Red dirt thinking on educational disadvantage

Red dirt thinking on educational disadvantage Conference Paper

ISFIRE 2013: Rural Education on the Global Stage

  • Author(s): Guenther J., Osborne S., Bat M.
  • Published: 2013

Abstract: The discourse of remote education is often characterised by a rhetoric of disadvantage. This is reflected in statistics that on the surface seem unambiguous in their demonstration of poor outcomes for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. A range of data support this view, including National Action Plan for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) achievement data, school attendance data, Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data and other compilations such as the Productivity Commission’s biennial Overcoming Disadvantage Report. These data, briefly summarised in this paper, paint a bleak picture of the state of education in remote Australia and are at least in part responsible for a number of government initiatives (state, territory and Commonwealth) designed to ‘close the gap’. However, for all the rhetoric about disadvantage and the emphasis in strategic policy terms about activities designed to ‘close the gap’, the results of the numerous programs seem to suggest that the progress, as measured in the data, is too slow to make any significant difference to the apparent disparity between remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander schools and those in the broader community. We are left with a discourse that is replete with illustrations of poor outcomes and failures and does little to acknowledge the richness, diversity and achievement of those living in remote Australia. This paper critiques the idea of ‘disadvantage’ and ‘advantage’ as it is constructed in policy and consequently reported in data. Its purpose is to propose alternative ways of thinking about remote educational disadvantage, based on the early observations of a five year Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation project. It asks, how might relative advantage be defined if the ontologies, axiologies, epistemologies and cosmologies of remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families were more fully taken into account in the education system’s discourse within/of remote schooling. Based on what we have termed ‘red dirt thinking’ it goes on to propose alternative measures of success that could be applied in remote contexts where ways of knowing, being, doing, believing and valuing often differ considerably from what the educational system imposes on it.

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Guenther J., Osborne S., Bat M., 2013, Red dirt thinking on educational disadvantage, Conference Paper, viewed 06 December 2023,

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