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Sharing Indigenous schools’ secrets of success

Newsroom staff

6 April 2018: A set of practices to improve numeracy for Indigenous students could shake-up education policy around Australia according to a University of Canberra education expert who has studied the path to success in remote schools.

Professor of Education Robyn Jorgensen focused her research on remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander schools which were consistently performing well in mathematics, or those producing significant improvement in student outcomes.

Her study’s results have been published in the report Celebrating Success – Numeracy in remote Indigenous contexts, along with a series of case studies of primary and secondary schools and education systems from most Australian states.

“Too often the mainstream focus has been on poor results in Indigenous learning. I’ve focused on turning that on its head and my work tells the story of success and what educators are doing to drive good results,” Professor Jorgensen said.

“What I set out to achieve was an understanding of the policies and practices that lead to success and to share that with every other school for every Indigenous student in the country.”

The report’s recommendations are framed within a holistic structure, addressing the school’s vision, the support to take that vision into the classroom and how it is delivered. Professor Jorgensen said piecemeal solutions are not going to fix the system.

“Too often policy-makers and school leaders try to put a band-aid on the Titanic and that’s never going to work, there are too many holes. Schools invest significant amounts of money in programs and external consultants with the aim to improve their students’ results,” she said.

“But there are remote schools around the country that have grown their own positive practices which help Indigenous students to tap into their potential and improve. This report and the case studies should inform policy makers and school leaders to focus on the positive work already being done and deliver better ways to close the gap in education.

Working with the University’s STEM Education Research Centre, Professor Jorgensen warned against pigeonholing the results as only relevant to remote schools or those with a significant Indigenous student population.

“As the recommendations point out good teaching is good teaching, whether that is for schools in low-SES areas or with students facing other types of disadvantage. Adopting practices that take the school vision into the classroom and put it into practice in teaching deliver better results,” she said.

“STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education is going to be critical for our students into the future; it will be the foundation of the jobs of tomorrow. So helping students to achieve better results particularly in maths is putting them on the right path.”

Professor Jorgensen assessed the school policies and methods used to teach students and the results as well as interviews with teachers and school leaders at 39 schools around Australia.