OECD report damns colonisation, education

Colonisation that has undermined young Indigenous people’s access to their identity, language and culture has had a “catastrophic” impact in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, according to a new OECD report.

The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said disadvantage had also proved pivotal in creating educational inequity.

In a report released to coincide with the United Nation’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, the high-powered OECD examined how education practices and policies in the three countries were affecting Indigenous children.

It came as young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders at this year’s Garma Festival in the Northern Territory called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to boost support for Indigenous-focused tertiary education and school assistance.

The OECD report focused on the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, but also included experiences from Queensland and New Zealand.

The report, Promising Practices in Supporting Success for Indigenous Students, found factors critical to improving education for Indigenous students included the quality of early learning opportunities, support from teachers and leaders and the monitoring of progress within schools.

It said the legacy of colonisation meant that improving the education experiences for Indigenous students was complex.

“The issues faced by Indigenous students go far beyond education, but it is education that provides hope and promise to address disparities, not only in educational opportunities but also a much wider set of inequities,” the report said.

It said there were no “quick fixes” in improving education outcomes. The schools and jurisdictions that had achieved sustained improvements had had consistent objectives for at least a decade.

But it said three to five years was a reasonable time period for improvements to show.

The report said education systems and individual schools had to be involved in bringing about change.

“Drawing on the experiences and evidence of where improvements have been achieved in these Canadian provinces and territories and in New Zealand and Queensland, the study has identified a number of system-level priorities that have supported progress for Indigenous students,” it said.

The OECD report said a powerful way to improve the achievement of Indigenous students was to provide high-quality early education and care.

It said Indigenous children were currently less likely to participate in early education and got a later start in school than other children.

“This is the single most powerful lever for achieving a step change within a generation,” the report said.

Teachers and leaders also played a key role and the monitoring of progress was essential to being able to adjust policies and programs.

Indigenous people represent about three percent of the Australian population, 4.3 percent of Canada’s and 15.6 percent in New Zealand.

“Educational systems frequently define success in relation to education and Indigenous students and communities in terms of closing gaps, using various educational performance indicators (such as attendance, retention, transitions and academic assessments, often in literacy and numeracy or success on examinations),” the report said.

“These are all important diagnostic measures to keep track of the progress of Indigenous students. However, the literature and debate (especially from Indigenous scholars and representative organisations) highlight distinct and broader criteria of educational and learning success, such as positive self-concept, strong cultural identity, happiness and confidence.

“Indigenous communal values in family (clan/nation/tribe), history, nature, country and environment are often highlighted, both as central tenets of Indigenous communities and in contrast to the more individualistic, meritocratic mainstream values of many education systems.

“There is a widespread concern among Indigenous scholars and community advocates about loss of language, the importance of language and cultural preservation and revitalisation, and a desire to see greater social harmony, anti-racist sentiment and cultural respect.

“Indigenous research also points to identity, wisdom and traditions as critical in shaping identity and character, and sustaining deep relationships between kin, land and water.”

The United Nations theme for this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous People is the 10th anniversary of its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The declaration established a framework of minimum standards for their survival, dignity and wellbeing.

The UN estimates there are about 270 million Indigenous people in the world living in 90 countries.

Wendy Caccetta

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