One year on, national education strategy taking effect
In the year since the national Indigenous education strategy Dare to Lead: taking it on commenced, many practical advances have been made. Since the launch in April 2003, the Dare to Lead Coalition has brought together 1737 Australian schools, easily exceeding the initial target of 1500.
A review conducted by the Dare to Lead project team shows that leaders of Coalition schools are already taking action. Eighty-seven per cent of respondents said that their school had taken practical steps to encourage interaction between Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people during the first year of this project. Eighty-six per cent have invited Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander guest speakers to their schools. Ninety-three per cent of respondents indicated that their schools are now observing key teaching principles as established by Indigenous education experts in conjunction with Dare to Lead.
This data indicates that many schools are on course to achieve one of the three targets of Dare to Lead. This requires all schools, irrespective of whether or not they have Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students enrolled, committing to review and, where possible, improve the quality of teaching about Australia's Indigenous peoples as a practical step towards reconciliation.
The project's two other main targets are: the improvement of Indigenous students' literacy rates at Year 5 by 10 per cent; and increasing the retention of Indigenous students from Year 10 to Year 12 completion by 10 per cent. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Coalition schools are making advances in these areas. Statistical information will be collected over the course of the project to establish the extent of improvement.
Dare to Lead is a national cross-sectoral project which emphasises the role of school leaders in effecting change, and supports the profession as it provides leadership for the nation in Reconciliation. It is funded by the Commonwealth government and administered by the Australian Principals' Associations' Professional Development Council (APAPDC).
To mark the first year of this phase of the project, the four peak bodies which make up APAPDC restated their commitment to Dare to Lead.
"The progress being made is encouraging," Australian Primary Principals' Association president and APAPDC chair Tom Croker says. "This is a major task, and the process is only just starting to have an impact. There remain some principals who have a genuine interest, but who still haven't quite got to grips with how to take on this project. We must ensure that everyone who is endeavouring to achieve something is guided and supported in their efforts. I take my hat off to those schools which are engaging in what I believe is an incredibly important part of Australian educational history."
"The Dare to Lead program has been taken up and developed in different ways by our schools," says Malcolm Lamb, Chairperson of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia. As befits an organisation representing a wide diversity of non-Government schools, there has been a variety of responses to the program. These have ranged from rethinking school protocols to auditing curriculum to sporting carnivals between school groups and Indigenous teams. "The exchange of ideas between schools will result in more schools taking up the challenge of Dare to Lead," Mr Lamb says.
"Catholic schools provide a significant proportion of the Coalition members who have signed up so far," notes Association of Principals of Catholic Secondary Schools of Australia chairperson Br. Ambrose Payne. "Many Catholic schools have taken the step of employing IEROs (Indigenous Education Resource Officers) in their schools to facilitate improved student outcomes, and have forged links with local Indigenous communities and organisations to strengthen the partnership concept so critical to improving the outcomes for Indigenous students."
"Better learning outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students requires better attendance rates and better engagement with learning, and schools will not be able to achieve improvement in this area by themselves," Australian Secondary Principals Association president Ted Brierley says. "This is a school community issue which requires both a school and a community effort. Dare to Lead is a very worthy initiative, and one which will bring participating schools closer to the communities which they serve. The time for action has arrived. The issues and solutions remain complex, but amenable to the efforts of committed school communities."
While the challenges ahead remain formidable, there is excitement generated by the current demonstration that positive change can be achieved. This is an area where Australia's school leaders have taken it upon themselves to lead not just their own learning communities, but Australian society as a whole. Almost one in five Australian schools has joined the Dare to Lead Coalition - schools from every state and territory, every sector, both primary and secondary. Things are happening, because educators are making them happen.
The next step will be to examine data from member schools to measure what has been done to close the gap of inequality in outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian students. The step after that is to entrench those educational practices which work into everyday school structures across the country, to ensure that there are real long-term improvements, not just short-term gains.
A version of this article first appeared in Campus Review, 16-22 June 2004.
For more information on the Dare to Lead initiative visit the APAPDC website.
Subject HeadingsAboriginal peoples