run by the Australian and Territory Governments in recent years and substantial programs at school level, remote and very remote attendance continues to deteriorate. The evidence is clear that measureable student improvement only occurs once attendance reaches 60% (or three days per week) and that 80% is the minimum for most students to achieve success.”
He says attendance efforts should be preferentially targeted:
“Effort should focus on early childhood and primary children to establish regular patterns of attendance, and on secondary children attending on average at least three days per week. Incentives for attendance should be provided. Work should be undertaken to minimize the effect of a wide range of community activities on attendance. The Clontarf program should be maintained and a similar system‐wide program for girls established.”
The full draft report can be downloaded here.
Public meetings to discuss its findings will be held around the NT. In Alice Springs the meeting is on February 24, 5-7pm, at Centralian Senior College theatrette.