Indigenous Australian education

Indigenous Australians are generalised as a group with features of poor health, low life expectancy, socio-economic disadvantage and academic underachievement  (Ford, 2013; Lyons & Janca, 2012).  Irregular school attendance, illness and a lack of psychological support from parents due to low social capital often results in decreased academic achievement which may also cause behavioural problems at school (Lyons & Janca, 2012).  The low educational aspirations of Indigenous youth are commonly instilled by parents (Kao & Thompson, 2003) plagued with the negative effects of low-SES along with low-expectations due to parents’ past educational experiences (Hughes & Hughes, 2012).  Indigenous educational disadvantage is compounded by underperforming schools that foster low-expectations (Hughes & Hughes, 2012), institutional racism (Ford, 2013) and discrimination from schools and teachers (Cunningham & Paradies, 2013; Eccles, Wong, & Peck, 2006).

To combat Indigenous disadvantage the Australian Government provides institutions, funding, resources, policies and implements initiatives in an attempt to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians (Hughes & Hughes, 2012).  Indigenous identity pride and non-Indigenous cultural sensitivity learning is encouraged in Education by initiatives that recognise and appreciate Indigenous Australians, such as the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives in the Education Queensland curriculum (Queensland Studies Authority, 2013).  These initiatives help Australians learn about Indigenous Australians, encourages respect for Indigenous culture and promotes increased Indigenous educational achievement through reducing discrimination, increasing feelings of belonging and improving cultural pride.

Bodkin-Andrews, O’Rourke, Grant, Denson, and Craven (2010) studied the impact of multiculturation (perceived cultural respect) and perceived discrimination on the academic outcomes of non-Indigenous and Indigenous students from years 7 to 10.  The study included 1200 participants (278 Indigenous students; 922 non-Indigenous students) from five New South Wales high schools.  This study tested for perceived discrimination due to the ethical dilemma inherent in experiments that test participants for experiences with discrimination and racism (Bodkin-Andrews et al., 2010).  Discrimination by peers and teachers towards Indigenous students has a strong association with student academic underachievement and negative academic self-concept (Bodkin-Andrews et al., 2010).  This finding is supported widely in theoretical literature and previous studies that highlight the negative impact which discrimination has on youth development, academic achievement and academic motivation (for an example see, Eccles et al., 2006).  This study also showed that multiculturation had a positive relationship with subjective outcomes for all students; however, three years later in a similar study multiculturation was found to have no effect on Indigenous students (Bodkin-Andrews, Denson, & Bansel, 2013).

Bodkin-Andrews et al. (2013) studied student academic self-concept, multiculturation and perceived discrimination on affective disengagement and self-sabotage (behavioural disengagement). This study of 1376 non-Indigenous and Indigenous year 7 to 10 students from five New South Wales high schools further supports the research-acknowledged association between racial discrimination and its negative impact on student educational outcomes (Bodkin-Andrews et al., 2013).  Students with high academic self-concept were academically engaged and less likely to self-sabotage their education (Bodkin-Andrews et al., 2013).  Bodkin-Andrews et al. (2013) suggest implementing multiple programs to both increase multiculturation and decrease discrimination since they are not mutually exclusive.  The study showed that discrimination, especially from teachers, may increase the risk of student self-sabotage behaviour even when experiencing high multiculturation (Bodkin-Andrews et al., 2013).  The expectancy violation theory is a possible explanation for this effect since “…violations of expectancies create uncertainty” (Bodkin-Andrews et al., 2013, p. 234).  Bodkin-Andrews et al. (2013) warn that inclusive educational practices need to focus on both increasing multiculturation and decreasing discrimination.

 Bodkin-Andrews, G. H., Denson, N., & Bansel, P. (2013). Teacher racism, academic self-concept, and multiculturation: investigating adaptive and maladaptive relations with academic disengagement and self-sabotage for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian students. Australian Psychologist, 48, 226-237.

Cunningham, J., & Paradies, Y. C. (2013). Patterns and correlates of self-reported racial discrimination among Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults, 2008-09: analysis of national survey data. International Journal for Equity in Health, 12(47), 1-15.

Eccles, J. S., Wong, C. A., & Peck, S. C. (2006). Ethnicity as a social context for the development of African-American adolescents. Journal of School Psychology, 44, 407-426.

Ford, M. (2013). Achievement gaps in Australia: what NAPLAN reveals about education inequality in Australia. Race Ethnicity and Education, 16(1), 80-102.

Hughes, H., & Hughes, M. (2012). Indigenous Education 2012: CIS policy monograph. St Leonards, NSW: The Cenre for Independent Studies Limited.

Kao, G., & Thompson, J. S. (2003). Racial and ethnic stratification in educational achievement and attainment. Annual Review of Sociology, 29, 417-442.

Lyons, Z., & Janca, A. (2012). Indigenous children in Australia: health, education and optimism for the future. Australian Journal of Education, 56(1), 5-21.

Queensland Studies Authority. (2013). Indigenous Perspectives. Retrieved from Queensland Studies Authority:

2 comments on “Indigenous Australian education

  1. Margaret says:

    I’ve started ‘Radical Hope’ and am learning and thinking about the issues in a new and fresh way!


  2. […] discrimination and multiculturation are associated with Indigenous Australian youth educational achievement.  There is a negative impact on Indigenous students’ academic achievement when peer and teacher […]


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