Public policy on formal education for indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory

  • Charles Andrew Cameron

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    As the title of the thesis, “Public Policy on Formal Education for Indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory”, indicates, the research field is primarily policy influencing formal education for Indigenous peoples in the Northern Territory (NT). The study examines the issue of the policy's failure, for the most part, to realise for Indigenous peoples in the NT outcomes that are equitable with those for other Territorians. The essential premise with which the study commences is that cultural difference, between the public service providers and their Indigenous clients and their circumstances, is primarily responsible for that failure.

    The period covered is from the end of World War Two (WWII) to the end of the twentieth century. It is necessary, however, to venture briefly further back in history for adequate background, and some developments early in the 2000s are germane. The study has involved research in the histories of government, social and economic development, Indigenous affairs and education in the NT, policy theory and analysis, and public administration of education in cross-cultural situations. The thesis, as a result, comprises strands of history of public education in the NT, development of related public policy, and quantitative and qualitative analysis of the policy processes, the policies they produced and their implementation for Indigenous Territorians.

    The term, “formal education”, is employed to denote primary and secondary schooling and post-school academic and training provisions, particularly to distinguish conventional, Western-oriented, public education from traditional Indigenous education. The principal issue is that, at the end of the twentieth century, Indigenous students' overall achievement in formal educational was unsatisfactory, distinctly below that of non-Indigenous Territorians, including non-native speakers of English, meeting neither providers' goals nor clients' expectations. Standards were perceived as having declined over the last quarter-century.

    The findings are not conclusive, but they point distinctly to a gap between the civic culture of the public providers and the cultures of the clients and their circumstances as being the prime cause of public education policy's failing Indigenous Territorians generally. Paradoxes abound, however. The principal quandary is that as the process grew more inclusive, promoting client-ownership and -participation, and as resource allocations increased and specific needs were addressed, outcomes declined. No instant panaçaea has emerged, but rigour and accountability in formal education are recognised as fundamental and integral to the comprehensive approach required to address the wide-ranging inter-related societal problems assailing Indigenous Territorians. It is proposed as potentially advantageous that service delivery employ Indigenous instructional and learning styles, provided “culturally appropriate” does not become a euphemism for patronising diminution of rigour. Ultimately, there is no gainsaying the reality that circumstances, including educational outcomes, in any community, remote, rural or urban, will only improve and be sustainable when they are given priority and sustained commitment locally.
    Date of AwardJul 2005
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDennis Shoesmith (Supervisor)

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