“Aboriginal students enter school from a social and cultural context that is quite different from the social and cultural context of the teacher.” (Schwab & Sutherland, 2001) However, while such differences make the experience of teaching and learning more complex, it is not made impossible. “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children… are just as hungry to learn as any other child.” (Two Way Teaching and Learning p.108)
Aboriginal students across Australia do not presently achieve education outcomes at similar levels to other students. There is an urgent need to promote the educational achievement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to enable them to participate fully and equitably in Australian society. Nationally agreed literacy and numeracy benchmarks for Years 3, 5 and 7 represent minimum standards of performance. Currently by Year 3 there is already a significant gap between the literacy levels of Aboriginal students and other Australian students. While some progress has been made in recent years, gaps in some areas are not closing but widening.
For Aboriginal students to reach their potential, it is important to recognise the role of Aboriginal parents as the first educators of their children and to work collaboratively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities in the educational process. Cultural knowledge and personal histories are invaluable resources in promoting a greater understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their histories, culture, spirituality and languages. Seeking advice and assistance from the local community, in particular with Aboriginal elders, is important when planning, implementing and evaluating programs.
A curriculum that is truly Australian should provide opportunities for all students to develop knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal heritage, cultures, contemporary issues and spirituality, and promote high expectations of Aboriginal students through quality teaching and learning opportunities. Chris Sarra (2005) believes the key strategies for ensuring success for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are:
- challenging, developing and embracing a positive sense of indigenous student identity
- embracing indigenous leadership in schools and school communities
- high expectations.
This policy is underpinned by the Vision for Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, particularly the hopes for diocesan schools to recognise the individuality and dignity of each young person and foster the development of each one’s unique potential and spirituality. (Living Waters 2010)
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy has been developed to support schools to be aspirational in their work towards achieving key strategies including:
- improving and celebrating educational outcomes and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
- developing links with Aboriginal families and communities
- understanding and appreciating the significant issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and their aspirations
- developing the knowledge, appreciation and understanding of staff, students and school communities about Aboriginal Australia
- supporting Aboriginal heritage, culture and spirituality
- supporting the Catholic church’s commitment to social justice.