04 SES 09 A, School As A Conflict Arena: What Is The Role Of Inclusion?
Research within academic literature and policy of the terms ‘Indigenous education’ and ‘excellence’ in education demonstrates the contested nature and the disjuncture of the conceptual, ideological, and practical distance between these two concepts within mainstream discourses. The term excellence has emerged from Indigenous communities around within Australia as a way of addressing the deficits mindset and approach towards Indigenous education. In small pockets of social media or in the naming of various educational programs, for example, the term excellence is being used with a limited understanding of what constitutes Indigenous education excellence and the ways in which this conceptualisation can be used to recognise Indigenous knowledges and strengths in order to inform the changes needed in the system to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous young people.
This paper is part of a funded research project, “Doing things right way: Dimensions of excellence in Indigenous education in Queensland secondary schools”, which focuses specifically on the role of leadership in the pursuit of excellence in Indigenous education in Australia. This pilot study explores what excellence in Indigenous education is or could be, thereby informing a model of practice for educators and leaders that is grounded in concepts underpinned by excellence, and that centres Indigenous voices in conceptualising excellence in Indigenous education, as well as shared understandings between Indigenous and non-Indigenous practitioners.
As we interrogated the concept of excellence in Indigenous education, the following research questions were used to study participants’ conceptualization and enactment of excellence at school level.
- How is excellence in Indigenous Education defined by Indigenous educators and community leaders?
- What are some examples Indigenous educators and community leaders identify as Excellence in Indigenous Education?
- What do Indigenous educators and community leaders indicate as ways leaders can support the enactment of excellence in Indigenous education?
The lack of research within academic literature and policy of the terms ‘Indigenous education’ and ‘excellence’ in education demonstrates the contested nature and the disjuncture of the conceptual, ideological, and practical distance between these two concepts within mainstream discourses. The role of inclusive education and leadership is to transform schools into platforms of excellence and equality for all students. It is becoming one of the key global tools to overcome discriminatory attitudes about differences, which is essential in developing a more democratic and open society (Ainscow 2005; Kozleski and Thorius 2014). Inclusive education and leadership require new thinking and practices to support marginalised groups. Europe, has been shaped by constant political, economic, social and cultural upheaval (Cook 2013; Haggard and Kaufman 2008) and it is critical to address the contexts and conditions in the countries that results in segregation and discriminatory attitudes, which inevitably leads to inequitable educational opportunities and unfair outcomes for marginalised groups. The findings from this study have implications to all contexts, including Europe, as globalisation has resulted in educational disparities across many diverse groups of learners.
Within the European context, which has faced mass migration, a key challenge is catering to a diversified population and allowing for different groups to co-exist harmoniously with a common sense of identity and targeted towards improved students’ learning. Drawing on literatures within multicultural education, cultural difference and diversity, culturally relevant education, ‘closing the gap’, and cultural competence in schooling, it is important to understand the importance of providing culturally responsive service that would be able to cater to the diversified community. In doing so, it is also important that diverse groups or ‘cultural others’ are not positioned as problems. Culturally responsive leaders and teachers value students’ existing strengths and accomplishments, supporting students and developing them further in learning and most importantly respecting and valuing the unique identity of each child (Gay, 2000).
The study adopts a qualitative approach to construct the three case studies. As the study explores the case study schools’ approach to Indigenous excellence and examines their respective leadership principles and school cultures that frame the general practices aligned to Indigenous excellence, a collective case-oriented approach was appropriate where multiple examples are contextualized and localized (Punch, 2013). Cross-case analyses were conducted to sieve out similarities and differences in the way the schools are interpreting and realising Indigenous education excellence. Emergent meta- level conceptual themes on Indigenous education excellence were discussed: enablers and constraints; and the relevance of distinctions between Indigenous excellence and academic achievement were also addressed. Qualitative data from various means were collected. • Story-telling - grounded in Indigenous ways of being, knowing and doing and has capacity to include all actors within the story, including non-Indigenous participants (Denzin and Lincoln, 2017). • Semi-structured interview/yarning: Ten questions driving the yarning (defining excellence; examples of excellence; factors that support). • Story-boarding or audio recorded methods to collect the data in line with principles of ethical research in Indigenous contexts (Shay, 2019). The theoretical lens used is based on Rigney (2001) Indigenist principles of political integrity, resistance as the emancipatory imperative and privileging of Indigenous voices in the conceptual framing of Indigenous research. Whilst the data includes the perspectives of non-Indigenous researchers (who make up the majority of the education workforce), the research design ensured there were mechanisms to aim for at least half of all participants to be Indigenous, ensuring that Indigenous peoples perspectives, stories, experiences and aspirations are central in conceptualizing what Indigenous education excellence is or could be. Specific analysis to foreground the voices of Indigenous perspectives across all research questions was informed by Rigney’s Indigenist principles.
In terms of what excellence in Indigenous education looked like, there were three common themes that emerged across the collaborative yarning sessions: nurturing culture and identity, building up young people; and, building a culture of inclusivity and belonging. A key finding within the study is the important role that leadership plays in the enactment of excellence in schools. The findings from the literature review and also the empirical research conducted, have concluded that there is a need for school leaders who are cognizant of the importance of providing a conducive environment that respects and values Indigenous knowledges, have high expectations for Indigenous students’ achievements and most importantly encourages meaningful and culturally responsive pedagogical practices that assist in the building of a strong culture and enhances learning and involvement for Indigenous students. Many Indigenous educators also discussed the importance of supportive school leaders that provided them with opportunities to lead in their school communities. School leaders were committed to: (1) embedding Indigenous education, culture and histories into the life of the school and into their school policy documents; (2) moving beyond singular occurrences in school life; and, (3) creating a sustainable ongoing commitment to acknowledging and supporting Indigenous young people in their schools. The data also showed that exploring Indigenous education through a lens of excellence was a foreign notion, our analysis suggests that this is due to the prevailing deficit discourses that exist in policy, scholarship and practice. As this research is original in concept, these initial findings suggest that growing this data set will assist in producing a broader understanding and will assist in theorizing what Indigenous education excellence is or can be in Australia. The implications for this study are far reaching as educational parity for First Nations students globally remains a critical social justice issue.
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