Generation One01 May 2019

Cognitive science a game-changer for Indigenous education

Explicit instruction (EI), a teaching method being rolled out across parts of regional Australia, is demonstrating promising preliminary literary and numeracy results.

A mother and two daughters with homework open on the table
Photo Credit: Marianne Purdie.

A new teaching method, which harnesses the latest science on brain capacity, is delivering positive early gains in literacy and numeracy outcomes in regional schools.

Explicit instruction (EI) involves a teacher using examples and modelling behaviour in small steps to ensure students understand. The student is then supported to practice and apply the new learning.

EI is based on cognitive load theory, which focuses on two commonly accepted ideas. First, that there is a limit to how much new information the brain can process at any one time, and second, that there is an unlimited amount of information that can be stored.

At Generation One’s Indigenous Education Forum in Sydney, Dr Lorraine Hammond from Edith Cowan University said EI is making significant inroads into student engagement and performance, including where it is being applied at Broome Primary School and Dawson Park Primary School.

Attendees heard EI is one of the key strategies applied by the Kimberley Schools Project. The project, which began in 2016 and has been funded $25 million, is developing ways to boost Indigenous school attendance, engagement and attainment.

According to the 2019 Closing the Gap Report the difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous student attendance at primary school is 8 per cent. When students reach secondary school that gap widens to 14 per cent. In remote areas, school attendance by Indigenous students is lower and the gap is larger.

Kimberly School Project participant Broome Primary School is already seeing promising results. It was reported at the forum that 2019 pre-primary students are currently at the same level in Term One as the previous year’s cohort were in Term Three.

The forum also heard that Dawson Park Primary School, which adopted EI teaching in 2013, has seen higher performance against the NAPLAN testing areas of literacy, numeracy and reading.

Generation One chief executive, and former Catholic Education director Dr Tim McDonald believes that to close the gap, the education sector needs to be open to implementing the latest teaching methods.

“We can no longer ignore the science of learning if we are seeking to create parity in Australian education,” Dr McDonald said.

“Explicit instruction, informed by cognitive load theory, is seeing real results across the education sector, implementing it more broadly across WA and nationally will give Indigenous students the tools they need to succeed at school.”

A need for the Kimberley Schools Project was identified by the Kimberly Development Commission’s report 2035 and Beyond: A regional investment blueprint for the Kimberly. Over the last three years the project has sought to empower communities and more effectively target resources for teachers and principals inside the school gates.

Ann Mills
by Ann Mills
Having worked over a decade in a range of strategic and supportive roles in remote communities in the Kimberley, Ann is passionate about creating parity in partnership with Aboriginal people through place-based strategies, innovative solutions and key economic development. As a long-term CEO in the not-for-profit sector, Ann appreciates the need to consult, commission and convert opportunities that are transformative and produce positive results.
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