The prevalence of deficit metrics in Indigenous education and their impact on public discourse, policy and educational practice
The project contributes original knowledge in its assessment of the prevalence and use of 'deficit metrics' across several overlapping sites of representation within the Indigenous education space (see Figure 1). The term 'deficit metric' (Sullivan 2013) is used to describe assessment and measurement tools that produce knowledge about a group's achievement, progress or activities in ways that emphasise the presumed failures or deficiencies of that group. In the context of Indigenous education, such tools have generally been statistical measures of the 'gap' between the achievements of Indigenous students and the average achievement level of a broader category of non-Indigenous students. The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) test is often proffered as an example of a deficit metric and critical education scholars have expressed concern that NAPLAN and similar measures have a negative impact on Indigenous communities and educational outcomes (Fogarty 2013; Simpson et al 2009; Waller 2012 and see Walters & Andersen 2013). The publicly available MySchools website has been seen to amplify and simplify the public debate around complex analysis and communication of Indigenous education outcomes in the public domain (Bonnor, 2010). Typical news reporting of Indigenous education outcomes, as measured by NAPLAN reads: 'Education fails indigenous kids' (Hughes and Hughes, 2010). Such reporting plays into political discourse that defines Indigenous educational outcomes in terms of Indigenous deficit and draws on 'effective measures' and 'key performance indicators' to explain this educational 'gap' (e.g. Gillard 2012).
This project will be the first to systematically analyse the prevalence of Indigenous Education 'deficit metrics' and their discussion in public debate. It complements but does not overlap with the work being done in IN150100007 and builds on McCallum's body of research about the relationships between policy and mediated discussion of Indigenous affairs. In doing so it builds Indigenous research capacity and brings together an exciting new partnership between Education and Communication researchers at UC.
Tangible Benefits and Impact of the research to Australian Indigenous Communities
The combined theoretical and applied outcomes will have significant impact, resulting in new information that will have real and tangible benefits for the Australian education system and the Indigenous students that it serves. Statistical measurement is fundamental to a discourse of deficit that seeks to reduce disadvantage but this project problematizes that discourse and its impacts on Indigenous education outcomes.
This project will refocus the debate about Indigenous education and perceptions of identity more broadly, challenging the perceived 'intractability' of a significant national policy 'problem'. The project's outcomes will expand knowledge in Indigenous Education as well as Communication scholarship. Results will provide a new frame of understanding that will be of direct relevance for policy makers and journalism educators. On an applied level, the project's investigation of the relationship between deficit discourse and outcomes will have direct relevance for Indigenous education pedagogy. The combined theoretical and applied outcomes will have significant impact, resulting in new information that will have real and tangible benefits for the Australian education system and the Indigenous students that it serves.
Dr Kerry McCallum
Associate Professor, Communication
Faculty of Arts and Design
University of Canberra
T: +61 (0) 2 6201 5933