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Aboriginal & Culturally Responsive Pedagogies Student ID: 1701352

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Student engagement is becoming a highly discussed topic amongst teaching

organisations, this issue is growing more and more evident in young Aboriginal and

Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people. In the eyes of many education is one of a

variety of factors that can close the gap in indigenous disadvantage. Shay and

Wickes (2016) states “the nurturing of identity is acknowledged through the literature

as being a critical factor in supporting Aboriginal young people to remain engaged in

education in Australia.” Additionally, Mooney et al (2016) states “The complexity of

this issue is related partly to the values and beliefs Aboriginal students hold as being

Aboriginal, together with cultural diversity and cultural identity held by all Australians

in a multicultural and multilingual context.” As a future secondary teacher, it is

necessary to recognise the importance of identity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander People and find methods to assist student increase their engagement in

their own schooling. An article by Tomlin (2015) identified that ATSI young people

have the lowest percentage of school attendance. In the article up to 23% of ATSI

populations in Western Australia were missing more than 60 school days per year.

This damming statistic demonstrates the severity of the issue regarding engagement

in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. There have been a variety of

attempts to nullify the lack of engagement by closing the gap through reports and

government policy however, based off current statistics there is still a large gap. The

purpose of this paper is to identify the reasons for a lack of engagement and assess

possible methods that a teacher can use to improve student engagement.

Aboriginal & Culturally Responsive Pedagogies Student ID: 1701352

To address the issue presented it is necessary to understand the historical events

that has led to this problem. In 1788 the first fleet landed in Australia and caused

damages to the indigenous people of the land that still plagues them to this day

(Beresford, 2012). As part of the ‘white influence’ an education system was put in

place that taught the learnings of western philosophy (Macgill & Blanch, 2013). As

part of this newfound system of education, indigenous culture was disregarded and

supressed in favour of western/white culture. Fast forward to current Australia and

this educational system is still in place due to its allegiance to the British Monarch

however, there are now standards and policy in place that is designed to recognise

the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and the needs of their students in

schools. The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers require teachers to

understand and know how to teach ATSI students (AITSL, 2014). As part of these

standards teachers should understand that teaching indigenous students is more

than using the correct terminology, it is also about knowing a variety of methods that

can best suit these students in the classroom. In some classrooms this can also be

language related, Aboriginal English is spoken in amongst some indigenous people.

Due to the past discriminations there is a disconnect from their culture. Verdon &

Mcleod (2015) reported that one in five young indigenous people still speak their

native language. This will be revisited later in the paper as this language barrier can

be a reason as to why there is a lack of engagement in students.

Another significant historical event is the removal of young indigenous people from

their parents. This created what is now known as ‘the stolen generation’, this event

caused many young indigenous people to be disconnected from their traditional

culture and raised in the western way. As a result, the traditional values and culture

of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been diluted to the stage that
Aboriginal & Culturally Responsive Pedagogies Student ID: 1701352

many have not been able to connect and learning about their heritage. Historical

events such as those mentioned above have been the catalyst for the lack of

educational engagement and a variety of other issues that can all correlate.

One of the main areas to be addressed is student attendance at school. This is a

critical issue that will impact the academic achievement of young indigenous

students. Attendance can be linked to the engagement of a student. As mentioned

earlier indigenous student attendance is lower compared to non-indigenous

students. Statistics also show that in New South Wales that attendance is lower for

indigenous student is rural communities as compared to non-rural communities

(NSW Department of Education and Communities, 2015). Increasing the attendance

of indigenous students is a key factor in leading to greater academic achievement

and additionally this can also attribute to success post schooling (Commonwealth of

Australia, 2017). The decreased attendance rate can partially be attributed to the

experiences and lifestyle of parents/guardians (Ockenden, 2014.) Research provided

by Zubrick et al (2005) identified indigenous carers (parents/guardians) are two and

a half times more likely to commit an offence or be arrested. Additionally, young

indigenous people are nearly just as likely to participate in high risk behaviours.

These statistics demonstrate that there is a correlation between the behaviours of

the parent/guardian and the young individual. Looking at this it is clear that the

relationship between the two can have both a positive or negative impact and school

Aboriginal & Culturally Responsive Pedagogies Student ID: 1701352

As a future secondary teacher a key skill to develop is communication between

parent/guardians and students. Duchesne, McMaugh, Bochner and Krause (2013)

see positive relationships as a key factor to increasing and improving academic

achievement. In education there are always three parties involved in the learning

process; teacher, student and parents/guardian. When one party is missing the

process is not wholistic, hence the need to a collaborative working relationship. By

working collaboratively with parents and students a teacher can aim to encourage a

positive environment at home and at the same time constructively increase student

attendance. An example of developing an open relationship is keeping the

parent/guardian informed regarding the students’ attendance and behaviour. This

does not need to be a negative method as the teacher can inform the party of

positive interactions in class as well. Furthermore, developing a positive

communication with all three parties can build a positive rapport but also increase

attendance (leading to increased engagement).

Another area that should be addressed to promote engagement is the disconnect

between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and their heritage. Mooney et

al (2016) states “Their identity is influenced by their environment and reinforced by

significant ‘others’, including the broader Aboriginal community.” This quote highlights

the influence indigenous culture can have on young people however, due to years of

separation and poor relationships, culture has been diminished. This can lead to a

lack of identity for many young indigenous students. Mooney et al (2016) also states

that “cultivating a positive cultural identity is likely to promote a range of outcomes

including academic achievement, motivation, and engagement”. By increasing a

Aboriginal & Culturally Responsive Pedagogies Student ID: 1701352

students exposure to their culture, many indigenous students can develop an identity

and possibly increase their engagement at school.

In response to a review of Aboriginal education in 2004 the NSW Aboriginal

Education Policy (2008) was developed to address this issue. As part of the policy

the implementation of Aboriginal studies programs, language programs, cross-

curriculum content and Aboriginal perspectives was to be integrated into all schools.

The purpose of this is to 1) educate indigenous students about their cultures and 2)

educate non-indigenous students about indigenous culture. As a future teacher one

possible way to promote this is to educate myself regarding the appropriate ways to

address indigenous cultures and research way to help integrate indigenous students

into their local community. An example of this is recruiting the help of local

indigenous leaders to assist in this process as they have a greater understanding of

indigenous culture. It can also be a useful method of educating non-indigenous


Another issue for teachers to address is the potential language barriers indigenous

students bring to the classroom. For some indigenous students English is a second

language but also many speak Aboriginal English. These barriers can cause student

to not be engaged as they may struggle to read, write and express themselves when

completing work. It is important for teachers to understand how to deal with this

potential issue as it is the job of the teacher not to alienate any students. As part of

the professional standards for teachers, standards 1.4 and 2.4 outline what is

required of teachers when working with indigenous students (AITSL, 2014). By

addressing the standards, a teacher can improve their overall pedagogy with a
Aboriginal & Culturally Responsive Pedagogies Student ID: 1701352

quality approach to research and practical experience. Once experience can be

gained, there is a opportunity to reflect and evaluate their pedagogy.

As referenced above indigenous students have a higher probability of participating in

high risk behaviours. These behaviours can carry over into the classroom and

become disruptive to the environment around them. The rate of suspensions (short

and long) are higher in indigenous student as compared to non-indigenous students

(NSW Department of Education, 2015). These negative consequences to

misbehaviour can cause a variety of emotional problems such as decreased self-

esteem. Suspensions can also impact the attendance of students as it will increase

the amount of time they will spend away from the classroom. The follow-on effect is

that academic achievement can be decreased which can impact the students life

post schooling (employment and tertiary studies) (NSW Department of Education,

2015). To minimise the impact on students, teachers and schools should aim to build

a positive rapport with both the student and the carer. By doing this a level of

communication can be achieved that can demonstrate a support network that will

assist the student. This can also resolve any behavioural issues presented by the


Aside from individual teachers, schools as a whole can play an important part in the

education process for indigenous students (Dobia and O`Rourke, 2011). This can be

through school wide initiatives to encourage a relationship with the greater

indigenous community. The use of initiatives can promote indigenous

culture/heritage (Mooney et al., 2016) and promote engagement for indigenous

Aboriginal & Culturally Responsive Pedagogies Student ID: 1701352

students. This is also another example of building positive relationships between

teachers and students. An example of a school-wide initiative is KidsMatter. This

initiative aims to improve a student mental health and can target all students

however, it can really benefit indigenous students if the school tries to incorporate

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture into the program (Dobia & O`Rourke,

2012). It is up to the school on how initiatives such as this can be run and how much

it can incorporate culture into it. As referred to above, there is evidence to suggest

that engagement can be increased by increasing an indigenous student cultural

identity and by implementing school-wide initiatives this can be achieved.

When developing a pedagogy to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student

it is important to set an achievable goal. That goal should be to improve their

learning outcomes and engagement in the classroom. For a teacher there are a

variety of factors that need to be considered in order to develop a pedagogical

approach that will do this. Developing methods to deal with attendance, behaviour

and cultural barriers will go a long way in assisting students reaching their maximum

learning potential. As a future secondary teacher the best method to achieve this is

through research and cultural appropriation that comply with the Australian

Professional Standards for Teachers. Additionally, creating a positive rapport with the

student and their carers will also impact the students schooling. Moreover, by

developing a holistic pedagogical approach, teachers can do their best to assist

indigenous students in engaging in schooling and the local community.

Aboriginal & Culturally Responsive Pedagogies Student ID: 1701352


Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). (2014). Australian

Professional Standards for Teachers. Retrieved from


Beresford, Q. (2012). Separate and unequal: An outline of Aboriginal education

1900-1996. In G. Partington., & Q. Beresford (Ed.)., Reform and resistance in

Aboriginal Education (pp. 85-119). Crawley: UWA Publishing.

Commonwealth of Australia. (2017). Closing the Gap: Prime Minister’s Report 2017.

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Dobia, B., & O’Rourke, V. G. (2011). Promoting the mental health and wellbeing of

Indigenous children in Australian primary schools. Canberra: Commonwealth of

Australia. Available from:


Dobia, B., & O’Rourke, V. G. (2011). Promoting the mental health and wellbeing of

Indigenous children in Australian primary schools. Canberra: Commonwealth of

Australia. Available from:

Aboriginal & Culturally Responsive Pedagogies Student ID: 1701352


Duchesne, S., McMaugh, A., Bochner, S., Krause, K. (2013). Educational

Psychology For

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motivation and engagement. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 47, 11-23.


NSW Department of Education and Communities. (2015). Aboriginal students in

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Ockenden, L. (2014). Positive learning environments for Indigenous children and

young people. Closing the Gap Clearinghouse. Retrieved from:

Shay, M., & Wickes, J. (2017). Aboriginal identity in education settings: Privileging

our stories as a way of deconstructing the past and re-imagining the future.

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Tomlin, S. (2015, Oct 15). Education minister says evidence of aboriginal student

attendance problems 'impossible to ignore'. ABC Premium News Retrieved from


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among young australian aboriginal and torres strait islander children.

International Journal of Early Childhood, 47(1), 153-170.