The objective of this paper is to review reform to the vocational education and training (VET) sector over the last decade in the context of Indigenous participation. In particular, it focuses on the five objectives of the National Strategy as these were identified in A Bridge to the Future (ANTA 1998a), and their implications for Indigenous participation in the VET sector. These five objectives underpin the policy framework that has driven VET reform, thus providing a convenient platform from which to discuss any possible impact on Indigenous Australians.
Following the endorsement by Commonwealth, State and Territory governments in 1989 of the broad principles outlined in the Aboriginal Education Policy (AEP), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have enjoyed greater access to and participation in the vocational education and training (VET) sector. This represents a considerable shift from the, at best, marginal participation of Indigenous Australians in post-compulsory education just two decades ago. Today Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders participate in the VET sector to a proportionally greater degree than do other Australians (Robinson & Hughes 1999). Consequently, any reforms to the VET sector over the last decade will have had implications for Indigenous Australians. Some of these reforms potentially increase their opportunities, providing excellent pathways for engagement in life-long learning and the acquisition of further education and qualifications, as well as improved possibilities for employment.
However, reforms to the VET sector generally presume a level playing field of shared educational experiences, and the enjoyment of similar social circumstances and economic opportunities. Recognition by the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) that there is a need to ensure the VET reforms are responsive to the needs of identified 'client groups' demonstrates a desire that everyone in Australia should benefit equally.1 However, these sentiments highlight a continuing difficulty faced by policy-makers in fully appreciating the diversity of Indigenous people's needs and the depth of disadvantage they experience.
Part of the difficulty in responding to Indigenous needs is that these are treated by and large as consistent across the whole Indigenous population. However, there is no one model of engagement with the non-Indigenous population generally, and with education specifically. Indigenous experiences with Western education, employment opportunities, health, and the underlying current of racism are diverse. Too often, attempts to incorporate equity principles are based upon non-Indigenous perceptions, narrowly defined, of what the realities are.
The primary objective of the VET reforms is to build a national system whereby the entire sector has commensurable standards, qualifications, and quality assurance. Facilitation of this objective requires uniformity across the system as well as conformity by all stakeholders. The challenge for ANTA is to ensure that those groups identified as needing special attention can be accommodated within the system.
ISBN: 0 7315 2637 6