This essay critically examines the prevailing social, cultural, and economic conditions of indigenous communities in Australia of both rural and urban dwellers. It compares and contrasts social justice, reconciliation, and educational disadvantage issues affecting the indigenous communities and non-English speaking communities in relation to non-indigenous communities. Consequently, a personal response is given on account of the social disparity between the indigenous and non-indigenous communities. The response outlines the roles of formal education, language, and Christian foundation in addressing the challenges facing the indigenous communities.
Human Science and its Environment: Indigenous Education
Social indicators which demonstrate the well-being state of a given population indicate that the indigenous communities in Australia experienced the lowest economic status (Altman, 2000, p.5). These social indicators include employment, occupation, income, housing and education, and health. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013), the 2011 census indicated a progressive increase of the indigenous population while the 2001-2006 conducted census indicating an 11% increase. Despite their continual increase in population, the indigenous groups emerged as the most marginalized in Australia. Writings by Osbourne, Fran, and Lynsey (2013, p. 23), indicated that the majority of the indigenous groups have maintained a preference for their traditional identity and cultural autonomy. This status quo conflicts with the policies of the government, which are aimed at assimilating members of the marginalized groups into the urban setting of the non-indigenous groups. The 2011 Australian census further indicated that 61% of the non-indigenous population aged above 15 years were employed compared to 42 % of the indigenous population who were employed. In terms of income, the non-indigenous households had a mean gross household income of $800 per week compared to $475 per week for the indigenous households.
Rural Indigenous People
A report by World Health Organization (2008, p.66) indicated that the rural and remote population of Australia was more likely to suffer from poor health compared to those living in the urban areas. Indigenous communities living in rural areas most likely have limited access to health facilities due to poor infrastructure. Consequently, the life expectancy of indigenous communities living in rural areas is lower compared to urban dwellers, which further increases at a rate of 20% more than the rate for rural communities. Commission on Social Determinants of Health Final report further revealed the prevalence of illicit drug abuse amongst the indigenous communities compared to non-indigenous in Australia. Cases of drug abuse in indigenous communities in rural areas could be attributed to a high level of unemployment amongst the youth. This is due to lower vocational training, lack of employment opportunities in the rural and lack of public services.
Urban Indigenous People
Over 33% of the indigenous population lived in capital cities according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013). Although urban centers provide opportunities for employment, indigenous groups are still disadvantaged by their lower educational background. Based on this report, the majority of indigenous community members attend school upgrade 10. As a result, members of these communities mostly work as casual laborers in the urban industries. Lack of skilled labor creates a process whereby informal employment leads to low income and low income can only afford low living standards hence creating a vicious cycle of poverty within these communities. Urban indigenous communities are further faced with the challenges of housing, access to health services, and insecurity.
Despite the statistical indication of increased educational attainment among members of the indigenous population, the rate is still low compared to the educational attainment rate for non-indigenous communities. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission report (2008, p.117), 37% of adults aged 18 years and 22% of members aged 15 years and over had attained a minimum of grade 12 among members of the indigenous communities. In addition, 5% of the members of the indigenous population were holders of bachelor’s degrees. There has also been increasing in the school retention rate among students from indigenous communities. The national school’s statistics collection indicated that the retention rate for full-time students from year 7/8 to year 10 was 9% and 43% for year 10 in 2007. In terms of gender equality, indigenous males and females indicated almost equivalent rates of year 12 completion, 22%, and 24% respectively. However, Taylor (1993, p. 46-47), noted that indigenous members living in remote areas were less likely to have finished year 12 compared to their counterparts in the urban setup. This can be attributed to the lower number of schools in the rural areas, impoverished living conditions, and socio-cultural influence from their societies. At the post-secondary educational level, non-indigenous people were most likely to attain post-secondary certificates with over 21% having bachelor’s degrees compared to 5% of the indigenous population. Due to the attainment of formal education and vocational training, individuals with higher education qualifications are most likely to be in permanent employment, have a good income, afford modest houses, and hence have better living standards.
Altman, (2000, p.7) noted that it was evident that indigenous communities were still the most marginalized group in Australia. Efforts by the ruling governments to bridge the gap between the indigenous and non-indigenous groups have only worsened the situation. It is pragmatic and prudent for the governments to assess the origin of this crisis and consequently set targets aimed at addressing the issues affecting the indigenous communities. Formulated targets and policies should ensure the establishment of better health facilities, modern infrastructure, formal education sector, and vocational training programs specifically designed for the indigenous group.
The plight of the indigenous communities can only be understood and shared through communication. Nevertheless, effective communication is only possible using language. Language should be viewed at its modest level, as a tool, which comprises written and spoken language. Leung and Brian (2012, p. 47) elaborated that the English language could be used as a medium of education. The introduction of language courses in public schools will enhance communication among members of the indigenous group. Frigo et al (2003, p. 22) proposed that English learning and numerical literacy should be emphasized at the early stages preferable at around six years old. This will provide them with essential tools that will enable students to air their grievances on various platforms such as social media, mainstream media, and public campaigns.
At the individual level, we should be guided by our personal moral ethics on the issues of equality and fairness. As a religion founded on true love and compassion for one another, the core teachings of the bible emphasize equality and justice. Based on writings by Bouma (2006, p. 77-81) incorporation of Christian teaching into the curriculum of Australian public schools will positively redesign the ethical fabric of the non-indigenous communities and raise public awareness on socio-cultural issues affecting members of the indigenous groups. Elsdon (1992, p. 54-55) argued that as creatures of God we had a moral obligation to safeguard the rights and freedom of other beings.
As a teacher, my Christian worldview is likely to face outright opposition from believers of another doctrine. Among other anticipations, I am likely to witness prejudice from my colleagues, students, and members of society. Am also most likely to be segregated from my community and be left to suffer from the indigenous population. Ultimately, my theological beliefs might conflict with the objectives of the institution and risk being dismissed from the school. In light of all these, I intend to never give up on my indigenous students. Referring to the recommendations by Lake (2010, p. 43-47), my strategy is to incorporate my students into a distinctive form of family setup and whoever intends to join the family be it from the non-indigenous community will be most welcome.
My personal account and account of other Christian believers concerning the role played by Christianity in societies that were characterized by racial prejudice, civil wars, and economic disparity strengthens my beliefs and values in Christian education. Religion has always motivated my actions and endeavors (Dowson, 2005, p.2). I envision a country rooted in the values and beliefs of universal coexistence and tolerance based on the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.
The intent of education has always been to replace a closed mind with an open one. Unbiased education first equips members of the indigenous communities with the necessary tools to fight their war. This will mark the beginning of a societal paradigm shift. Widespread awareness of social injustices and economical disparity facing the indigenous communities calls for an overhaul of the existing policies and practices. The adoption of Christian teachings in public schools and early language and numeric literacy teaching will lead to a generation of indigenous members who are well educated and equipped with skills demanded in the 21st century.
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