Date of Award

2019

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Education

School

School of Education

First Advisor

Dr David Rhodes

Second Advisor

Dr David McKinnon

Abstract

Boarding school has been and continues to be an important stage in the educational experiences of many Aboriginal people living in remote communities in Northern Territory, Australia. The experience of moving away from family, land and community presents many challenges for students moving to boarding school and managing the dramatic transition between two vastly different cultures. This study focused on identifying the factors that help students successfully transition from a remote community to boarding school.

The study used an explanatory sequential mixed methods approach to investigate and analyse the experiences of Aboriginal students at a regional boarding school in the Northern Territory. Critical race theory was used as a theoretical lens throughout the study design, data collection, analysis and discussion.

Quantitative enrolment data from 108 boarding students was analysed to identify aspects that correlated with a successful transition to boarding school. These findings were incorporated into two focus group discussions and one semi structured interview with students from a boarding school in Darwin, Northern Territory. The qualitative data was thematically analysed to draw themes and sub themes for further discussion.

The findings indicate that the transition from small, remote communities is highly challenging. In particular the impact of being away from family and community led to feelings of homesickness and a loss of cultural knowledge and connection to land. Students recognise in the need to return to country, family and community to maintain cultural connections which questions the often assumed benefits of boarding school. Both the quantitative and qualitative data indicate that parents, family and community members provide important mechanisms of support and ensure a successful transition. In particular family support helps students to deal with homesickness, provide encouragement and help maintain a connection to culture.

This thesis, provides an important addition to an emerging area of research about the important transition from Aboriginal communities to boarding school. The study focused on the experiences of students at one school in the Northern Territory and records and presents student voices and experiences undertaking the transition to boarding school. Hearing more student voices will enable all of us to gain a clearer appreciation of the impact of transitioning to boarding school for young Aboriginal people, and what can be done to improve it.

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