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Learning about the Aboriginal Worldview


Zoe Satherley
6 April 2008
When Associate Professor Karen Martin was teaching university students in Queensland, she found that of the 600 students in her classes, less than one third had ever had a conversation with an Indigenous person.

“And yet most had a strongly held opinion or belief about Aboriginal people - generally negative,” said the newly appointed professor of Early Childhood at Southern Cross University.

As an Aboriginal woman and educator, she realised that until students participated in an education system in which an Aboriginal perspective was somehow genuinely embedded, there would continue to be a great divide between black and white Australians on every level.

Last year she was given the opportunity to put her years of research, life experience and teaching practice into action as a consultant to Southern Cross University. Her brief was to revise the curriculum for the new Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood) and Bachelor of Education (Primary) to embed an Aboriginal worldview.

Professor Martin will give a talk titled ‘Aboriginal worldview, childhood and relatedness: the rites, roles and responsibilities for the growing up of young Aboriginal children’ at the University on Thursday, April 10 as part of the Centre for Children and Young People’s twilight seminar series, running from 4.30pm to 6.30pm.

The seminar will share Aboriginal beliefs and understandings of childhood as one phase of lifehood.

It will highlight how a major component of Aboriginal belief is ensuring a young child is raised in relatedness to his or her ancestry, country and people.

Relatedness is a word Professor Martin has chosen to demonstrate the connectedness to every living thing which is the foundation of Aboriginal tradition, culture and spirituality. It is reflected in the often-used phrase ‘we are all one mob’.

“We are all related to some degree and the Aboriginal child looks at this macro view of the world before narrowing it down to the micro,” Professor Martin said.

“In a classroom situation they will look around at the whole big picture and observe who is not there, rather than who is there, for example.

“Aboriginal children also enter a classroom with a greater sense of autonomy as they have been schooled in being autonomous individuals with a right to express their needs and opinions and have them taken seriously. This can get them into trouble n the average classroom.

“They are used to more discussion and debate about what is right for them and are more used to working for the collective good rather than focusing on individual achievement.

“It is foreign to them to be tested as ‘individuals’ for their knowledge, when their usual context is in seeing what the group can achieve collectively.”

These are just some of the insights Professor Martin wants to share with her audience.

Her presentation will also explore the ways in which older children and adults teach younger children their relatedness to their ancestors and country and to know who they are and where they come from.

“In Australian and other western classrooms the focus often is on ‘what do you want to be?’ and young people sometimes grow into adults still seeking an answer to that question,” Professor Martin said.

“The Aboriginal worldview is to focus on who you are and where you fit in the world, and your relatedness to every living thing - family, friends, other human beings, animals, birds, the landscape, the sky.

“When you know who you are, you can then expand more and more and become whatever you want to be by taking on more knowledge and skills.”

Professor Martin has just been invited to participate on a national expert advisory panel for the Federal Government’s Office of Early Childhood Education and Child Care.

The panel will provide advice on quality in early childhood education, primarily in child care and preschool settings.

Professor Martin’s upcoming talk is open to members of the public. It will be held at Southern Cross University’s Centre for Children and Young People, in room Z-181, on Thursday, April 10, from 4.30pm to 6.30pm.

Photo: Associate Professor Karen Martin will share her perspectives on the Aboriginal worldview as it relates to children.