December 15, 2017

How not to report on Indigenous education (again)

While it's always nice to see Ngukurr in the news, I'm noting quite a few problems with this puff piece from SBS's Laura Morelli about Ngukurr School. (And it's not the first time I've been concerned about how Indigenous education is reported on).

I'm all for a positive story about remote education, but it shouldn't be at the expense of accuracy and probably not one where the only side you hear is from non-Indigenous education department staff.

The article's premise is that innovative programs at Ngukurr School are contributing to better student outcomes. A quick look at the Myschools website shows that attendance at Ngukurr School has unfortunately dropped in recent years (a trend across many remote schools, as reported here). Looking at NAPLAN, results appear mixed - some areas improved in 2016, while others dropped. (Have a look for yourself by sifting through results provided on the MySchools website). So maybe Ngukurr School has innovative programs, sure. But can they be linked to better outcomes? There doesn't seem to be the evidence for that.

Data source:
The article mentions the language profile of students (see below) and there are more errors there. It is not correct to say of students that "English is usually their ninth language". While students as a cohort have seven or more heritage languages, few speak them due to language loss and endangerment that has occurred since colonisation. Kriol is the main language they speak and English is usually the second language they start to learn when they start school. As for heritage languages, an individual student is highly unlikely to have seven traditional languages as part of their direct heritage. They'll have one or two main ones and maybe two or more that are also form part of their heritage. But not seven. An accurate understanding of the language profile of students should be quite crucial for teachers to have. It is disappointing that this isn't apparent in the quotes or content of the article.

The article also says that "over the years the school has worked tirelessly to provide a safe, engaging and welcoming learning environment for the students and their families to want to be a part of". Yet, about 30 years ago, Ngukurr School had 100% Indigenous teaching staff. This has dwindled over the years and now there is possibly only one local Indigenous teacher out of 31 full-time teaching staff. So when it is said that “our students are taught with an Aboriginal Assistant Teacher present in the room at all times to do translations”, it is actually a long way from recent history in which local Aboriginalisation of the school was a real thing - when it was taken for granted that Aboriginal school staff were educators, not "translators".

Ngukurr kids deserve success, but it's preferable to have that success supported by evidence and accurate information as well as local/Indigenous perceptions on what constitutes success.

And in case you think I'm saying all this because of a chip on my shoulder, the lack of journalistic quality is apparent to others - even when they have no attachment to Ngukurr:

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