The population within our schools today reflects how multi cultural Australia has become. For many of our schools to obtain a strong teacher/student relationship the school must develop a school culture which values cultural diversity. There are many factors that impact the identity of our Indigenous students which have an influence in their educational experiences; some of these factors are our History, Ethnicity, Community support, Socio-economic backgrounds' and the most precious factor is a sense of belonging which we know all children want. As teachers there are ways that we can be more inclusive to our Indigenous children giving them that feeling of belonging and retaining their cultural background throughout their educational experience. Schools should have educational programs and specialised assistants in place for our Indigenous students to for fill their educational needs and make their educational experience less over whelming. Australia's history has played a big part in our Indigenous Australian people's life for so long that it is still apparent in today's Indigenous students.
HISTORY: The Indigenous people first lost their identity when white settlement in1788 took over; they were displaced from their lands and became slaves. The impact from this colonialisation and resulted racism dealt a major trauma to the Indigenous psyche all those years ago. It is believed that such trauma can be passed down through generations leading to a low socio-economic status. (Gordon, S. (2002)).
STOLEN GENERATION: In the early 1900s until the 1970's there was a policy called 'assimilation'. This is where the indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families, now days this is known as the Stolen Generations. This kind of removal has also caused a terrible trauma to the Indigenous people and their identities. It is believed that the children from the Stolen Generation had experienced such hardship and heartache that they now have difficulties in being emotionally available to their own children. The Stolen Generation were not just removed from their families but also their Aboriginality. When these children attended school no recognition of their culture or backgrounds were made, just assumptions that they would fail.(Human rights and equal opportunity commission 1997)
As History played its part in Indigenous people's life all those years ago the affects are still being felt. The government felt that by taking the children away, that these children would have a better life, in most cases this is so far from the truth. The stolen generation did not get a better education which resulted in lower paid jobs (causing families to live together and houses being over crowded), drugs and alcohol, violence to oneself or another and also higher suicide rates. A child being born into this socio-economic background is already being disadvantaged before their schooling life even begins. There are also many socio cultural issues that may affect Indigenous children in their schooling experience. Some of the socio cultural problems related to Indigenous students in the classroom can be a cultural priority. Attendance of school may drop due to cultural priority; an example of this is if a child is to attend a funeral or cultural ceremony they may be away for weeks at a time resulting in low attendance and poor academic achievement.
SENSE OF BELONGING: Issues of identity and a sense of belonging are crucial in any child's learning experience, affirmation of their own cultural and group identities are necessary for them to explore who they are in Australian society. One of the most important feelings that a child must have in a classroom is a sense of belongingness, knowing that he or she is an integral part of the community within the classroom or school. A sense of belonging for a child can only be felt when they can relate to topics, people and classroom resources. If children have role models with whom they can identify with and be proud of who they are, where they are from then that sense of belonging can really shine through. Our curriculum and resources need to reflect the diversity of our school and of Australian society in order for students to feel as though they belong.
COMMUNITY SUPPORT: Community support has a major impact on the identity of Indigenous children within their schooling experience. Their community know them, understand them and can relate to them and their cultural background. If schools can include indigenous communities to work together with teachers, then this partnership can benefit the student and their learning needs. A partnership like this can work by setting goals for the student with the parent's support i.e. reading at home and doing other homework will only strengthen the school/community relationship. Also by having the community involved within the school the school community can get a better understanding of the Indigenous culture and background.
A person's understanding of their own cultural identity develops from birth and is shaped by the values and attitudes established from home life and surrounding communities. In a culturally diverse society like Australia, some people have several identities through recognition with several different sub-cultures. These identities may be based on cultural heritage, family or birth place, religious or social identity and identity as a member of Australian society. We as humans want and need to feel valued.
How these factors affect.
These are only a few factors that can play a major part in the impact of the identity for our indigenous students. School itself is very overwhelming for many children let alone children from other cultural backgrounds. Our schools minority cultural groups face many challenges when they begin in our Australian schools, if a group has a different language they must only speak that language at home, if their belief systems are different that too must only be believed at home. For these children it must feel like they live two different lives, wearing two different hats in one day. A child's family history and community beliefs can affect the way they learn leaving some of these children with poor school attendance and achievements through their schooling life. There are some cases where Indigenous children's parents have had negative education experiences which have created a barrier for them in encouraging their children to engage in further education that may open new opportunities for them and their community. So as teachers what can we do to change or alter an Indigenous Students educational learning?
There are so many strategies that a teacher can put in place to be more inclusive of Indigenous students and their cultural backgrounds and history. A Teacher just being aware of the cultural diversity within their classroom is a good start. As educators we can take the time to get to know each student, their home life and family history and cultural background. Without recognising classroom diversity some educators carry a stereotyped view of what the students can achieve or how they are likely to behave according to their culture or ethnicity. This outlook alone can manipulate the teachers' teaching styles and behaviours towards their students. It is important that teachers take into account cultural diversity within their classrooms and not make assumptions that we are all the same; we have different values and understandings. Most important is that teachers avoid making cultural assumptions based on stereotypes of particular cultural groups, religious groups and social groups. A good educator should be able to build on the cultural skills that any student brings to the classroom. Bronfenbrenner believes 'what happens at school will have a direct impact on what happens at home, and so on'. By new and present teachers taking certain strategies into account this could assist in Indigenous students educational learning be not only a happy experience but also a productive experience
VISIT STUDENTS PARENTS AND COMMUNITY: A simple visit to the student's home and community can benefit a teacher a great deal; introducing yourself to the student's family can give insight to what and where a student comes from. Just taking the time to do such a little thing can make a difference to the student and give the teacher a better understanding of the students' cultural background.
BE AWARE OF DIFFERENT CULTURES: With Australia being such a multi cultural country it is only common sense for us as teachers to be aware and educate ourselves about other cultures. Teachers should take the extra time to find out about different cultural beliefs, mannerisms and any religious beliefs that the culture holds. Something as simple as Indigenous people doesn't like direct eye contact or loud voices can make a change for the better with a student and their educational learning.
BE OPEN TO LEARNING ABOUT CULTURE: As teachers we are educating children about many topics it is only fair that we research and look into other cultures. We do not have to take on these cultures but be more aware and less ignorant to the cultures that our students bring to our classrooms.
SEEK ADVICE FROM COMMUNITY MEMBERS: From my readings and the work I do at a local Primary School I have found that community members are only too happy to help with advice about the children. Some of the children's parents have been very open with me and have told me about the history of their families, what they feel their child is missing and may need more work with. They have even been open about their schooling history or lack of schooling and have asked that I do certain work with the children that they are not able to do. I have to say that I have learnt a lot about Indigenous culture over the last twelve months.
SEEK ADVICE FROM INDIGENOUS ASSISTANTS: In today's schooling most schools have a number of specialist assistants. Some schools offer Aboriginal Islander Education Workers (AIEWs), Aboriginal Resource Officers (AROs), Indigenous ATAS tutors which assist with the indigenous students within a classroom and some schools offer an Indigenous homework centre to assist children with their homework. One of the key roles of an AIEW is to provide to all students with a cultural day to help promote an understanding and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional and contemporary cultures. As a teacher seeking advice from one of these workers about a student will give you a better understanding of the student and their family life.
ALLOW COMMUNITY MEMBERS TO JOIN THE CLASS: Having a community member join your class can not only benefit the indigenous students but the whole class. They can share their life stories with the class; show the class indigenous artwork while giving the Indigenous students some moral support.
By taking into account the factors that impact the identity of our Indigenous students and the influences that these factors have on their educational experiences we as new teachers can give Indigenous students a much more enjoyable time throughout their schooling life. By being aware of our student's history, family life and cultural backgrounds' we as educators can create learning programs for the individual allowing them to achieve more and have a sense of belonging within the classroom and school community. There are now resources and specialists within our schools to assist our Indigenous students and even the teachers with most situations that may arise in a classroom with such diversity. We all need to remember that as Australia is a multi cultural country that everyone is entitled to a fair education. We can't undo History but we can make a new history for our future Australians.