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


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 schools 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. This paper reports on the research results of a qualitative study, investigating the ‘lived experience’ of eight Indigenous adults, who as children, left home communities 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) as the preferred data analysis system. Analysis of participant stories identified one super-ordinate theme, “living between two worlds’, which was 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. Eleven subordinate themes emerged which were clustered under three ordinate themes: recognition, living environment and realism. The desired outcome of this research is to enhance the ability of psychologists to develop interventions to strengthen the social, psychological health and educational attainment of current and future Indigenous students. Through linking the themes emerging from participant’s stories with the literature, an optimal approach and foundation is offered designed to enhance the capacity for Indigenous students to experience living within two worlds rather than between two worlds.


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The Author:

Suzanne Jenkins