Impact of Policy on Indigenous Australians

Impact of Policy on Indigenous Australians

Essay 3 – Assessment 4 – analyse the impact of policy in the everyday experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. You will identify an aspect of Indigenous contemporary practice that you value or are interested in, and examine in a systematic way one policy that either supports that practice or interferes with it.

The Impact of Education Policy on the Indigenous Australians

Before colonisation, both the Aboriginal and the Torres Strait Islanders who had inhabited Australia practised complex education systems majorly linked to teaching by experience, observation and spoken knowledge (Burridge & Chodkiewicz, 2012, p. 13). The history of their education, however, changed rapidly following their colonisation. Education in the colonised country was guided by major policies, most of which saw the Indigenous children miss out both in the communities’ informal learning as well as the formal learning which was introduced by the immigrants (Burridge & Chodkiewicz, 2012, p. 13). The Indigenous children were exposed to discrimination as well as removal from their families which fully denied them opportunities to access education. Since independence, there have been major policy shifts that seek to incorporate the Indigenous children in the country’s education system by offering more educational opportunities (Malin & Maidment, 2003, p. 89). The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy (NATSIEP) was launched in 1989 with its main objective being to enhance the accessibility, effectiveness and responsiveness of education services to attain equal education standards for the Aboriginal and the Torres Strait Islander peoples (Robinson & Bamblett, 2010, p. 22). All the Australian governments which took part in the endorsement of the policy were cognizant of the fact that the Indigenous populations too deserved participation and access to education for equitable outcomes in the educational practice. The NATSIEP, for the period that it has been implemented, has resulted into substantial achievements in educational participation funding, access, enrollment, retention and educational outcomes for the Aboriginal and the Torres Islander peoples (Robinson & Bamblett, 2010, p. 23). However, the policy has not lived up to the expectations of the Indigenous populations due to its supposed emphasis on educational access at the expense of cultural appropriateness.

Participation in the education sector was among the key factors that led to the establishment of the NATSIEP. There is substantial evidence in literature in the education sector that the participation of the Aboriginal and Torres Islander people has increased significantly since the endorsement of the policy. During a National Review held in 1994, five years since the implementation of the policy, it was established that there was a continuous strong Indigenous community support to the educational practice (Reconcilliation Australia, 2015, p. 8). The links between the Indigenous communities and the education sectors have greatly shaped the access to education by the Indigenous children. The Australian schools have become more inclusive and accommodative of the views held by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The policy has necessitated major changes not only in the lower levels of learning but also the higher levels of learning (Freeman & Staley, 2017, p. 176). For instance, many tertiary institutions have existing Indigenous students’ support organisations and have set strategies to make them involved in the decision-making processes in the institutions.

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There have been great improvements at all levels of education in the enrollment and retention rates of the Indigenous students. Five years since the implementation of the policy, the school participation difference rate between the Indigenous and the Non-Indigenous populations had been halved (Reconcilliation Australia, 2015, p. 8). Currently, even though the participation of the Indigenous Australians in schooling has not equalled that of the non-Indigenous Australians, it is still improving and has stabilised (Rhea, 2015, p. 97). In 2017, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples National school attendance rate was 83.2 per cent (Australian Government- Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2017). This figure is a lot more comparable to the National school attendance rate for the non-Indigenous Australians, which was 93 per cent. The resulting gap of less than ten implies that there have been significant changes in the educational practice.

The policy success could be viewed in the perspective of the allocation of resources to Indigenous education. There was an agreement in the setting up of the policy that the Indigenous Australians must benefit from the general arrangements that were initially applied for other Australians (Robinson & Bamblett, 2010, p. 22). This implied that the authorities in the education sector were obliged to offer appropriate training placed and education standards for the Aboriginal and the Torres Islander People (Lloyd et al., 2015, p. 18). This arrangement has resulted in the freeing up of resources to facilitate the education of the Indigenous Australians.

Finally, the success of the NATSIEP is visible in the greater educational outcomes, which are often reflected in other areas such as employment, health and income. Effective education must have positive impacts on equalising communities socially and economically. Education has a positive impact on the economic outcomes of individual Indigenous Australians. Being educated offers Indigenous Australians a greater opportunity to participate in full-time employment (Australian Government- Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2017). Education has also significantly contributed to a reduction in the cases of preventable and long-term health conditions. The educated populations are less likely to engage in risky behaviours such as smoking and drug abuse. Overall, the policy has facilitated the practice of education which has consequently impacted the daily behaviours of the Aboriginal and the Torres Strait Islander Peoples positively.

Despite the upsides presented by the NATSIEP in the educational practice, it has also led to some substantial breakdowns in the education of the Indigenous Australians. The pivotal feature that limits the effectiveness of the policy is the assimilationist imperatives attached to it (Gillan et al., 2017, p. 40). Quite often, when the Indigenous Australians advocate for equality in education, the non-Indigenous Australians interpret it as an appeal for “sameness” (Robinson & Bamblett, 2010, p. 22). The non-Indigenous Australians are largely responsible for policy development, and their understanding has led to a flawed strategy which facilitates access without cultural appropriateness (Helme, 2010, p. 261). As a result, the education currently being received by the Indigenous populations is largely dependent on the contribution of the non-Indigenous Australians (Vass, 2012, p. 18). This implies that there is still a need to ensure that the access and participation of the Indigenous Australians needs to be contextualised to embed their cultural values.


The NATSIEP has led to major improvements in the educational practice among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Before the implementation of the policy, there was a very great difference between the education participation and access of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous population. The policy has been very vital in the improvement from extremely low levels of education involvement to greatly increased proportions in a span of less than three decades among the Indigenous Australians. The improvements are not only evident in the education practice but also other related sectors such as health and employment. However, there is still a major gap in the development of the policy that needs to be considered. The assimilative nature of the policy should be outlawed to allow for educational practice which is culturally-friendly to the Aboriginal and Torres Islander Australians.


Australian Government- Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2017. Close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Indigenous school attendance within five years (by 2018). [Online]
Available at: https://www.pmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/reports/closing-the-gap-2018/education.html#:~:text=In%202017%2C%20the%20national%20school,Islander%20students%20(Figure%209).&text=Nationally%2C%20the%20attendance%20rate%20for,83.2%20per%20cent%20in%202017.
[Accessed 7 July, 2020].

Burridge, N. & Chodkiewicz, A., 2012. An Historical Overview of Aboriginal Education Policies in the Australian Context. In: N. Burridge, F. Whalan & K. Vaughan, eds. Indigenous Education. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, pp. 11-21.

Freeman, L. A. & Staley, B., 2017. The positioning of Aboriginal students and their languages within Australia’s education system: A human rights perspective. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 20(1), pp. 174-181.

Gillan, K., Mellor, S. & Krakouer, J., 2017. The Case for Urgency: The Case for Urgency: s.l.: ACER Press.

Helme, S., 2010. Education Inequality and Indigenous Australians. In: L. S. D. M. H. S. Teese R., ed. International Studies in Educational Inequality, Theory and Policy. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 257-277.

Lloyd, N. J., Lewthwaite, E. B. & Osborne, B., 2015. Effective Teaching Practices for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students: A Review of the Literature. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 40(11), pp. 1-23.

Malin, M. & Maidment, D., 2003. Education, Indigenous Survival and Well-Being: Emerging Ideas and Programs. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, Volume 32, pp. 85-100.

Reconciliation Australia, 2015. Inquiry into educational opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students Submission 36, s.l.: s.n.

Rhea, Z. M., 2015. Unthinking the 200-year-old Colonial Mind: Indigenist perspectives on leading and managing Indigenous education. The International Education Journal, 14(2), pp. 90-100.

Robinson, C. & Bamblett, L., 2010. Making a Difference- The Impact of Indigenous Education and Training Policy, Kensington: NCVER Ltd.

Vass, G., 2012. ‘So, What is Wrong with Indigenous Education?’ Perspective, Position and Power Beyond a Deficit Discourse. Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 41(102), pp. 1-21.

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