Capitalism and the centrality of Aboriginal leadership in Northern Territory (NT) remote Aboriginal schools

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    Since its commencement in 2008, national testing in literacy and numeracy for primary and junior secondary education reveals Northern Territory (NT) remote Aboriginal children have consistently performed at a much lower level than all other groups across Australia (ACARA, 2021; Fry, 2020). This performance is situated within the tensions of globalisation and its association with a broader and stratified education system, of which ongoing Westernised education policy reforms, predicated on ideals of Inclusive Education, have failed to address (Gillan, Mellor & Krakouer, 2017; Vandenbussche & De Schauwer, 2018). Against this policy dynamic, I offer an Aboriginal counter-Story through the lens of critical race theory, turning to the role that Aboriginal leadership can play in breaking this pattern. In this Story I reify its legitimate and structural positioning within the tensions of capitalism and its Western political economy, underpinned through its binary exchanges within the political discourses of neoliberalism and neocolonialism in shaping NT education outcomes for remote Aboriginal students. I present this argument firstly through unpacking key policy design and service modelling problems within Australia’s national education environment, demonstrating why this trajectory is unworkable in NT remote Aboriginal community school settings, and secondly, by outlining how Aboriginal leadership is pivotal in improving beyond this policy dysfunction. In this latter discussion I draw from my recent PhD research project which investigated this social imperative (Fry, 2020). Results from this study indicated that where Aboriginal leadership and governance of schooling services was enabled holistically and at the broadened regional level, improvements in education design and performance were readily apparent at the local level, enabling community engagement and student performance to substantially improve. I argue that Aboriginal leadership is not to be confused with tokenism, and needs instead to be embedded within an NT remote Aboriginal political economy that gives capacity for education to materialise as functional within the lived realities of remote Aboriginal families and community development. That is, it needs to be broad and far reaching across multiple governance layers. This I argue is central in member pursuits of ‘staying Aboriginal’ and to apply identity and its diasporic shifts as the existential foundation to achieving success within a broader world of capitalism and manufactured social inequality (Fry, 2020). That is, in achieving cultural integration, rather than the dysfunctional and costly paradigm of forced assimilation, through what I argue has been a ‘weaponised’ Western education system. This paper argues a power and governance displacement of NT remote Aboriginal education policy design away from centralised government bureaucracy and toward regional Indigenous-led service provision models.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-21
    Number of pages21
    JournalThe Australian Educational Researcher
    Publication statusSubmitted - 2021

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