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Indigenous education strategies must by informed by First Nations communities - leading expert

Giovanni Torre -

A leading education academic has urged policy makers to form partnerships with Indigenous communities and listen to them on closing the gap.

Professor Rhonda Oliver, former Head of School and Director of Research in the School of Education at Curtin University, said on Wednesday that: "We need to be informed by the community whose children we are teaching."

The federal government this week released its latest Closing the Gap report, outlining four priority reforms and identifying ways to accelerate progress to improve socio-economic outcomes for First Nations people in Australia.

Addressing parliament on the 16th anniversary of the national apology to the Stolen Generations, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tabled the report, the first update since October's Voice to Parliament referendum.

The government's report came days after the Productivity Commission's scathing review of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

Media Centre for Education Research Australia engaged with Professor Oliver to examine the reforms outlined in the government report.

Professor Oliver's publication record has investigated methods to assist in school engagement and education delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in remote communities, with her research contributing to curriculum change and innovation throughout Western Australia.

"For me, Priority Reform 1 – Formal partnerships and shared decision-making – is key and is especially true for education," she said.

"We need to be informed by the community whose children we are teaching. Our findings of recently completed research, undertaken with community-based researchers, had several important findings.

"We need to adapt our curriculum and pedagogy to better suit the needs, but also the learning style and interests of the students.

"For remote and very remote Aboriginal students, in particular, there is a need to teach using a two-way approach, and also giving strong support to home language as a foundation for English language learning. Such practices promote a strong cultural identity, which in turn supports the well-being of students. We also need greater support and involvement of community in the governance of schools."

As part of its response to the latest Closing the Gap data, the federal government has pledged to establish a new national commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people, which the Prime Minister says "will be dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights, interests, and wellbeing of First Nations children and young people, as well as calling on their strengths, sense of hope and ideas for change".

Professor Oliver said that "most importantly... we need more local Aboriginal teachers and educators in schools – particularly remote and very remote schools".

"Governments need to invest in this," she said.

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