A Share in the Future
EPR701: Assignment 1: Document Analysis
Fiona McRobie


In 2014, the Northern Territory Government published their Indigenous Education Strategy (IES) in response to the independent review A Share in the Future – Review of Indigenous Education in the Northern Territory (Wilson, 2014). The review called for a long-term coherent, strategic response to provide Indigenous children in the Northern Territory with the same educational opportunities as other Australian children. Here, I analyse the A Share in the Future: Indigenous Education Strategy 2015–2024 brochure (Northern Territory Government, 2014). This document was written for public distribution, to inform members of the education system and other stakeholders of the motivation behind the various programs to be implemented. The long-term strategic targets are primarily aimed at the Australian Curriculum general capabilities of Literacy and Numeracy (author names failed to display, 2013; Australian Government, 2013), measurable through the Australian Early Childhood Development Census and National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN).

In this document, I analyse the stated visions and goals of the IES using the framework of Codd (1988). He analyses New Zealands’ The Curriculum Review through textual deconstruction and critiques the ideologies uncovered. He also argues that, given that the intention of the author is not explicitly presented and may therefore be impossible to define, analysis of a policy document should perhaps instead focus on the decisions it provokes in its readers. I describe the document in section \ref{section:IES}, identifying key aspects and themes. I consider the representation of learners, teachers, learning, and teaching through textual analysis of the document in section \ref{section:representations}. In section \ref{section:impacts}, however, I turn to the impact of the policy for a consideration of its connections with curriculum and pedagogy. Finally, the developments of my own understanding and beliefs regarding learning and teaching in response to the document are discussed in section \ref{section:mybeliefs}.

The Indigenous Education Strategy

\label{section:IES} The document begins with a message from the Minister of Education outlining the motivation for the strategy and its aims. Following this, the context is set: 70% of the Territory’s schools are in remote locations outside the greater Darwin region, and in these schools educational outcomes for Indigenous learners are declining despite decades of governmental strategies (Wilson, 2014). The IES is positioned as offering Indigenous students in remote locations with post-school career opportunities.

The IES is comprised of five elements, drawn from the recommendations of Wilson (2014). The first three elements focus on goals for learners from early childhood through to school completion. These build on one another, demonstrating how success in secondary schooling is dependent on the skills and knowledge gained in primary years. The fourth focuses on community engagement, with a particular emphasis on the necessity for family and community support in order for regular school attendance. The final element considers the need for a strong educational workforce in order to achieve these goals for Indigenous learners.

The IES provides five principles on which the strategy was formed. These principles are visible throughout the goals set, which aligns with Wilson (2014) who argued that coherence across the Territory’s policies and plans is essential in order to deal sensitively with the moral and cultural complexities inherent in Indigenous education issues. There is a strong emphasis on evidence-based methods that have been demonstrated to improve student performance, and seeking to balance community autonomy and centralised system-wide programs. Indeed, the elements Pathways and Engagement directly address principles 1 and 3 respectively.

The document concludes with a graphic depicting the implementation timeline, however no specific actions are provided. These are set in the triennial review cycles, and published separately.

  1. Education provides social and economic advantages and all learners are respected.

  2. Student wellbeing and education outcomes will not be compromised.

  3. Community is engaged, has choice and culture is respected.

  4. Resource decisions are based on effective, evidence-based practices driving improved outcomes for Indigenous students.

  5. Autonomy is balanced with consistent and system-wide effort, accountability and alignment with Northern Territory Government policies addressing the needs of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory.

Representations of participants

\label{section:representations} Codd (1988) observes that the New Zealand curriculum review of 1986 is constructed to be read in different ways by different readers, building an image of social harmony and engaged individual learners. In a similar way, the IES represents learners, teachers, and other members of the community in specific, intended manners. The opening message from the Minister for Education applauds teachers for their commitment, while painting a picture of remotely located Indigenous learners as disadvantaged due to their location. The document strengthens this representation, describing students as “condemned" and “deprived" of opportunities to fully engage in the Territory’s economy. Within the individual elements, however, learners are depicted as having the potential to “succeed", “achieve", “complete", and be “fully engaged". The statement that “all learners are respected" may be interpreted in the immediate context - that they will be respected within the policy - or more broadly - that society respects those who learn. Both offer a positive image of learners, feeding into the policy position that all possible steps should be taken to ensure that students are provided with maximum opportunity to be learners. The document defines these learners within the specific parameters of government schools, which is unsurprising in a government education policy document, but may be interpreted to contradict the claim of community choice. Learning is presented as an activity which requires structuring and external control; indeed the entire document is based on this fundamental assumption.

The document represents teaching as a remedy to the disadvantage facing Indigenous students in remote Northern Territory locations. The first principle underpinning the IES states that education is able to offer social and economic advantages. This theme is continued through the document, where goals are introduced with the aim of equipping students for post-schooling employment or further education. Teachers themselves are presented as capable, with the ability to implement programs effectively and impact students’ futures. The final element of the policy speaks directly of teachers and educational workers, using strongly positive language: “highly skilled", “motivated", “high performing". In a similar fashion to Keogh (1995), this appears to be used in a promotional sense, advertising the Territory’s Department of Education’s ability to recruit expert educators.

Connections with curriculum and pedagogy

\label{section:impacts} The intended implementation of the IES in schools is not given in the document itself. The policy programs are revised on a three-year basis, and the ‘Implementation Plan 2015–2017’ (Northern Territory Government, 2015) outlines the current actions. These are structured across the five elements, focusing on learners from pre-primary through to school completion, community engagement, and the educational workforce. However, the manner in which these might be implemented is dependent on the various ‘policy actors’ inside the school and out (Ball et al., 2011). This is the cause of variation in policy enactment on both a school-by-school basis, as well as within any given government school. Ball et al. (2011) characterise eight different ‘actors’ in the context of implementing educational policy within a school, ranging from narrators at the top of the school, who communicate policies to the rest of the staff, to recievers, who have little autonomy and must adapt their teaching practices in response. Within this set of players, the interpretation and response to policy determines its impact on learners. Given that the IES is focused on remote and very remote learners, there is a geographical disconnect between the policy makers and those who are required to implement them. This limits monitoring and as such it seems likely that local factors, such as community and cultural drivers, will be taken into account as policies are interpreted, translated and enacted (Braun et al., 2010).

There is a strong focus on literacy, one of the ‘general capabilities’ in the Australian Curriculum (author names failed to display, 2013). As a foundation skill, developing literacy increases a student’s access to other learning areas and therefore acts as a useful benchmark of learning progression. In the IES, the AECDC and NAPLAN are measures of program success and are discussed in the context of making students ‘school-ready’ and ‘workplace-ready’ (Northern Territory Government, 2014). Tying the 10-year targets to these measures not only produces quantifiable indicators of success, but also places responsibility on individual schools to implement the IES programs.

The structure and aims of the policy encourages a curriculum focused on future employment. It is possible that this emphasis would be implemented in schools as a focus on literacy and numeracy at the expense of the broader curriculum. This is further supported by the use of NAPLAN test scores as the measure of success of IES implementation. However, this may propagate a deficit model of tackling educational inequality, relying on assessments based on an understanding of learners and learning which does not allow for broad cultural diversity (Klenowski, 2009).

There is a tension between pursuing educational success for Indigenous students and attempting to build a culturally sensitive education system. The policy states that students in very remote locations are to be transitioned to regional centres for secondary schooling. This has implications for the classroom, where a culturally relevant pedagogy would ideally be affirming students’ cultural identities and teaching students to question the inequalities in society (Young, 2010). This becomes more complex in an environment where students are not able to be educated within their own communities.