Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Chronic failure in Indigenous education, expe -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Chronic failure in Indigenous education, expert

Sarah Dingle reported this story on Thursday, February 11, 2010 12:31:00

ELEANOR HALL: One Indigenous education expert says he's seen a significant shift in attitudes in
recent years on Indigenous education.

Dr Chris Sarra is the director of the Stronger Smarter Institute in Queensland.

He told Sarah Dingle that there is now a climate of greater transparency in Indigenous classrooms
than there was two years ago.

CHRIS SARRA: It was a time in which we were still reeling from the Howard era I guess. The notion
was that it was Aborigines and Aboriginal community that was broken. And there was not a lot of
people around to contemplate that maybe it was the way that we were doing service delivery that was

We might have been not talking about the right gaps to close.

SARAH DINGLE: What measures have been undertaken under the Closing the Gap program in the
intervening two years?

CHRIS SARRA: There is no place for any teacher with low expectations of Aboriginal children to hide
any more.

For decades it was the case that we could deliver chronic failure to Aboriginal schools and
Aboriginal communities.

But what I like now is that we've moved into an era of great transparency and greater expectation.
You know we've shifted quite dramatically from a time in which we'd hoped for a better future for
Aboriginal children to a time in which we now expect a brighter future for Aboriginal children.

And we cannot underestimate the significance of this. We have the Prime Minister and the Deputy
Prime Minister in particular going hard on this issue and talking about the need for children to
have access to quality education, regardless of where they're from.

So we see this climate of greater transparency; things like the My School website that has some way
to go but is a great start in terms of exposing some of the areas where we're struggling.

SARAH DINGLE: So what do you think the My School website has done for schools which have primarily
an Indigenous student body?

CHRIS SARRA: Well I think it's enabled people from those communities to start conversations with
school leaders. So if people can get on and they can see that compared to schools in the city their
school is not going so well. You know that A that their student is getting may not be worth the
same A that somebody in the city is getting, well at least they can start a conversation about
those things with their school principals.

So principals and teachers in those sorts of places have to have some answers.

SARAH DINGLE: And do you think that has been going on; that the levels of grading students in
primarily Indigenous schools have been more lenient than schools in other areas?

CHRIS SARRA: Certainly that is, that has been the case.

SARAH DINGLE: How widespread do you think the low expectations were or still are perhaps?

CHRIS SARRA: Well I think the data signals that it's chronic you know. And it's probably sobering
to remember that whilst the tide of low expectations has changed it will take some time for the
results to flow.

SARAH DINGLE: Do you think there is enough of a push to get Indigenous teachers into the system?

CHRIS SARRA: Well there are some jurisdictions across the country, possibly all of them, where they
have a long way to go in terms of growing Aboriginal leadership and embracing Aboriginal
leadership, particularly in and around teaching.

But I'll say this: It can be a bit of a myth that an Aboriginal teacher is the best teacher for an
Aboriginal child. The best teacher for an Aboriginal child is an excellent teacher.

SARAH DINGLE: The Rudd Government has eight years to go on its Closing the Gap program. What would
you like to see happen next for Indigenous education?

CHRIS SARRA: I would like to think that politicians and senior bureaucrats can just take a step
back and do some deep thinking about what is clever policy that is going to get traction.

I worry that in the last 10 or 15 years we've had this snatch and grab at quick and what seems like
might be easy fix kinds of policies where we find somebody who will boot Aborigines around and make
them seem like they're the ones that are broken. And it's caused politicians and senior bureaucrats
to be lazy.

I like the look of the proposals that Tom Calma and the people around him have developed recently.
What I particularly like about it is its degree of autonomy from government. You would have an
authority that can truly independently challenge government and make them accountable for
delivering quality outcomes to Indigenous people.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Dr Chris Sarra speaking there to Sarah Dingle.