The Federal Government brought representatives from the state and territories together in Canberra today to outline the actions it is taking towards improving Indigenous education.
Malarndirri McCarthy

31 Oct 2013 - 5:19 PM  UPDATED 31 Oct 2013 - 6:13 PM

The decision to place truancy officers in the Northern Territory was discussed along with changes to the national curriculum and ongoing concerns about passive racism in the education sector.                

Dr Chris Sarra was visiting the Warrakurna school in Western Australia today working with educators on school attendance.

He says resources to improve attendance needs to be centred on strategies that work, and he is not convinced that truancy officers are the best approach.

"It is a deficit based kind of approach. I wouldn't knock the resources that come with those kinds of positions but just adjust the thinking slightly to have a smarter or higher expectations thinking approach, where they were not so much truancy officers that wave a big stick around but [rather] like we did at Cherbourg where we took attendance from 52 to 94 per cent.

We didn't have truancy officers, we had family support workers who could be the bridge between the school and the community," says Dr Sarra.

While school attendance is still a critical issue in places like the Northern Territory, there are also other issues to consider.

The Council of Australian Governments report into schools in the Northern Territory has partially attributed the low literacy and numeracy rates of Indigenous students to poor class attendance rates.

Sydney’s St Scholastics Girls College student, Lakaree Smith, is currently completing her HSC but says studying through to year 11 and 12 is a challenging task for many Indigenous students.

"A lot of people get apprentices in year 10, for example construction or working at a bank or a café," says Ms Smith.

Ms Smith, who hails from the small town of Kempsey, currently boards at the college and says it is the examples set by her friends and family that encourage her to stay in school.

"I just think of my family and how I can make them proud and just think about myself and my future," says Ms Smith.

With the number of year 12 Indigenous students increasing, Indigenous educators are identifying the need to see tertiary opportunities expand also.

South Australian professor Peter Buckskin says an emphasis needs to be placed on the importance of tertiary ranking.

"There is a concern that we need more people to get a tertiary entrance ranking that allows them to get into university, not through a special tertiary entrance but through their tertiary ranking," says professor Buckskin

Of the Waverley Stanley and Yalari programs that professor Buckskin runs, 84 of those students involved have successfully graduated from Year 12, with 24 going on to university,

“I think the most pressing issue for us at the moment is to challenge state and territory governments about their seriousness to tackle the problem and making Australian classrooms more culturally safe for our kids. We've got to get over this passive racism that continually plagues us, where state and territory jurisdictions don't do enough self-reflecting on their own cultural histories in the sense of their white history, and to appreciate that there needs to be a much bigger sense of urgency around this business," says Professor Buckskin

Changes to the national curriculum to include Indigenous perspectives is seen as critical to providing a more substantial learning experience for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students across Australia.