C. Hurst

Curtin University (AUSTRALIA)
Numeracy standards of Australian Indigenous school children have been of concern for some time. Recently, the Make It Count project has attempted to address the problem with a focus on urban Indigenous children. This paper describes the experiences of one school in Western Australia where notable success has been achieved. It also describes research conducted as part of the project.

The project has involved schools from most Australian states and the Swan Valley group was established in Western Australia. It comprised three schools, the student cohorts of which included over 200 Indigenous children. This paper focuses on Valley View Primary School (VVPS) which is the lead school in the group. While initial needs analyses revealed low numeracy levels, it was quickly acknowledged that it would be difficult to address numeracy standards unless underlying issues were dealt with. The most critical related to student attendance rates, with many children attending spasmodically. Other key aspects were the professional knowledge of teachers and paraprofessionals, parent engagement, and the meaningful contextualisation of mathematics. A plan to deal with these issues was developed for 2010, 2011 and 2012 and the full paper describes the associated research.

First, Indigenous children at VVPS were clustered in four classes with teachers identified as ‘culturally sensitive’, empathetic and supportive of the needs of Indigenous children. Second, an on-going program to enhance professional knowledge of teachers and education assistants was begun. The professional learning was designed to increase the mathematical and pedagogical content knowledge of both teachers and assistants in order to develop children’s deeper conceptual understanding of mathematics. Associated with this was development and use of ‘hands-on’ resources for children. Third, a role model program involving a local sports club was established where mathematics is set in the context of sport. As well, cooking and shopping were incorporated into the mathematics program. Fourth, parents were encouraged to engage in the school through performance oriented activities, including an Indigenous choir.

Results have been encouraging. Attendance rates of Indigenous children have improved considerably with the number of Indigenous children achieving the desired rate of 90% attendance or better rising from 39% in 2009 to 72% in 2012. This is largely attributed to the ‘culturally aware’ and empathetic approach of school administration and teachers and specifically to the ‘clustering’ of Indigenous children. Professional knowledge of education assistants has increased to the extent that they are forming genuine professional learning communities with the teachers, taking active roles in planning for children’s learning and engaging more effectively with children. Parent engagement in the school has gradually increased over the project period and the number of Indigenous children at VVPS has increased three fold in five years. Also, children have engaged enthusiastically with the role model program and contextualisation of mathematics and it is believed that these factors have contributed to improved attendance rates. Finally, the great majority of Indigenous children at VVPS have at least maintained ‘at benchmark’ levels for numeracy on the national testing program and a number have improved to being ‘above benchmark’.
keywords: indigenous, numeracy.