Indigenous Secondary Education: What implications for counsellors lie in the stories of Indigenous adults, who as children, left their home communities to attend school?

Document Type


Publication Date




Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of the peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that the child of a farm worker can become the president of a great nation.

Nelson Mandela

Access to a ‘good’ education is often argued as deserving of the highest priority. The available research pertaining to the educational experience of Australian Indigenous students, however, too often reflects a picture of profound disadvantage, particularly in relation to their non-Indigenous counterparts. In 2008, Prime Minister Rudd announced $20 million of Federal Government funding for 2000 boarding school places over 20 years, to address chronic levels of academic underachievement and to prepare Indigenous students to become “workplace P-platers” in an attempt to close the education gap between black and white Australians. Education in Australia, however, is tied to white culture, the industrial economy and the means through which white culture survives, so accepting these places may also have a shadow side, in relation to multiple levels of loss and possible cultural alienation.

The purpose of this study is to discover what implications for counselling practice lie in the self-report of the ‘lived experience’ of an adult sample of eight Indigenous participants who, as children, experienced leaving home to attend school. Their experience spans five decades.

A phenomenological method was adopted, using an unstructured interview as the data-gathering instrument and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to analyse the data. IPA is a qualitative research methodology appropriate for exploring in detail how participants are making sense of their personal and social worlds.

Analysis of participant stories identified eleven subordinate themes, which were clustered under three ordinate themes: recognition, living environment and realism. One super-ordinate theme emerged, “living between two worlds’, which is represented as a never-ending ‘journey’ involving both ‘loss and gain’, highlighting the need for a loss/gain audit to be maintained as many of the positive and negative experiences were felt in the moment, while others had life-long repercussions. Identifying these experiences will enhance the counselling profession’s ability to develop interventions to strengthen the social, psychological and educational attainment of current and future Indigenous students.


Where possible the “Link To Full Text” button at the top of this page will link you to a full text version of this research output. Where, due to copyright or licence restrictions, it is not be possible to link to the full text version of this item the link will take you to the website of the copyright owner, who should be able to provide access to the output.

The University Library recommends the National Library of Australia TROVE search service to locate this research output within an Australian library.