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What is an Indigenous Education Worker?

There are 2500+ Indigenous Education Workers across Australia but they work under different titles from state to state. While we hear of Aboriginal Education Assistants in NSW, Koorie Educators in Victoria, Aboriginal and Islander Education Officers in WA, Aboriginal Education Workers in SA and so on, we are talking about essentially the same role, so here we call them Indigenous Education Workers or “IEWs”.

IEWs have been used sporadically since 1953 when the first Aboriginal Teaching Assistant was appointed in the Northern Territory. Though the titles and employment conditions may vary, the idea and purpose remain the same; that is, the employment of Indigenous Australians in schools that have high enrolments of indigenous students for the purposes of providing student, community, and teacher support. IEWs are often the longest serving members of a schools staff; generally recruited locally, thus providing a natural link to the community; possess an expansive knowledge of the parent and local community; can offer innovative approaches to school programs; and are knowledgeable of Aboriginal culture and customs, be they contemporary or traditional.

The role itself has changed considerably over time. Some IEWs have now entered the middle ranks of the bureaucracy, some have tertiary degrees, many help run large and innovative programs (such as tutorial centres) in their local school or district, and most ensure that an Aboriginal perspective is prevalent across the school curriculum. IEWs are having an increasing influence on the educational experiences of Aboriginal students. They are providing literacy support, hosting orientation camps and meeting with feeder school principals and IEWs, they are organising career advice for students, and holding awards nights and regular meetings with parents and community members. However their primary roles have not disappeared. IEWs still follow up student attendance and performance, visit the homes of parents, and assist teachers in learning about and supporting Aboriginal students.

All these qualities and abilities are, or should be, highly sought after and valued qualities within the education systems.

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