Culturally and contextually responsive schools: what are they and why do they matter?

A School of education seminar presented on September 2nd, 2015 by John Guenther, Remote Education Systems (RES) project.

Over the last few years approaches to schooling in Australia have become increasingly standardised and codified. The standardisation of schooling is reflected in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, an Australian Curriculum, the Education Australia Act 2013, and standardised testing through the National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). We have also seen the establishment of a national Early Years Learning Framework. These changes have had a profound effect on the way that schools operate and the ways that teachers teach. In the context of Indigenous education in Australia, many of these measures are designed at least in part to ‘Close the Gap’ between educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and non-Indigenous students.

In terms of closing gaps, the results of these initiatives have been unspectacular—even disappointing. This is particularly the case for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from very remote communities where over the last seven years, little if anything has changed. Attendance rates, academic performance and retention rates remain well below national benchmarks.

Does any of this actually matter though? Standards and benchmarks are created by people thousands of kilometres and culturally even more distant from remote schools with a particular view of what education is for. If we turned the gap closing agenda on its head and asked local people in remote communities what was important to them for a successful education, what would they say? This is exactly the point of the RES project. Findings from the RES research suggests that successful teaching has almost nothing to do with teacher quality, standardised testing, national curricula or any other national framework. Rather, as this lecture will reveal, remote education stakeholders see the need for culturally and contextually sensitive approaches to schooling that fit the purposes of education as they see them. Drawing mainly on qualitative data from over 1000 stakeholders, the lecture will discuss what this means for remote education systems in Australia and how to improve outcomes for remote students. There will be time for questions and answers following the lecture.

(This talk is made possible with the assistance of UNE's Oorala Aboriginal Centre)



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