How Residential Schools Fail Indigenous Students


Too often, schools view First Nations students “through a deficit lens” as victims of their own circumstances who need to be “rescued,” O’Bryan said.

“The prevailing view…is that they feel like they can make decisions for children and families, which would never be the case if the child had white skin,” she said. “They sometimes seem to forget that the duty of care they owe to an Aboriginal student is exactly the same as the duty they owe to any other child in the school.

A talented student, Nicole soon won a scholarship to attend another all-girls private school during her VCE years. Although she aspired to become a doctor, she was told to lower her eyes.

“When I said I wanted to study medicine, they said, why don’t you try nursing? … There were a lot of low expectations of what I could accomplish.

Today, she is a doctor employed by one of Australia‘s leading universities. In her spare time, she tutors First Nations students at one of her former schools. The other school recently approached her, hoping to promote her work educating Indigenous girls.


She told them that she hoped they were doing a much better job today than in her time.

However, the question is not one-sided. A residential education can transform the life of a young First Nations person, O’Bryan said.

“Some people who have had terrible experiences have said they will do it again tomorrow or send their own children because they recognize the value of education and if education requires sacrifice, they will do it anyway. an opportunity for the transformation of your life.

Some schools themselves agree that changes are needed.

Indigenous Education and Boarding Australia, which advocates for non-government schools enrolling First Nations students, has developed a code of practice it wants all schools to adhere to before enrolling Indigenous students.

He asked the Albanian government for federal funding of $800,000 to develop the code, with schools to provide an additional $400,000.

The code would include a commitment to train school personnel in a high level of cultural competence, to commit to maintaining strong relationships with students’ families and communities, and to uphold safeguards for student health and well-being. .

Chief executive Greg Franks said the number of First Nations students in Australian boarding schools had risen to around 6,000 before the pandemic hit, and schools needed guidance on how to support them .

“We recognize that families have traditionally been disempowered, that they had no voice and that once they ticked a box on an Abstudy form saying, ‘My money can go to this school’, for many, the relationship began and ended there,” Franks said.


“The schools are talking, are the students ready? But the question is, are the schools ready? If they are unable to provide services that meet students’ needs and recognize their culture, then the school is not ready.

age spoke to the wellbeing co-ordinator of a Victorian school, who recently resigned, frustrated by the “unsafe” way he treats Aboriginal pupils.

The coordinator said a student who had exhibited suicidal thoughts was kicked out of class one day after turning a school tie into a noose, and only had access to a doctor a few days later. The student’s cousin, also a student, had recently committed suicide.

The boy was warned not to speak in his own language in class and would have his cell phone confiscated for disciplinary reasons, even though it was his only regular connection to his interstate family, and contact with the family was known to improve his mental health, the coordinator said.

The chief executive of the Australian Boarding Schools Association, Richard Stokes, defended the schools’ treatment of Indigenous students and said they had made immense strides in recent years in adapting their practices.

“Each of our boarding schools has recognized the need to have a close relationship with the Aboriginal community where the children come from,” Stokes said. “This wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago.”

Stokes said communities are also more appreciative of the opportunities an education outside the home can provide, academically and in areas such as sport and drama.

A spokesperson for the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, said the application for funding was under consideration. “It is the responsibility of all schools to provide a safe, welcoming and culturally appropriate environment for First Nations children.


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