Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Educational motivation in Indigenous Australians
What are the key educational motivators for Indigenous Australians?
Catch a kid a fish you'll feed them for a day, however, teach that kid to fish you'll feed them for a lifetime (Ritchie, 1885) this famous concept resonates across many cultures including that of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. More than 60,000 years of traditional knowledge has been passed down through Songline, dance and ceremony with culture at its intrinsic core, however, fundamentally Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were motivated to learn from it in order to survive. One of Australia’s ‘Close the Gap’ targets for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is to close the educational gap, however, the Australian curriculum revolves around the Western concept of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic at it's intrinsic motivational core. This knowledge is of course important to pass onto future generations, however, its useless if the audience is not intrinsically motivated to learn it. Lets face it, not every Australian is in the first place. Different communities have their own traditional knowledge systems which is fundamental to passing on learning so a place based approach to learning opposed to a national curriculum approach could be a good approach to engaging key educational motivators for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Andrew J. Martin in 2006 came up with an integrated framework designed to motivate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. The framework focus's on 7 major themes being the self, cognitive and affective, failure dynamics, socialisation and child- rearing, pathways and transition, significant others and their contexts and contributions to general principles of behavior.
Indigenous education motivational framework
To engage well with the education system, having intrinsic motivation coming from within the individual student to succeed is very important. If the individual 'wants' to do something intrinsically as opposed to 'having' to do something through extrinsic motivation (or being told what to do), performance outcomes for the individual will increase. (Ryan & Deci, 2000) found that individuals with higher autonomy, competence and relatedness in the workplace performed much better than those who experienced lower. This in now commonly referred to as Self-Determination Theory (SDT) in Motivational Psychology. by instilling these same principles within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from a young age in the classroom, performance outcomes and school attendance, based on the evidence, should improve.
When the teacher dictates the curriculum from the textbook, children (not just indigenous children) lose their sense of Autonomy and a sense of purpose to evolve their own unique critical thinking methods (Craven, Ryan, Mooney, Vallerand, Dillon, Blacklock, & Magson, 2016). Indigenous knowledge has at least 60,000 years of autonomously evolved learning which is so advanced for it's time and so practical when learnt in its context, to apply it into the national curriculum would be very difficult. Instead a focus on having every school in Australia approach their local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander elders for advice on teaching traditional knowledge from a bottom up approach might be beneficial (Pascoe, 2014., Duncan, 2017). Indigenous learning should not only be celebrated, but embraced in the classroom and traditional knowledge taught on country in a culturally respectful way instils pride in all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students because their identity is being supported by the school (Martin, 2006).
Cognitive and affective
It’s really important Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students feel supported in their journey from important role models such as parents, teachers and influential indigenous leaders in the community (Martin., 2006). By modelling the success of what a good education can achieve for the individual, belief within is instilled and more engagement with the curriculum follows. Of course having an achievable curriculum is vitally important.
In the year 2000 at the [Olympics], [Freeman] famously won gold for Australia in the 400m Women’s track event. It was during her victory lap whereby she decided to wear the Aboriginal flag instead of the Australian flag that has made that victory so memorable for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Cathy Freeman has since used her status to set up a foundation for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children called the Cathy Freeman Foundation whereby the motto is “Education changes lives”. On such initiative the foundation offers is known as the Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY) which aims to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents the right tools to instill confidence into their children so they are much more determined to take on their education journey.
In Australia, the teachers initial stereotype of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students is generally, one of low academic success (Dandy, Durkin, Barber, & Houghton, 2015). If educators keep this mindset within the classroom and when an Indigenous student inevitably gets something wrong (like all students do learning), less effort to understand the student’s problem from the educator is administered. This theory is also known as the self-fulfilling prophecy (Azariadis, 1981.) because afterall , why is it in the teachers best interest to help out the Indigenous kid who is struggling, they’re not going to perform well anyway. Of course this attitude with-in the classroom is not the majority of Australian teachers, however, understanding that if you are to underestimate an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander student based on racial stereotypes, it can have a profound impact on their learning outcomes (Dandy, Durkin, Barber, & Houghton, 2015). If an Indigenous student is performing well in the classroom, the self-fulfilling prophecy that the teacher holds of that student makes it less likely for them to reward such excellence than if they were of non-Indigenous background (Dandy, Durkin, Barber, & Houghton, 2015).
Also, if an Indigenous student (like any student) gets a question wrong, being constructive with your criticism is vital (Martin., 2006). The concept of shame is experienced more from Indigenous students than non-Indigenous students (Dobia, & Roffey., 2017). On average, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students internalise failure more so than their non-Indigenous peers. In turn this leads to less participation within the classroom and also an internalised feeling of failure. By treating all students within the classroom as equal, regardless of their background, the environment leads itself less to shame and more towards discussion which inevitably produces more critical thinking (Dobia, & Roffey., 2017).
Socialisation and child rearing
It’s important that the home and community life of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students is positive (Martin., 2006). Albert Bandura in 1963 determined that behaviour modelled by adults was more likely to be emulated by observant children. This theory is known as social learning theory where originally children who observed adult behaviour towards objects would act out in the same way towards a Bobo Doll (Bandura., 1965). Theoretically, if children are witness to a positive environment at home where their adult role models are engaged, learning becomes vicariously rewarding for the child internally.
Also Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in remote Australia grow up learning vicariously their own traditional language and culture (Kale, & Luke., 2017.). The motivational benefits of incorporating traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge into the Australian curriculum would benefit the social learning being done at home and in the community. To incorporate flexibility, knowing full well how diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and language is (Nguyen, Oliver, & Rochecouste., 2015) and embracing this. Not all of Australia can read and write at the minimum standard required, but that should not be fixed, it should be celebrated. So many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in remote communities are having to learn English as a second, third, fourth etc. language, however, for them to achieve success in tertiary education they are required to write fluent English. Relaxing the requirements to allow Aboriginal English, Torres Strait Creole etc. throughout their educational career should be encouraged to increase their own worth and autonomy as academics (Nguyen, et al., 2015).
Pathways and transition
Understanding the student’s individual ability to achieve academic success, efficacy whilst also maintaining social and emotional well-being is crucial (Waldrip, Yu, & Prain., 2016.). More and more schools across Australia are beginning to take a more individual approach to learning. Personalised Learning Plan help the teacher work closely with the parents and the student in order to get the best possible outcomes. In terms of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learning it is important that the teacher has a measurable tool to determine accurately whether there is a need for intervention if the student is falling behind (Martin, 2006). The Personalised Learning Plan allows the teacher to determine if the parents and students’ educational requirements are not being met and also allows intervention to be culturally appropriate to ensure the social and emotional well-being of the student is maintained (Waldrip, Yu, & Prain., 2016.).
Significant others and their contexts
In order for teachers to become better role models of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, a greater emphasis on acknowledging the true history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history post colonisation should be adopted (Lowe, & Yunkaporta., 2013). Whilst Australia tries to Close the education Gap, it is the teachers who play a pivotal role in motivating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to engage in the curriculum. By the teacher trying to understand some of the unique challenges experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on a daily basis, a sense of trust is created and the teacher-student relationship is strengthened (Martin., 2006).
Contribution to general principles of behavior
Building up confidence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children during their early schooling years gives them important behavioural learning tools later on in life (Munns, Martin, & Craven., 2008). Instead of focusing on how far the education gap is between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Non-indigenous people is, there should be much more focus on the positives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Footprints in Time- the Logitudinal Study of Indigenous Children, is looking to determine how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s social and emotional well-being is impacted by their experiences with education (Salmon, Skelton, Thurber, Kneebone, Gosling, Lovett, & Walter., 2018). The longitudinal study is now in its eleventh year. By determining what works well for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at a young age from a more holistic perspective, Australia’s education system can work very closely with the schools in order to adopt a culturally safe and engaging educational framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
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Aboriginal and Torres strait Islander student reading
In 2017, ACARA (The Australian Curriculum assessment and reporting authority) published data in relation to Australia's minimum standard of reading. the data determined that from 2008 to 2017, on average Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have improved their minimum standard of reading with the best improvements seen in year 3 (N=+14). it would be interesting to see whether over the next six years when the same students are in year nine, we have maintained the minimum standard of reading. the cohort showing the least improvement was Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in year 9 who didn't improve on their score from 2008 (N=71). the biggest challenge will be keeping the students motivated into year 9 as this data shows that as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students get older, the Indigenous students reading at the national minimum standard decreases.
The proportions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students achieving at or above the national minimum standard of reading from 2008 to 2017 (ACARA, 2017).
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student numeracy
In 2017, ACARA (The Australian Curriculum assessment and reporting authority) published data in relation to Australia's minimum standard of numeracy. Unlike ACARA's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander reading data, this shows that year 9 students have improved on their minimum standard scores since 2008 (N=+11). Across all cohorts at least 80% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students met the minimum standard of numeracy in 2017. The best percentage for numeracy scores were seen in the cohort in year 9 (N=84)
The proportions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students achieving at or above the national minimum standard of numeracy from 2008 to 2017 (ACARA, 2017).
Are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth currently satisfied with the curriculum?
Of course administrative data is important on determining if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are going well in reading at maths, however, it does not tell us much about their intrinsic motivation with the curriculum. in 2017, Mission Australia conducted a survey which asked the youth of Australia (15-19 year olds, N= 24,055) their own satisfaction with their studies. Of the 24,055 youth, 1265 (5.3%) were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.
70.4% of non-Indigenous respondents reported being satisfied or very satisfied compared with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents reporting a 58.6% satisfied or very satisfied rate. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied (N=13.1%) more so than non-Indigenous youth (N=6.7%). Of course satisfaction and motivation are different, however, it is interesting to look at the subjective data of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth of today and get an insight into what their opinions are of the current curriculum.
2017 self-reported satisfaction of 15-19 year olds with their studies in Australia (Mission Australia, 2017).
|Non-Indigenous respondents %||Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents %||Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females %||Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males %|
|Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied||22.9||28.2||28.8||27.3|
Barriers to educational motivators
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educational motivators go back 60,000 plus years and only in the last 240 years has motivation been shifted more towards the ability to read and write. Instead of the question being "how do we get Indigenous kids motivated in the education system?" the question should more so be "why should Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples be motivated in the education system?"
Only now is the curriculum starting to change and focus more on being more culturally inclusive. During the 90's going to primary school in Sydney, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students were taken on excursions to a statue of Captain Cook at Kurnell or Old Sydney Town to be taught history. What intrinsic motivation is in that? Where is the sense of pride in identity that should come with learning history? It's good to see researchers like (Martin., 2006) trying to put the onus back on the school to understand what motivates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students as opposed to just dictating a curriculum and blaming the individual for showing a lack of interest at school.
Schools that provide an environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to learn with a sense of autonomy and purpose can really get the most out of motivation to learn. By having confidence to participate in classroom discussions and knowing that if they do make a mistake they won't be judged harshly, goes a real long way to empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to learn.
Only now is the literature starting to focus on the positives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and as a result, basic reading and numeracy scores have generally improved over the last decade (ACARA., 2017). Now is the time however, to listen to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students being studied. Survey data whereby we are gathering the subjective opinions in terms of how they think the curriculum should be really needs to be looked at more. Mission Australia's annual youth survey and Footprints in Time: The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children do a good job of capturing this data.
Having a framework that can be adapted to meet Urban, Regional and Remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander motivational needs is also important. The difference in context of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander going to school in Sydney as opposed to Kununurra is going to be a completely different learned experience. An approach towards Personalised Learning Plans in order to meet the family and student needs is a great way to address this issue and also goes a long way to finding out just exactly what are the educational motivators of each unique Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.
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Salmon, M., Skelton, F., Thurber, K. A., Kneebone, L. B., Gosling, J., Lovett, R., & Walter, M. (2018). Intergenerational and early life influences on the well-being of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children: overview and selected findings from Footprints in Time, the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children. Journal of developmental origins of health and disease, 1-7.
Waldrip, B., Yu, J. J., & Prain, V. (2016). Validation of a model of personalised learning. Learning Environments Research, 19(2), 169-180.
- (The Australian Curriculum assessment and reporting authority)
- Footprints in Time- the Logitudinal Study of Indigenous Children
- Personalised Learning Plan