Engaging families to support indigenous students’ numeracy development


Engaging Families to Support Indigenous Students’ Numeracy Development


Indigenous children are performing poorly in mathematical skills compared to their non-indigenous counterparts in the classroom. Reasons such as unequal education opportunities and socio-economic factors have been put forward by education scholars to justify this statement. This paper will look at some of the learning and teaching strategies that can be used in Australian education to help indigenous students in improving their numeracy skills. https://yourhomeworkaide.info/2021/06/02/briefly-describe-an-organization-with-which-you-are-familiar-describe-a-situati/ The teaching and learning skills will revolve around engaging the families, improving the relationship between home and school, and bridging the cultural gap. The parents, the community and the educators have crucial roles in implementing these learning and teaching strategies. 


Numeracy skills have been an issue in the academic endeavors of many students in Australia. More so the numeracy skills are relatively poor in indigenous students compared to non-indigenous; the achievement gap between indigenous and non-indigenous widen over time and there is worrying evidence that the size of gap in recent years has been increasing (Klenowski, 2009). Indigenous people have not been recognized in the constitution therefore they are living as immigrants in their own mother land; this means they have been sidelined in national development activities, such as education, making it difficult to close the achievement gap between them and non-indigenous people. 

Many people use the word numeracy interchangeably with mathematical skills, even though related, numeracy is a broad field that involves mathematical skills, problem solving and communication skills. Numeracy goes beyond the learning process that is mainly employed in a school setting; numeracy involves the understanding of quantitative techniques that are used to communicate, solve problems, respond to issues and help in the day to day undertakings. It is almost next to impossible to achieve numeracy skills without literacy.

Indigenous students have poor numeracy skills that are as a result economic, policy and pedagogical issues. The high levels of truancy and low performance can be attributed to the economic challenges that indigenous students undergo. Educational policies have not been able to provide a level playing grounds for indigenous and non-indigenous children, there has been unequal opportunities in terms of financing, tutelage and the curriculum. All these issues can be solved by engaging the parents and communities in the decision making processes on education issues especially those regarding indigenous students. https://intellectualessay.com/2021/05/08/mgmt2021-business-law-legal-systems-in-the-caribbean/

Literature Review


In order to improve the numeracy achievement gap between non-indigenous and indigenous students, it is imperative to find the source of the poor performance. Indigenous children do not receive early education or pre-school education compared to their non-indigenous counterparts. According to Levine et al (2010) quality pre-schooling experience helps in fostering numeracy development. The numerical practices by indigenous families are scarce during pre-school and research on indigenous pre-school activities is scarce. Non-indigenous students engage in many pre-school numeracy activities mainly due to their socio-economic status; some of the activities that they engage in are numerical talk, counting and labeling of objects. It is believed that indigenous children do not begin school with the same level of number understanding as other children (Warren & de Vries, 2009). 

According to McTurk et al (2008) in order to improve the effectiveness of transition from home to school in children, and to improve their success, the indigenous children need to have access to formal ‘school-like’ setting. Children from indigenous backgrounds need to be introduced to early education and pre-school teachings. The indigenous families are the ones that can make this possible by engaging their children in numerical activities.

Equal opportunities

Numeracy skills are affected by motivation, school attendance and engagement. For the low income earners, indigenous being the majority, have low school turnouts. There are various problems that are associated with indigenous children that are poverty related such as lack of basic learning materials that are important in understanding mathematical concepts, but regardless of the problem, known or unknown, the fundamental numeracy skills underlie the development of subsequent skills (Baturo & Cooper, 2006); this may be the explanation behind the growth of numeracy gap between the two groups when they transition from primary to secondary school.

Implementation of policies might assist in reducing the number of absentees in indigenous students. Some policies have partially helped in the past. Welfare payments and parents’ responsibility to their children are some of the policies that have tried to reduce absenteeism in schools (Purdie & Buckley, 2010). If students can interact more with the teachers and have more learning hours, then they can reduce the numeracy skills gap between them and the non-indigenous students.

Rich-poor gap should be reduced to improve education of the underprivileged. One problem that is common to the poor is health and an improvement in indigenous health will improve their numeracy skills. Reduced illnesses will decrease instances of absenteeism and increase concentration level in classroom. According to King, Smith & Gracey (2009), the Close the Gap campaign that was initiated in 2007 is intended to improve the health of indigenous people and close the life expectancy gap between the two groups. An equal platform should be provided for both the indigenous and non-indigenous children to foster equal education opportunities.

Poor policies

The third reason for poor numeracy skills in indigenous children is non-inclusive programs that discriminate on indigenous students. Indigenous children and families speak Aboriginal English which is not similar to Standard Australian English (SAE) that is used in a school setting. Failure to incorporate and to include student’s home language in the classroom may lead to indigenous children feeling that their identity is being threatened, therefore reinforcing the notion that school is a foreign and unfriendly environment (Sharifin, 2008). https://educatoressay.com/2021/05/08/sbm1201-project-scope-time-and-cost-management/ It has been difficult for indigenous learners because they are learning to speak Standard Australian English and at the same time they are taught to read and write it. There is lack of specialized educators who understand the plight of indigenous children who assist them in the swift transition from Aboriginal English to Standard Australian English. 

Watson, Partington & Gray (2006) singled out some attributes that are associated with culturally inclusive schools that have high achievement in indigenous numeracy skills. These attributes include; motivating the students to take risks, allowing students to make mistakes without victimizing them, providing tasks to the children to build on what they already know rather than introducing foreign tasks, valuing of both Western and Indigenous mathematics, teaching and appreciating diversity and conducive learning environment for all students.

Teacher preparedness

The education system in Australia is not responsive to culture therefore compromising on the numeracy skills of indigenous students. Culturally responsive teaching assumes that learning will be promoted when concepts taught are placed within a frame of reference that is meaningful to the student (Hayes, 2006). Some schools in Australia have disregarded cultural differences in their system and this has alienated the indigenous students. Enydedy & Mukhopadhyay (2007) state that theories about culturally relevant teaching approaches in relation to mathematics include a consideration of: content, purpose or process. The parents should be included in the children’s education as co-educators to help integrate the children’s culture and build on their congenital strength; this will improve on the process and reinforcement on the content taught. 

Training teachers is one of the possible solutions to this problem. Baturo & Cooper (2006) developed Train a Maths Tutor Program to train AIEO’s to support students’ learning in mathematics. The program has enhanced self-efficacy and mathematical knowledge relevant to indigenous numeracy teaching. Goos, Lowrie & Jolly (2007) assert that investing in developing partnerships between home and school can facilitate learning by strengthening teacher-student relationships. A culturally inclusive school environment should build the relationship between parents, students and educators in order to understand the cultural backgrounds better so as to implement better teaching strategies for indigenous students.  Success in numeracy skills requires learning the specialized language of mathematics which must be taught to students explicitly if they are to progress further in mathematics (McDonald, Warren & DeVries, 2011). Educators should close the gap in indigenous language diversity to enable them to better understand concepts taught in mathematical classes.


There are few scholars who argue that there is equal opportunities in Australian education system and the poor numeracy skills in indigenous children should not be blamed on this. For instance Rennie (2006) claims that indigenous children participate in a number of numerical activities before joining school such as hunting which requires a sense of position and direction. The indigenous communities learn quantitative concepts such as equality which they learn during sharing of hunted preys. Butterworth et al (2008) claims that mathematical skills are independent on the development language; for example, children speaking Walpiri language are able to match a number of disks to a number shown then hidden by an experimenter. 

There is no evidence that indigenous teachers are better teachers for indigenous students (Penman, 2006). There should be a campaign on better understanding of indigenous students and culture instead of employing more indigenous teacher to assist the indigenous students. As much as learning the culture of the indigenous families is important, it is imperative to ensure that the required numerical skills are imparted to the students to improve their numerical skills.

A study carried out by Willis (2000) on learning outcomes relating to numbers found out that Aboriginal students were able to distinguish the number of items in a small collection without being able to count. The research was inconclusive because of a low significance level due to the small sample size. Nevertheless, this research leads to the question of nature and nurturing in learning. Some indigenous students are mathematically talented from their birth while others are not; this rule also applies to non-indigenous students. Therefore, indigenous children are not that disadvantaged as people perceive. 

Analysis and Discussion

Speilman and Mitchelmore (2000) conducted a study on the attitude of Aboriginal adult learners towards mathematics. The study monitored the attitudes of adult Aboriginal students in a year-long mathematics unit. One of the important results that contributed to positive attitude towards mathematics was community visits by the teacher. Students with positive attitudes towards mathematics will have better numerical skills. Educators should interact closely with the indigenous community because there is a positive correlation between the engagement and improvement in numeracy skills. The positive correlation can be as a result of factors such as teachers better understanding the culture and the hands-on approach with the community. 

Language needs for students are important in ensuring that students understand whatever they are being taught in the classroom. Many mathematics classrooms comprise students and teachers from varying cultural backgrounds with potentially different values (Bishop, 2002).  Some Aboriginal students speak their native language and Aboriginal English as their first language which is not consistent with the Standard Australian English (SAE) that is used for schooling purposes in Australia. A mathematics class is more or less a linguistic class and the indigenous students can understand it if it is related to something they know or they are used to. Indigenous students should be Standard Australian English in phases without any hurry to complete the syllabus. Standard Australian English should be taught with care and concern of the children rather than accomplishment of the curriculum. Teachers should use cultural symbols and activities that the Aboriginal people can relate to; this creates a sense of confidence and a sense of belonging. 

The involvement of the community approach can be helpful by the implementation of an Early Learning Initiative (ELI). A good example of an ELI is the National Early Years Access Initiative (NEYAI) in Ireland. NEYAI had a project which was meant to help improve the numeracy skills of socially and economically disadvantaged students. The project concentrated on pre-school children that were 0-6 years. The project proved that family characteristics largely influence the numeracy skills of the children. Lalor (2013) stated that the children who were in the program (NEYAI) performed at par with economically advantaged students after a year in the program. Australia should adapt and implement programs that enable indigenous children access to pre-schools so that they can start developing their numeracy skills early in life. The government, educators and parents should join forces in coming up with initiatives that will enhance numeracy skills of indigenous students early in life.

A study by Stewart, Wright & Gould (1998) was carried out on 866 Kindergarten children on their arithmetic skills, 47 of the children were indigenous. The results of the study showed that students who joined the Kindergarten with high level of numerical skills met or exceeded the syllabus expectations. This study stressed the need for pre-schooling activities that enhance numerical skills for indigenous children. This can only be achieved through empowering of the families and community members to teach their children while they are young. 

Teachers should use appropriate mathematics curriculum and teaching strategies to enhance the mathematical learning outcomes of Aboriginal students (Howard, 2001). Teachers should employ the use of small group work instead of individual work especially to young children. Working in groups can be a great component for success especially for the disadvantaged students such as the indigenous students. The advantages of group work far outweigh individual work in improving the numeracy skills of indigenous students. The interaction of students from different social and cultural backgrounds increases the confidence, creates a sense of belonging and enhances the different groups to appreciate each other’s culture. Indigenous children are able to learn Standard Australian English easily through interaction with non-indigenous students which will improve their numeracy skills. 

Non-threatening yet challenging pedagogy, combined with a culturally inclusive curriculum should be used to enhance Aboriginal students’ numeracy acquisition (Munns & Connelly, 1996). The teachers need to be aware of complex cultural contexts that their indigenous students learn numeracy skills. The tutors should be able to focus on the culture and activities of indigenous people to identify how they can enhance their mathematical abilities. To better understand the culture of indigenous people then there should be collaboration between the learning institutions and the wider indigenous community. Indigenous students should be presented with numeracy subjects that they are well acquainted with and these can only be derived from their culture. The use of Aboriginal words and symbols can evoke familiar concepts in the mind of indigenous children if used in mathematics classes. Teachers should have high expectations on the indigenous students in the classroom. To develop the numeracy skills for indigenous children, the educators need to combine both hands on and traditional teaching methods. 


In summary it is evident that indigenous children in Australia have fallen behind their counterparts when it comes to numeracy skills. Numeracy skills are involved with quantitative techniques such as computational skills that can help students in their employment and problem solving skills. Numeracy skills are important and they affect the career choices of indigenous children. Indigenous children are not able to choose favorable careers and attain good pay due to their low numeracy skills. The low numeracy skills are caused by inequality in the education system where the curriculum does not favor indigenous or underprivileged students. Teachers are not adequately prepared and they are not able to inculcate the indigenous community culture in teaching. Teaching and learning strategies should be changed into student –centered strategies: student centered strategies pursue individuals’ strengths and weakness, uses wide teaching approaches instead of a single approach and gives the students’ equal opportunities regardless of their ethical background. The tutors should include parents and the community at large, of the indigenous children, in the quest of improving the numeracy skills of the children. There should be an improved relationship between the parents and the learning institution; this will enhance a collaborative effort in improving the numeracy skills of indigenous children. 

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