Shaping futures, shaping lives: an investigation into the lived experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in Australian boarding schools
AuthorO'Bryan, Margaret (Marnie)
AffiliationMelbourne Graduate School of Education
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2016 Dr. Margaret (Marnie) O'Bryan
The role of boarding schools in helping to overcome education disadvantage for First Australian young people has received increasing attention, and funding, from government, the media, and private sector investors in recent years. Notwithstanding policy approaches encouraging, and for some populations even mandating, that students leave home to attend boarding school, little research has sought to understand how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students experience ‘mainstream’ boarding school and what impact it has on later life outcomes for them, their families and communities. It is well understood that a wide range of social factors, ranging from the macro-social to the individual, influence the health of populations generally, and Indigenous populations specifically (Saggers 2007, Anderson 2007). Education attainment levels are recognised as one of the social determinants of Indigenous health (Dunbar 2007). By contrast, in education policy, scant regard is paid to the social factors that underpin education engagement and success for First Australian students in predominantly non Indigenous schools. This thesis uses a narrative, multiple case study method to examine the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in Australian boarding schools, and in their post school years. In all, seventy-four interviews were conducted, across every state and territory except Tasmania. These include interviews or focus group discussions with alumni of boarding schools (35); parents or community members (27); and school leaders or staff in boarding schools (12). Interview data were analysed to identify what participants sought to achieve through boarding school; what constrained or enabled positive outcomes; and what were the actual outcomes achieved by alumni in the short, medium and, in some cases, long terms. This research presents the most comprehensive evidence to date on the lived experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in Australian boarding schools. It establishes that as well as being determinants of health, racism, trauma, and social connectedness were also fundamentally important to education success for participants in this study. Data presented here indicate that when schools engaged authentically and proactively with these issues they assisted these young people to maximise the benefits they derived from education. Findings challenge the narrow and exclusively empirical measures currently used to define education ‘success’. Whereas schools and scholarship providers focus on preparing students to fit into school systems, research findings indicate that more critical attention should be paid to the systems themselves.
KeywordsIndigenous; education; boarding school; racism; trauma; homesickness; strength; deficit discourse; social and emotional wellbeing; Bourdieu
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