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Cultural recognition and support

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Mural, Darlington Public School, Sydney

Respect for and understanding of Indigenous cultures are fundamental prerequisites for improving the levels of achievement of Indigenous students. Success will not be achieved without recognition of the cultural factors which may impact on that success; nor will it occur without the consent, approval and willing participation of those involved.

Making institutions more ‘culturally-friendly’ in genuine terms is not just a matter of flying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags although, who knows, that might be a starting point. It is a lived experience that will produce ‘strong’ forms of cultural inclusion if it has at least the three central elements.


The establishment of good personal relationships and mutual trust

Racial harmony is hardly universal in this country, and relationships operate against a larger background of cultural misunderstandings, unmet promises and dispossession.

It must not be forgotten what a personal process education is for all concerned. Good communication, genuine negotiation and predictability and consistency are based on the quality of personal relationships. The significance to success of good personal relationships between the institution and people in the local Indigenous community cannot be over-emphasised.


Flexibility

Where cultural values differ in significant ways, all parties involved need to be flexible.

One of the major impediments to the educational success of Indigenous students is an unwillingness by school personnel to modify any arrangements — pedagogical, structural, organisational — on the basis that success must be achieved in precisely the same way, and by precisely the same means, as other students. There must be some room to move at the edges of this process. Minor modifications can make major differences.


Localisation

The problems of delivering Western-style formal education in remote communities have been widely discussed, and sometimes as though they represent the realities across the board.

The vast majority of Australia’s Indigenous people do not live in remote communities. They live in the towns and cities of the eastern seaboard and the south-west. More than half live in New South Wales and Queensland, most in urban settings. They come from different family groups and may or may not have strong traditional links with the area in which they live. They may be deeply urbanised with life styles which are very similar to those of non-Indigenous Australians.

Educators must be clear about the wishes of local communities and must solicit advice and support which will be effective in context. There are many different routes to the same goals; and contextual factors (personnel, place and history among them) count for a great deal. Don't make assumptions. Find out!


Some suggested strategies

Are provisions in place for non-Indigenous staff to learn about Indigenous cultures (particularly local Indigenous cultures)?

Have you tried …

  • including relevant cross-cultural awareness programs in your professional development program?
  • inviting Indigenous speakers to talk with students and staff?
  • taking tours guided by community members to important local cultural sites?
  • ensuring that new teachers have easy access to reading material about local Indigenous history and culture?

Is there a recognisable presence of Indigenous adults in the school?

Have you tried …

  • employing Indigenous teachers, education and other workers, and defining their work carefully?
  • ensuring that all of them have opportunities for professional development related to the actual nature of their work?
  • maintaining one or more defined positions for Indigenous parents or community representatives on your school council or board?
  • establishing arrangements (that they appreciate) for welcoming Indigenous parents and carers when they come to the school?
  • offering Indigenous members of the community a space in the school for their own use?

Does the school recognise and express its respect for the cultures of its Indigenous students?

Have you tried…

  • displaying local Indigenous art and artefacts or other public signs and symbols (such as the flags, murals, posters, charters, land rights information) that Indigenous people appreciate and that are a sign of the institution’s acknowledgment?
  • including a ‘Welcome to Country’ from appropriate Indigenous Elders to open formal school ceremonial occasions like speech nights, presentations or assemblies?
  • arranging visits by or excursions to Indigenous dance or music performances?
  • auditing courses to ensure that they include appropriate Indigenous perspectives?
  • reviewing library resources related to Australia’s Indigenous peoples for their coverage and adequacy?
  • offering courses of study of one or more Indigenous languages, offering courses of study about Indigenous languages or, where relevant, providing learning materials in the students’ own languages?

Where they are desired by Indigenous students, are arrangements in place to develop a sense of cultural support and connectedness between them?

Have you tried…

  • offering Indigenous students a space in the school for their own use?
  • developing ICT-based networks of contact and support for your Indigenous students with students in other locations?
  • inviting Indigenous speakers to talk to students and staff?

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