Excellence in Indigenous Education Project

In 2018, Associate Professor Marnee Shay conceptualised this project by reflecting on the persistence of deficit narratives and ideas in policy and practice conversations about Indigenous education and how these impact outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, families and communities. The term excellence gets used in many educational contexts – from policy to school-based awards. This prompted a simple google search using the terms excellence and Indigenous education. Whilst some Indigenous-authored articles about the concept of Indigenous excellence surfaced, there was very little nationally where these two terms were used together. Through a further search of the literature, it was clear that the majority of research was focused on the wicked problems at hand and not on what where education should be aspiring to in Indigenous education.

The project may include the concept of Indigenous excellence, but this is not the focus. The project commenced from the position that Indigenous people are excellent – the education systems that have failed to deliver quality education to Indigenous people have caused educational and other inequities that continue to impact Indigenous peoples. The key idea is to consider what a practice framework in Indigenous education that is underpinned by excellence does or could look like. Indigenous education can include many activities that also impact non-indigenous students, including embedding Indigenous knowledges and perspectives in curriculum, Indigenous leadership, employing Indigenous peoples in schools, delivering outcomes for Indigenous students, their families and communities and engaging and partnering with Indigenous communities.

The revelation that excellence was not a term used in the everyday vernacular in and around Indigenous education led to a curiosity about how the language of Close the Gap impacts on how Indigenous people and all educators and educational leaders perceive their roles in Indigenous education. This research employs appreciative inquiry and Indigenist theory. We deliberately provided Indigenous people, school staff and leaders the space to build positive ways of reconstructing problems and solutions. Using appreciative inquiry simultaneously encourages inquiry and change. Through exploring the topic with Indigenous peoples and educational practitioners, this project has been building a data set on what excellence in Indigenous education is or could be from multiple perspectives whilst also creating resources for research partners to continue to grow and build post-research projects.