• Noeleen Lumby teaches Aboriginal languages to children at St Johns High School, Sydney (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers are significantly underrepresented in schools and universities, encouraging initiatives are aiming to bring more diversity in our classrooms.
By
Georgia Mokak

26 Apr 2017 - 6:09 PM  UPDATED 27 Apr 2017 - 1:03 PM

Increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers in Australian schools and universities is integral to the development of student engagement and improving educational outcomes for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. Research shows that diversity in classrooms enhances critical thinking, problem solving and general knowledge skills, among many other academic benefits, and creates a richer learning environment. For Indigenous students, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers gives the opportunity to see Indignity reflected in positions of leadership, validates and reaffirms their belonging in an often non-Indigenous space and enables them to build trust and rapport with teaching staff more easily.     

Currently, there is only one Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander teacher for approximately every four Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students; a situation which desperately needs to change if this country is committed to improving Indigenous education as a whole. Especially now, given that we have more Indigenous students enrolled in school than ever before. 

 

Increasing the number of Indigenous teachers

The More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative (MATSITI) is a project aimed at increasing the recruitment and retention numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teaching positions in schools in Australia. The partnerships and co-investment agreements that MATSITI has formed with schools, universities and other education agencies have led to a coordinated approach to the the goal of increasing Indigenous teachers in primary, secondary and tertiary education.

Between 2015-2016 MATSITI in partnership with Ernst and Young completed the Analysis of the 2015 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teaching Workforce. The analysis has shown that only 3,100 teachers identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in 2015, making up only 1.2 per cent of the teachers in Australian schools. A significant difference when compared to the 4.9 per cent of identified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Only 3,100 teachers identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in 2015, making up only 1.2 per cent of the teachers in Australian schools. A significant difference when compared to the 4.9 per cent of identified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

In the same report, however, there are a number of common stereotypes that are challenged in regards to Indigenous teachers and education. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers currently have a higher completion rate of a Bachelor degree than the total teaching community. Another encouraging statistic that came out of the report is that Indigenous teachers are progressing to leadership positions at the same rate as their non-Indigenous counterparts.

MATSITI worked in collaboration with the Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE) and the higher education sector on four key initiatives –

  • Engagement and Success Project
  • Respect Relationships Reconciliation (RRR)
  • A series of institutional ‘Tier 2’ research and workforce reform projects
  • Australian Indigenous Lecturers in Teaching Education (AILITE) 

In the higher education sector, twenty universities across Australia have signed an agreement through the Australian Council of Deans of Education to improve the success and engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Furthermore, a number of universities around the country have committed to building Indigenous employment initiatives.

 

Indigenous educators across the globe

The movement towards contemporary discussions on improving Indigenous education extends well beyond Australia. The 2017 World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPCE) will be held in Toronto, Canada. The triennially hosted conference has been running for the last thirty years and has grown into a major international event in the Indigenous education movement.

The 2014 WIPCE held in Hawai’i included over 4,000 delegates and 2017 is expecting similar numbers. This year’s theme is ‘A Celebration of Resilience’ and includes a number of speakers and workshops run by academics and community based education workers from across the globe. The WIPCE is the largest and most diverse Indigenous education conference in the world, continuing to lead the discussion on contemporary movements in education that support Indigenous perspectives.

Such a encouraging numbers of participants only reaffirms - we need to bring our Indigenous perspectives into the classroom and and give Indigenous and non-Indigenous students the education they deserve.

 


 

Watch Testing Teachers, a documentary following six first-time teachers over the course of 12 months as they set foot in some of the country's most challenging classrooms and confront Australia's education gap head on, on SBS On Demand.

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