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Finding a First Nations voice in education

First Nations Voice

Dr Tracy Woodroffe discusses finding a First Nations voice in education and integrating First Nations people, culture and priorities into the Australian curriculum. She also discusses the potential benefits for a more inclusive Australian education system.

‘First Nations’ is the most recent term used to refer to the first peoples of Australia. It could be assumed that the first peoples of any country would be respected and central to learnings and understanding about that country.

The debate is that the first peoples of Australia have not been duly recognised and respected. This disregard began with colonisation and has set us, as a nation, on a path to find reconciliation.

A First Nations voice to parliament has been proposed to ensure that First Nations peoples are heard instead of just consulted, which can be tokenistic, and that it would be a tool to facilitate reconciliation.

Not all Australians agree that there should be a First Nations voice to parliament, and it appears that this includes some First Nations people. This is not surprising considering that we live in a democratic country, but it does pose another perceived barrier to a united and more equitable Australia.

The uncertainty or disagreement could stem from a lack of clarity around what a First Nations voice might look like. How would it be structured and what would it mean in practical terms for the Australian education system? Well, if we are open to possibilities, we should be asking ‘what could it mean’?

If anything, a First Nations voice to parliament could be a fantastic opportunity to continue to shape and create a world class education system that is inclusive and inspirational for all Australian students. The possibility of a First Nations voice could mean a nation-wide understanding of First Nations perspectives and could be a celebration of further embedding knowledge and wisdom from one of the oldest existing cultures in the world.


An education curriculum is not a static document. It grows and changes and then is redeveloped many times over. This is the sign of a healthy education system, one that is agile and responsive.

The recent version of the Australian Curriculum version 9.0, approved for use in 2023, is proposed to help support teachers in a more comprehensive way to deliver in-depth First Nations content. These are some positive changes that could possibly be strengthened by a First Nations voice to parliament because of a broader and deeper understanding of First Nations people, culture, and priorities.

The recent curriculum changes for years F–6 were focused on a declutter at the primary level and a lift in quality, with some content added or made more explicit such as reference to First Nations authors and illustrators, and intercultural inquiry practices introduced in science.

First Nations content was also included in re-sequenced or reframed humanities and social sciences curriculum content. This has now been amended to ‘develop a deeper understanding of significance.’ One significant change is the expectation of Year 7 students to learn ‘deep time history of Australia’ which is now explicitly stated in the History achievement standard for Year 7.


It is a professional teacher expectation that this adaptation of curriculum and pedagogy also extends to cultural responsiveness. The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) has supported the First Nations elements of the curriculum changes and teacher cultural responsiveness expectations by developing intercultural resources. These can be accessed on the AITSL website. The new resources include a self-reflection tool as a starting point, in conjunction with a developmental continuum and framework for the purpose of “supporting teachers to enhance and enrich their practice and maximise student outcomes.”


The decision about whether to have a First Nations voice to parliament will be put to the vote. The Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney announced that the vote to constitutionally enshrine a First Nations voice to parliament could be conducted as early as August 2023. The outcome of the vote will be determined by Australians’ understanding of the reason for a voice, the form that the voice will take, and what the potential benefits are for all Australians. There is the potential of major benefits for our national education system, teachers, and for improved educational outcomes for all Australian students. So, how will you vote?


First Nations Voice

Dr Tracy Woodroffe is a Lecturer and Course Coordinator in the College of Indigenous Futures, Arts & Society at Charles Darwin University– specialising in education, teaching Indigenous learners and Indigenous knowledge in education. She is a local Warumungu Luritja woman with extensive experience in early childhood, primary and secondary classrooms. Tracy is interested in educational pedagogy and the use of Indigenous knowledge to improve Indigenous academic achievement. Her work includes Indigenous methodology and examining the Australian education system through an Indigenous women’s standpoint.

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