Aboriginal Education. Australia

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‘In Australia only thirty seven percent of Indigenous students opposed to seventy four percent of non-Indigenous students complete year twelve’. (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008).

The above statistics imply that current Indigenous Education is affected detrimentally by western colonisation, inequitable government policies, and the variation of cultural beliefs. Aboriginal participation and education in Western schooling is far below the standard of academic achievement of non-indigenous Australians. This is resulting from a history of ill-treatment and dispossession of Indigenous peoples. Contemporary statistics prove the deprived health, sanitation, educational, employment and housing conditions of Aboriginal Australians, revealing their underprivileged position opposed to non- indigenous peoples. (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008). Educators need to recognise Australian schooling is founded upon English ‘scientific’ understanding and ‘ways of knowing’ opposed to Aboriginals ‘cultural and spiritual way of knowing’ and learning. History has created, for many Indigenous Australians, a culture of learned helplessness and identity crisis which has left them unable to control their lives and their destinies. These social issues underpin the current disadvantaged education status of Indigenous Australians today. Indigenous Australians are Australia’s ‘original people’; members and descendants of the many and diverse nations that comprised the Australian population of an estimated 750,000, before colonization of Australia by white-skinned people started in 1788 C.E. (Smith, 2007; Trudgen, 2001). The term encompasses mainland and Tasmanian dwellers as well as those from the Torres Strait Islands, north of the mainland. It is estimated the Indigenous population of Australia is currently around 500,000, of Australia’s population of 22 million people (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2008). The initial dynamics of contact between Angelo Saxon and Indigenous Australians outlines the juxtaposition of cultures and ways of knowing. An example of this can be shown from William Damper’s 1697 perception of the Indigenous Australians.

“The inhabitants of this country are the miserablest people in the world . . . (they) have no Houses and skin Garments, no Sheep, Poultry, and Fruits of the earth, Ostrich Eggs etc . . . and setting aside the Human Shape they differ but little from the Brutes . . . they have no Clothes . . . their only food is a kind of fish . . . I did not perceive that they worship anything. These sort of creatures have a sort of Weapon to protect their ware . . . Some of them had wooden Swords, others had a sort of lance. The sword (as the ship was short of fresh water, Dampier attempted to get the Natives to carry some for him in return for some proffered clothing.)

But all the signs we could make were to no purpose, for they stood like Statues, with no motion but grinned like so many monkeys. Staring one upon the other, for these poor creatures were not accustomed to carry Burthens . . . so we were forced to carry our water ourselves and they very fairly put the Clothes off again as if clothes were only to work in. I did not perceive that they had any great liking to them at first, nor did they seem to admire anything that we had.” (Stone, 1974p.15)

The above description demonstrates how Damper’s western culture is juxtaposed to the Aboriginals ways of knowing. Damper referred to the Indigenous people as “creatures...Brutes”. Through his ‘way of knowing’ Damper deciphered that people with no buildings, clothing, and manmade things were deemed uncivilised. (Stone, 1974, p. 15). The Aboriginal people encompassed a sustained way of living in unison with the land. The lack of understanding between different ‘races’ resulted in the utmost discrimination and death of traditional Aboriginal teachings. Aboriginal culture recognises that the land and the dreaming are all interconnected through a...
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