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  What Works - The Work Program

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The brief

The task, for Indigenous students as a group, is to improve

  • levels of literacy and numeracy; and
  • rates of school completion and successful participation in post-school options.

And both of the above must be underpinned by

  • respect for students’ cultures, and partnerships with carers and community.


These are the outcomes that will make a difference in their lives and ultimately in their communities. These are the outcomes in which, as a group, there is a ‘gap’ between Indigenous students and their non-Indigenous counterparts. Now is the time to close the gap.


Literacy and numeracy

The number one priority is to improve Indigenous students’ levels of literacy in English and numeracy. This is the core work of teachers, and they are skilled in it. We must ensure that the best possible pedagogical knowledge and proven approaches are brought to bear.

Of course literacy and numeracy are not end points, because beyond them, paths are open to all sorts of fields of knowledge and employment. That’s why they are so important.


School completion

Apart from literacy and numeracy, school completion depends on engaged participation in school. Teachers know that student engagement is the key to participation, and hence to the completion of the joint task of teaching and learning.


Respect for culture, and partnerships

Be careful, though, because teachers apply their knowledge and skill in particular contexts. In the case of Indigenous students, teachers’ work must be pervaded by knowledgeable and sensitive respect for Indigenous peoples and cultures. Without that, a teacher’s work is likely to be much less effective.

Such respect is itself a prerequisite for the sorts of partnerships with carers and the Indigenous community that can boost participation and engagement. That will in turn improve other outcomes.

No-one suggests that these partnerships are easy. We have a shared history and sometimes these relationships can be very taxing for all concerned. However without genuine partnerships, the road ahead will be very difficult.

Teachers probably weren’t trained in this kind of communication, but we know it can be done. It’s a challenge, but the necessary qualifications are not rare:

  • goodwill, sincerity and a willingness to learn;
  • a confident and firm belief in the value of what is being done;
  • a certain amount of energy, courage and persistence;
  • a commitment to success; and
  • a focus on long-term goals and the will, and ability, to find a way to get there.

We know there is no panacea for improving outcomes for Indigenous students, but in circumstances that will never be ideal there are obvious opportunities for making significant incremental gains, right now. Teachers know this and it is at the heart of a lot of their work.


© Commonwealth of Australia 2020