Boarding Off and On Country: A Study of Education in one Northern Territory Remote Community

Author/editor: O'Bryan, M & Fogarty, W
Year published: 2020
Issue no.: 4
Page no.: 100


In 2020, young people from remote communities in Australia’s Northern Territory are required to attend boarding school in order to access a full secondary education. Commissioned by elders in one Northern Territory remote community, this report investigates the intended and unintended consequences of this policy approach at individual and community level. Working with families, researchers tracked the education histories of 100 young people identified as community members and aged 12–21 years. Findings reveal that for this community, the supply of boarding places is not equal to demand, and that families experience difficulties securing secondary pathways for their children. Members of the research cohort had been dispersed among 38 different schools across 16 cities or towns in every state or territory of mainland Australia. A concerning pattern of early disengagement from education and low levels of academic attainment is apparent, with consequences for youth wellbeing and community cohesion.

Findings of the study indicate the need for further systems-level research to test the generalisability of findings across other remote communities. They demonstrate that educational determinants in remote contexts (such as the community in this study) including housing, health, justice and employment need to be explicitly understood and quantified in policy discussions concerning educational effectiveness and secondary provision cost. The study has shown a disconnect between local educational aspirations and system-level provision. Policy decisions should seek to identify models which are shown to increase the likelihood of education engagement and attainment in place. The community involved in this study are adamant ‘place-based approaches’ to educational development must be paramount. This is likely to be generalised to other remote settings.

Indigenous education, boarding, remote secondary education, NT education policy, education on and off country.

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