New school reforms in NSW, Victoria and South Australia will be implemented next year and are likely to create a further surge in Indigenous education, with Indigenous students already a minority in some of the biggest schools in the states.
New education laws were introduced in NSW in 2015, and Victoria in 2017, with the first bill to pass the lower house of parliament in each state.
The NSW bill, the Education and Skills (Schools and Academies) Amendment Bill 2017, passed the lower chamber of the state parliament last week.
It will see the introduction of mandatory Indigenous education standards, the introduction and implementation of a school improvement scheme, and the reopening of some schools and academies in the state.
It is understood the legislation will see more Indigenous students in school.
But the legislation has also sparked concern about its impact on schools, with one Aboriginal teacher saying she is unsure of how it will affect her children’s education.
She told the ABC the legislation was a positive step, but she had concerns about the impact on her own Indigenous students.
“I am concerned about the impacts it will have on my students’ learning and their wellbeing, because the school that I am currently teaching in the north-west is a community school,” she said.
“They do not have the same resources that I have, so if they have a child with a learning disability, that child might be more disadvantaged in their future learning.”
The NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, said the legislation would improve Indigenous education in NSW.
“It will increase the number of Indigenous students, and improve the outcomes of Indigenous learners, and will also provide support for Indigenous teachers,” he said.
He said the new laws would ensure Indigenous students were taught the curriculum in the same way as other students, with a focus on the arts and social justice.
“There will be no discrimination in the provision of services to Indigenous children,” he added.
But Indigenous education advocates have questioned whether the legislation, and its impact, would be positive for Indigenous children.
The ACT has introduced similar legislation, which is currently under review.
In NSW, there are more than 100 school improvement schemes in the Northern Territory, which will be rolled out across the state in the new year.
In addition to Indigenous education and literacy, these schemes will be targeted at Indigenous students with particular needs.
Some Indigenous students have already found themselves in the middle of the education system, with students from the Indigenous Peoples’ Education Association (IPEA) saying they are struggling to attend school.
“The lack of Indigenous representation in schools, in school boards and the curriculum is the primary reason that Indigenous students are struggling in school,” the IPA’s secretary, Paul Williams, said.
Williams said Indigenous students face many barriers to accessing education.
“In some ways they face the same obstacles as the rest of Australia,” he told the Nine Network’s Today program.
“And I think in a sense they are trying to overcome those barriers by coming into schools and attending schools, and not just as students, but as part of a team.”
New education minister Adrian Piccioli said Indigenous education was a priority.
“This bill will ensure that Indigenous children have the opportunity to learn, and to grow and develop in schools,” he wrote in a statement.
The new legislation will not impact schools across the country, but Indigenous students will still be required to attend mandatory Indigenous-led education and will be expected to complete the school improvement and school improvement curriculum.
“We know that there are still many Indigenous people in Australia, many Indigenous Australians, who cannot access their full education,” the Minister said.
“They are also at risk of further disadvantage and disadvantage at school and at the workplace, which are the main reasons why Indigenous people do not graduate from school or get further education.”