Whether using data in schools or in research, the Stronger Smarter Approach tells us we must take a strength-based approach.  When we move away from the idea that data is about accountability, and approach data with the key goals of equity and continuous improvement, this sets the direction for how we frame issues, what data we seek and how we use the data.   

Dr Maggie Walter, Distinguished Professor at the University of Tasmania, introduced the idea of ‘nayri kati’.   In palawa kani, the language of Tasmanian Aboriginal people, nayri kati means ‘good numbers.’ 

Dr Walter says, “As one of the few quantitative Indigenous researchers in Australia my research has sought to challenge the established practices of Indigenous statistics which continuously focus on deficit indicators. 

Dr Walter describes nayri kati as ‘data that meets our needs’.  

Central to the nayri kati approach is the view that data should be generated through an Indigenous lens.  This approach: 

  • does not take a presumption of Indigenous deficit as its starting point
  • does not take Euro-Australians or their accompanying value systems as the unacknowledged norm
  • frames the data in terms of what does success look like rather than as deficit.
  • privileges Indigenous voices, knowledges, and understandings
  • engages with the historical and cultural realities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • engages with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from the beginning, moving beyond consultation on something that has already been decided.

In schools 

In schools, this is about how we frame the problem in the first place.  If we frame the issue as an ‘Indigenous problem’ then the data interpretation will be framed in terms of Indigenous deficit. 

The standard approach views poor attendance at school as a ‘deficit’ – as evidence that students and families don’t value education.  The response is the big stick approach to force children to attend school.    

However, students will participate in school if they can see a ‘return on investment’ in terms of the perceived value of what they are learning, and recognition of the strengths and voices they bring to the classroom.  The alternative approach, therefore, is to recognise that, for First Nations students, poor attendance at school may be a ‘lead indicator’ of a western education system that lacks relevance to their needs and aspirations  

When data collection and analysis takes a  high-expectations relationships approach to explore what is happening in the classroom to engage students, the results are  culturally-responsive pedagogies and a classroom conducive to quality learning for all students.  Attendance and learning will naturally follow. 

Multiple perspectives 

Enacting the Stronger Smarter Approach, means bringing in multiple perspectives and collaborative conversations to explore and understand the data, and involve everyone in the conversation.  The conversations are strength-based to challenge assumptions and stereotypes and look at how teaching practice can better support student’s strengths.   

Using the nayri kati approach and framing issues from a strength-based perspective promotes a culture where staff and students all have buy-in for improving the data, and the focus is on the student experience and how to engage students in the classroom and build relevance into the learning.

Walter, M & Anderson, C.  (2016). Indigenous Statistics:  A Quantitative Research Methodology.  Routledge: London and New York.   

Walter, M. (2018) The voice of Indigenous data:  Beyond the markers of disadvantage.  Griffith Review Edition 60.  First Things First. 

Read more about the Stronger Smarter Approach.