Education

Re-centring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in education

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in educationAre you a teacher or educator who wants to bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into your teaching, but you’re not sure what they are or what to do?
You are not alone! Teachers and educators are increasingly being asked to bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into their teaching, but it can be a confusing space.

Re-centring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in education provides all students with opportunities to learn about the extraordinary foundations this continent was built on and contributes to learning spaces where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students feel valued and are successful.

I have a personal interest in these ‘coming together’ spaces. I am of Tagalaka descent and I was a high school teacher. I have learned from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge holders and have taught a standardised curriculum. I am always looking for ways to bring these together so our young ones can grow up strong in Australian knowledges, learning, cultures and respect.

My vision is for all students in Australia to learn about and through the two knowledge traditions of this continent.”

I have since worked in Initial Teacher Education as an educator for many years, enabling pre-service teachers to appreciate First Nations knowledges and develop appropriate collaborative approaches for working with our intellectual and cultural heritage.

If you’re a current teacher or educator, it is never too late or too overwhelming to start your journey.

The best way to work through these complexities is to make connections and develop two-way relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members, organisations and knowledge holders. This will allow you to develop responsive, localised strategies that are right for your students.

This is not a straightforward undertaking, which is why relationships are important. We need spaces to understand where everyone is coming from and to work out future directions together.

The place you are has been under the careful custodianship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for millennia, which requires detailed knowledge across many domains. This knowledge, culture, and language belongs to its original custodians who have control over who they share it with. By developing respectful relationships, you can receive guidance on what you, as an educator, can and cannot share, and create opportunities for co-teaching and collaboration.

Knowing the history since 1788 of your location will help you understand why it can be hard to find local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community organisations to contact, why there may be different peoples, groups and languages in your area, and why there can be politics to be aware of within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can have complicated relationships with schools. Education was designed to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students lost their cultural practices, languages and custodial knowledge. You need to be aware of the historical landscape you are entering and the implications this has for your relationships and teaching.

So where can you start?

I recommend visiting the website yOURstory, a free resource developed by a national team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers, including myself, to help teachers understand the process of establishing, building and sustaining partnership work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and communities.

If you’re looking for formal professional learning, QUT offers several opportunities:

My vision is for all students in Australia to learn about and through the two knowledge traditions of this continent – First Nations and Anglo-Australian – to create a future that respects and empowers Country and its many peoples. As leaders in learning, you have a powerful opportunity to share the history and stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with their students – the small steps you take to start your journey can make a big impact.

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Alison Quin is of Tagalaka descent, and developed an awareness of the complexities, contradictions and power of education for First Nations people when she became a high school English teacher. Since then, her work in education in First Nations communities and at universities has focused on how to bring Australia’s two traditions of knowledge-making and learning together, with a special interest in online learning contexts. She has taught students of education and teaching for many years, focusing on the development of practical skills relating to pedagogy and curriculum principles in Indigenous education.

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