Professor welcomes government initiative in Indigenous education

Published 19 November 2008

Dr Karen Martin, Associate Professor of Early Childhood in the School of Education at Southern Cross University has hailed the State Government’s new Aboriginal Education and Training Policy launched yesterday as ‘courageous but necessary’.

The policy will see the Department of Education and Training’s entire workforce of 93,000 people - including bureaucrats, teachers and general staff in schools and TAFE colleges - undergoing compulsory education about Indigenous culture.

“This approach shows national leadership and is something Aboriginal people have been seeking for over 20 years,” Professor Martin said.

“The policy will see a 10-hour unit in Aboriginal culture becoming mandatory training and it is a great system-wide first step in helping to deliver equality for Aboriginal students, who have missed out on equitable outcomes for the previous 130 years of compulsory education in NSW.”

The focus of Professor Martin’s work at Southern Cross University has been to embed an Aboriginal world view into all curriculum material delivered to teacher education students in the primary and early childhood education degree courses.

“In mid 2007 I asked a cohort of 600 teacher education students at a Brisbane university if they had met and spoken with an Aboriginal person. Less than one-third had,” Professor Martin said.

“This same group of mostly non-Aboriginal Australians were also asked about their level of knowledge about Aboriginal cultures, histories and issues. Most rated themselves as having ‘little’ to ‘some’ knowledge.

“Further questioning revealed that many had already formed negative opinions about Aboriginal people, their families, their communities and their realities (often through media stories).

"It follows that most of the teachers who will be responsible for educating an Aboriginal child will have never met an Aboriginal person. They will enter a classroom which includes Aboriginal students with scant information, and sometimes with negative opinions and expectations.

“We hear so much about the Aboriginal students who fail, or struggle, that there is no wonder pre-service teachers, such as those at that Brisbane university, build a picture of Aboriginal students as being helpless, useless and hopeless. It is these preconceived opinions, supported by a plethora of negative statistics and research evidence, which they use as the basis to inform their teaching.

“Teaching Aboriginal students is not about replacing Aboriginality, nor is it about cultural anarchy in schools - where excellent learning and acquiring the skills to have a stronger future does occur.

"It is about creating a space where the ‘relatedness’ that is a key feature of Aboriginal worldviews inter-faces and is mediated with the things that schools do - equipping students with the necessary skills to have a full and productive life.

“It requires teachers to 'unlearn' the negative preconceptions that are prevalent about Aboriginal people and to fully understand that it is not their job to replace or erase the Aboriginality of their students.

"It is their job to teach, but more particularly, to learn that the differences in classrooms they see, or don’t see, come from an Aboriginal worldview and knowledge system that is just as entrenched - and just as valid - as their own worldview and knowledge system.

“Successful learning outcomes for Aboriginal students require them to acquire additional sets of skills, information and knowledge - which build on, not detract from - who they are as Aboriginal people.

“There is much happening in various states and territories with regards to changing the poor situation in regard to fair and equitable outcomes for Aboriginal students and I welcome the Department of Education and Training’s new policy for trying to address this imbalance in a sustainable and consistent way.”

Photo: Associate Professor Karen Martin has welcomed the State Government’s new Aboriginal Education and Training Policy.

Media contact: Zoe Satherley Southern Cross University media officer, 6620 3144, 0439 132 095.