Supporting Indigenous students

A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has analysed education outcomes in Canada, New Zealand and Australia to identify promising school practices that support Indigenous students.

An OECD study has analysed education outcomes in Canada, New Zealand and Australia to identify promising school practices that support Indigenous students. Engagement is one of four ‘interconnected and mutually reinforcing’ outcomes identified in the report, alongside wellbeing, participation and achievement. ‘Engagement in education is a necessary precondition for student learning so that students can develop their skills and enjoy education,’ the report notes.

One of the practices found to have a positive impact on Indigenous student engagement is the use of curriculum resources developed by and reflecting Indigenous peoples and cultures. In the Canadian province of Nova Scotia university researchers worked with teachers and elders in Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey community schools to develop the Show Me Your Math program, inspired by the work of artist Dianne Toney.

‘[The] late Mi’kmaw Elder and quillbox maker, Dianne Toney, explained that to make a ring for a circular box top, she measured three times across the circle with her wood strips and added a thumb width. She declared that it makes a perfect circle every time. …Through exploring aspects of counting, measuring, locating, designing, playing, and explaining, students discover that mathematics is all around them and is connected to many of the cultural practices in their own communities.’

The OECD study suggests another ‘easy action’ is for schools to use entrance signage that is in Indigenous languages and symbolic of Indigenous cultures. However, it stresses these need to be integrated into the whole-school ethos and student learning activities, rather than a superficial measure. Researchers also saw examples of the positive impact of schools adopting Indigenous cultural practices – including the adoption of smudging ceremonies, talking circles and eagle-feather ceremonies in Canada and an alternative approach to student discipline in New Zealand focusing on restorative practices.

The OECD study highlights several examples of good practice from Australia, such as the Clontarf Foundation’s work in engaging Indigenous male secondary school students. When it comes to supporting educational achievement, it says a common feature of the effective schools visited is early and ongoing assessment of individual students’ needs and progress. ‘An example in Australia that supports teachers to adopt such an approach is the Starting Block Programme, funded by the Cathy Freeman Foundation.’ Starting Block supports P-12 students to reach benchmarks for attendance, literacy and behaviour. Student effort, progress and achievements are recorded, recognised and rewarded in the classroom, by their teacher and peers, families and community, and through an end of term awards ceremony.

References: OECD. (2017). Promising Practices in Supporting Success for Indigenous Students. OECD Publishing: Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264279421-en.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Teacher magazine and has been reproduced with the permission of the Australian Council for Educational Research. To read the full article and to read more articles like this visit www.teachermagazine.com.au.