Indigenous educators question Abbott's new role

Indigenous educators question Abbott

Last week, former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, accepted the role of the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Indigenous Affairs.

However, Indigenous groups have criticised Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to offer Tony Abbott the role, saying he failed the first time.

Dr Jackie Huggins, the co-chair of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, told SBS that the job offer was a “cynical thought” designed to quell “factional divides”.

Others, like Darren Godwell, CEO of the Stronger Smarter Institute (SSI), are keen to know how the appointment will benefit the Indigenous community, particularly in regards to education.

Godwell said there are already Federal Ministers for Education and Indigenous Affairs and questioned Abbott’s focus on school attendance of Indigenous students, which he said is not backed by the majority of research.

“Research shows the strongest predictors of improved educational outcomes are teacher efficacy and student engagement. This is where priorities and resources should lie,” Godwell told The Educator.

“Also, it’s important to note that the government has a Minister for Education and a Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs with responsibilities to the Crown and Parliament, so how will their responsibilities overlap with any new position of ‘envoy’?”

Godwell said that he is especially concerned by the possibility that Abbott’s appointment may lead to funding “pouring into fringe projects that target small numbers of Indigenous students, non-indigenous initiatives or more experiments in education”.

“If that happens, it will be a damning appointment and a massive waste of time and money,” he said.

‘Indigenous voices must be recognised’

Godwell said it was important that Indigenous leaders are placed at the forefront of Indigenous education that is supported by appropriate funding.

“It’s critical that Indigenous voices and leaders are recognised and supported. Indigenous leadership in this portfolio is evident and deserves greater place in the framing of policy choices and decisions,” he said.

“The real challenge in Indigenous education at the moment is to meet the demands of more than 220,000 Indigenous students currently in Australian schools.”

Godwell said the education system needs to “scale what works in Indigenous education to meet that demand, and quickly”.

“There’s no better chance to get to scale, nor bigger impact, for better value for money, than the Indigenous led SSI,” he said.

Boosting teacher efficacy

Godwell said there has been a misperception of attendance as the leading indicator for educational improvements for Indigenous students, stressing that emphasis should be placed on teacher efficacy and student engagement.

“Much research on this subject, including that undertaken by Professors John Hattie and Chris Sarra, says the two largest factors contributing to improved educational outcomes with students are teacher efficacy and student engagement,” he said.

“Teacher efficacy is a product of competence and confidence, and that’s where the SSI’s training fits.”

For 12 years, SSI has delivered flagship teacher training to boost teacher efficacy and effectiveness in culturally and ethnically diverse schools and classrooms, particularly those with high Indigenous student populations.

Godwell said principals know the impact this training creates in their staff and that teachers see the difference it makes to their students and classrooms.

“The SSI’s approach is a great framework within which teachers can realise their ambitions to be better,” he said.

“This is critically important to us because when teachers are better, they are better for all their students. If we’re to transform Indigenous educational outcomes, then we’re going to need great teachers in every school classroom.”