• File image of Indigenous students creating 'Stronger Smarter' mural. (Facebook/Stronger Smarter)Source: Facebook/Stronger Smarter
COMMENT | There has never been a better time to strike out on a different path in order to achieve good education outcomes for Indigenous children, writes Darren Godwell.
Darren Godwell

14 Jun 2016 - 3:10 PM  UPDATED 14 Jun 2016 - 3:10 PM

The Productivity Commission’s Deputy Chair Karen Chester notes that “Australia’s future depends on how well it develops the ‘human capital’ of its population, and that a well-performing schooling system will benefit all individuals and drive economic growth and prosperity.” 

The Stronger Smarter Institute welcomes the Productivity Commission’s report on Indigenous Primary School Achievement.

This type of research is important to determine a base to improve policies. We also seek the best use of funding to benefit most Indigenous students.  

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COMMENT | After yesterday’s Close The Gap report revealed that targets had not been met in Indigenous school attendance, or in reading, writing and numeracy achievements, the Government has an open invitation to work WITH people, rather than administering TO people. And for educational outcomes to improve, there’s never been a more urgent time, writes Stronger Smarter Institute CEO Darren Godwell.

Despite a history of program making for Indigenous pre-school and primary education, we too are disappointed that this research states there has been no consistent improvement in the literacy and numeracy achievement of Indigenous students. However, there are valuable lessons to be learnt. 

The research cements solid facts which Stronger Smarter believes should help better direct funding in order to make a greater impact in the future.  Namely:

  • The majority of Indigenous students (80 percent) are located in metropolitan and provincial public schools
  • 77 percent of all Australian public schools have at least one Indigenous student but 69 percent of them have less than 20 Indigenous students
  • 70 percent of all Australian teachers will teach an Indigenous student at some stage of their career but few will teach a large class of Indigenous students

These facts identify the disparity where government funding is currently being directed.

For many years federal governments have disproportionately directed public funds to a minority of students whilst at the same time expecting universal change for all students.  

We know that many remote schools have greater gaps for educational improvement, and that independent schools can often achieve better outcomes at a high cost, however these gains should not come at the expense of the needs of 80 percent of Indigenous students within metropolitan and provincial areas.

You can only spend a dollar once. And once its spent there are no more. So we must prioritise where to spend those dollars. They are difficult decisions but we must align our spending with our priorities.     

This report presents a great opportunity for the federal government to make an impact in that the majority of schools and most teachers in the nation can make an impact on the Indigenous primary school achievements on the individual students in their schools. Further it is those schools and teachers paid responsibility to do so.

The facts cemented by this research have been well known by Indigenous and other educators. 

The Stronger Smarter Institute has worked with this knowledge since it began 10 years ago and it has informed our strategy to improve educational outcomes for all Indigenous students.  We have redesigned our approach to achieve scale and to be replicable.

Stronger Smarter challenges all Australian teachers to have high expectations for their Indigenous students and equips them with the practical skills to make a difference. 

We challenge people to create school cultures that nurture and support Indigenous students’ achievement.  Our approach gives all educators (principals, teachers and community leaders) the skills, knowledge and processes in order to make an effective impact.

A good education from an early age sets up a child for life.  It’s clear from all the research that the level of education attainment is the single strongest correlation to improved life outcomes - improvements in well-being, productivity, workforce participation, stronger communities and health outcomes. 

As the Productivity Commission’s Deputy Chair notes, lifting the lid on a handful of successful schools is a great start to finding out what really works. Through our interaction with nearly 2200 Australian teachers and nearly 600 schools across Australia we have seen some amazing examples of effective education in action.

We challenge the deficit narrative that has been portrayed across the media in reporting these outcomes as it belies much of the good work we know that Australian educators already do.

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Last year two Stronger Smarter schools were recognised for their outstanding achievements. The Looma Remote Community School in the Kimberley region of Western Australia with a 97 percent Indigenous students’ attendance rate was awarded the WA Premiers awards for excellence in Aboriginal education.  

In Victoria the Northern Bay P-12 College Koorie Education Team won the Victorian Education Excellence Award for Outstanding Koorie Education. 

The former Prime Minister Tony Abbott visited the Northern Peninsula Area State College in Bamaga on the tip of the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, and noted the great progress made at that school - another Stronger Smarter trained Principal Yolanda Coutts. 

If we acknowledge that the classic test of whether a policy is based on evidence is its performance outcomes, then we can validly say that the current use of educational resources is not been effective. 

There is an opportunity here to create a positive paradigm shift to better Indigenous primary school achievement based on the outcomes of the Productivity Commission report.  

Our estimation is that within five years, if we charge them with that responsibility and a Stronger Smarter philosophy aimed at the majority of Indigenous children, Australia can make positive change within 5 years without extra funding, but with a reallocation of the existing resources.

The Institute’s leadership program empowers educators in their own schools to deploy strategies to come up with a locally owned and controlled solution. 

We teach them the ‘how’ with the full faith that they can identify ‘what’ needs to be done in their school and ‘when’ it needs to be done. 

We ask governments to back our educators and act swiftly to meet the increasing demand of the wave of children who are entering schools evidenced by the Indigenous population boom over the past five years.

There has never been a better time to strike out on a different path and we look forward to a better future for our communities as a result of action we can take right now.

Darren Godwell is the CEO of the Stronger Smarter Institute.