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Study finds cultural inclusion key for remote Indigenous students  

[by Jessica Evans]

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CDU lecturer and researcher Dr Gary Fry has sought to examine the policy reasons why Aboriginal students in remote Northern Territory schools are under-performing compared to other students. Image: supplied

A Charles Darwin University study has sought to examine the policy reasons why Aboriginal students in remote Northern Territory schools are underperforming under a western education model and framework.

The study has revealed that the current education model is not setting up Northern Territory remote Aboriginal students for success, but instead is keeping them marginalised and significantly academically behind other Australian students.

CDU lecturer and researcher Dr Gary Fry has been a teacher and senior executive principal in remote and urban schools in the Territory for more than 25 years. He grew up in Darwin and is a proud Aboriginal man from Katherine and is a registered member of the Dagoman language group. 

As a part of his research, Dr Fry visited remote schools across the Territory in the Tiwi Islands, Katherine region, Groote Eylandt and Arnhem Land, viewing and learning the way that Western-formatted education policies impacted remote families and their capacity to engage meaningfully with government-run schools. 

On a visit to Gunbalanya School in Arnhem Land, Dr Fry found that Indigenous cultural inclusion is needed within the policy planning of NT remote school services and that Aboriginal voices must be central in educational service delivery.

“Examples like Gunbalanya show that the institution of education is more likely to succeed when Aboriginal peoples are centrally positioned in the leadership, governance, and voices of education concerning children and community development,” Dr Fry said.

He found that students who are connected to their Indigenous identity at school to be more positive and engaged at school and attendance and performance outcomes were higher.

“If we want Aboriginal students to thrive in remote schools, the voices of Aboriginal people must be built in and integrated within the school and be a place where children can listen to the stories and languages of their people,” Dr Fry said.

“The way we can start to engineer change from the current system that impacts indigenous young people is by connecting kids to culture and allowing them to have a sense of grounding in their identity and creating indigenous led and run schools.”

Dr Fry has been awarded the 2021 University of Sydney medal, the Sister Alison Bush Medal, for his PhD: Indigeneity as a foundation for patterned Northern Territory remote Aboriginal student achievement within a stratified western education system.

The award is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who have achieved a high standard of academic proficiency and contribution to Indigenous community development. This award is a key mechanism within the University of Sydney in celebrating the voices of Indigenous researchers and their decolonising voices.

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