Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Promoting Teacher Quality and Continuity: Tackling the Disadvantages of Remote Indigenous Schools in the Northern Territory

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Promoting Teacher Quality and Continuity: Tackling the Disadvantages of Remote Indigenous Schools in the Northern Territory

Article excerpt

Introduction

In Australia, many teachers who work in remote Indigenous communities are new or recent graduates (Cape York Institute, 2007; Heslop, 2005). Furthermore, most are from white, middle-class, urban environments and have had little interaction with people of other ethnicities and social class (Allard & Santoro, 2004; Causey, Thomas & Armento, 2000), and no experience of life in isolated rural or remote settings. Teacher turnover as a result is very high in rural and remote communities (Heslop, 2003; Jorgensen, Grootenboer, Niesche & Lerman, 2010).

The 2008 national English literacy and numeracy benchmarking tests indicated that the Northern Territory had some of the highest illiteracy rates in the country (Hughes, 2009; Kral, 2009). School attendance rates in some remote Northern Territory Indigenous communities have dropped to a reported 37% (Schliebs, 2010). There is growing evidence that remote students' disengagement from education is hampering their social and psychological development, further exacerbating their social exclusion (Alston & Kent, 2003). It is becoming increasingly obvious that the entrenched disparities in health, income and employment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and metropolitan and non-metropolitan regions have educational inequality at their root (Gray & Lawrence, 2001; Pritchard & McManus, 2000). This article commences from the premise that a new approach to teacher recruitment and retention in schools with high Indigenous populations is crucial to closing this gap.

A high turnover of teachers has a significant impact on the quality of curriculum planning and implementation possible at a strategic level. It also inhibits the fostering of meaningful community relationships, and evidence-based research has consistently shown that strong community links are vital in establishing good practice in Indigenous education (Harrison, 2008; Heslop, 2005). There is a perceived lack of commitment by the community of teachers who do not stay in communities and the very real administrative problems associated with constant recruitment, orientation and service delivery that can affect policies, curriculum preferences and pedagogy (Whitman, 2002). Additionally, remote Northern Territory Indigenous schools often miss out on targeted academic research as well as state- and university-based incentive schemes, despite having the greatest need for improvements in attendance, educational outcomes and teacher retention. Similarly, because a coordinated inter- and intra-government approach to support better retention rates has not been attempted, remote Indigenous schools continue to be disadvantaged.

The impact of teacher retention on Indigenous education outcomes is readily quantifiable (Labone et al., 2009; Whitman, 2002; Yarrow, Ballantyne, Hansford, Herschell & Millwater, 1999). In 2004, the Australian Education Review on Indigenous education outcomes specifically identified high teacher mobility as an issue of concern in Indigenous learning, stating:

There seems to be inadequate attention in the research literature to this issue. Given the ... research findings that quality teaching is integral to educational success, there can be little doubt that, if high teacher mobility is evident in a school, the students are not receiving quality teaching. Research must explicitly examine this from the objective perspective of examining teacher mobility patterns across schools, especially those in remote areas (Mellor & Corrigan, 2004:36).

But the factors leading to high teacher turnover in these remote settings are often less tangible.

The geographical reaches of state and territory government schemes, which could tackle some of the factors that influence their capacity to attract and maintain quality teachers in remote communities, as well as tertiary institutions' community engagement policies, are regionally circumscribed. …

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