Teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures - Education Matters Magazine
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Teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures

David de Carvalho ACARA

Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), David de Carvalho, discusses incorporating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures into the Australian Curriculum.

By way of introduction, I am the (relatively) new CEO of ACARA. However, my first job was as a teacher, as is the story of many of the staff at ACARA.
Having current or former teachers on-staff gives us, as an organisation, a good knowledge base and a great resource to inform the work we do.

A major part of ACARA’s role has been the development of the Australian Curriculum, which is now fully endorsed by all education ministers and being implemented nationwide.

The Australian Curriculum is three dimensional. It has eight key learning areas, seven general capabilities, and three cross-curriculum priorities, one of which is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures.

This cross-curriculum priority is not a separate or additional key learning area. Teachers are invited to integrate aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience and perspectives into the way they teach the key learning areas.

The 2008 Melbourne Declaration on the Educational Goals for Australian Schooling becoming “active and informed citizens” is a key purpose in education. In order to do this, Australian children and young people should develop an appreciation for the perspective and experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Seeing things from the perspective of Australia’s Indigenous peoples reveals different aspects of our national story.

There has been a strong desire among teachers for more support in implementing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures in the Australian Curriculum. Teachers told us they can generally see a connection between this cross-curriculum priority and some of the learning areas, like Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Arts, but asked for advice on how they can embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learnings in other subject areas, particularly STEM subjects.

In October we released 95 elaborations of how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people understood and applied scientific concepts in their daily life.
One elaboration explains how students can learn about chemical sciences and different types of chemical reactions used to produce a range of products by investigating the methods employed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to convert toxic plants into edible food products.

Another elaboration explains how students can investigate how fire research has evaluated the effects of traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ fire regimes and how these findings have influenced fire management policy throughout Australia.

The elaborations help students understand aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures while they are, at the same time, improving their understanding of key scientific facts and ideas. The elaborations are available to teachers to support a more engaging experience for students. They are not a compulsory element of the curriculum.
In supporting teachers to deliver the curriculum in this way, the hope is that Australian children and young people will be given the opportunity to learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures within the context of the key learning areas.

The elaborations also help teachers provide a more culturally responsive curriculum experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, resulting in better educational outcomes, and increased achievement and engagement among students.

Teacher background information is also available on the Australian Curriculum website for Years 5-10 and explains in detail the cultural and historical significance of the chosen topic and how it connects to the core science curriculum content. There is also a list of consulted works, provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information.

More recently, ACARA, along with the CSIRO, has developed illustrations of practice, showing students learning Aboriginal traditional ecological knowledge through the Australian Curriculum: Science, through on Country and Classroom Projects (also known as ‘two-way science’).

Illustrations of practice show the different approaches teachers take in teaching the Australian Curriculum content, based on their local context.
I am pleased at how well these resources have been received and hope you encourage teachers within your schools to fully utilise them.

The full list of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elaborations and teacher background information for the Science curriculum and the illustrations of practice are available online by clicking here.