The Project aimed to realise the final goal of the 1989 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education policy:
21. To provide all Australian students with an understanding of and respect for Aboriginal traditional and contemporary cultures.
The Project was also intended to assist teachers in addressing one of the three cross-curriculum priorities in the Australian Curriculum: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures.
The Australian Curriculum aims to address two distinct needs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education:
- that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are able to see themselves, their identities and their cultures reflected in the curriculum of each of the learning areas, can fully participate in the curriculum and can build their self-esteem
- that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority is designed for all students to engage in reconciliation, respect and recognition of the world’s oldest continuous living cultures.
Why should Australian children learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures?
As Australians learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, they learn about the history and cultures of Australia. Instead of 220 years of history since the first colony was established at Port Jackson, over 60,000 years of human history becomes available to them. Much of what we know about that history has been written into the Australian literary, historical and scientific record by non Indigenous people, who not only relied on archaeology and the sciences, the humanities and social sciences, but also relied on the testimony and oral histories of Indigenous Australians. Increasingly, scientists, historians, linguists and especially researchers from the environmental sciences, are discovering aspects of Australian human and natural life that was previously unknown. Learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies helps us to understand the nature of Australia, its geography, fauna, flora and human endeavours.
How does this fit in to the Australian Curriculum?
These resources have been designed to assist with the classroom implementation of the Australian Curriculum, and align with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority. The resources are designed according to content descriptions and achievement standards in the Australian Curriculum.
Recently, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) announced 95 new elaborations to help teachers to incorporate the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority in the Australian Curriculum: Science. This development responded to feedback from community and educators who required further resources to enable them to include this content in their teaching. These elaborations were developed with the assistance of ACARA's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group and Taskforce, and Science and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander curriculum specialists, and provide practical examples across all three strands of the science curriculum and all year levels.
Whereas ACARA develops the intended curriculum, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Curricula Project has developed resources for the implemented curriculum. Teachers require reliable resources to enable them to teach the cross-curriculum priority in all learnings areas and be assured that their students will reach the achievement standards for each. These resources are designed to assure teachers as to their quality and rigour while also providing content that originates with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders and experts that the teachers and students will find fascinating.
What are the current barriers to implementation?
The cross-curriculum priorities, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Histories and Cultures, are not optional but integral and necessary components of the Australian Curriculum. There is a widespread and mistaken view that this cross-curriculum priority is optional. Our work aims to overcome this misunderstanding. The Project has identified four main barriers to the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content in implementing this cross-curriculum priority in the classroom:
- Fear — of their own limited knowledge, or of doing something wrong.
- Navigation — of existing repositories, and to identify quality resources within these.
- Value — of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures to the Australian curriculum and achievement standards and doubts about their relevance beyond The Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences.
- Change — constant changes in priorities for teachers implementing curriculum in the classroom limits their efforts to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content in their subjects.
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Curricula Project has aimed to design the resources to reassure teachers and educators about these matters and assure them that by implementing them in the classroom, they will enrich their students’ learning experience, as well as meet the achievement standards of the learning areas.
Also, some topics in the material available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures raise contentious matters that teachers feel unable to resolve. This is why we have chosen three themes – Astronomy, Fire and Water – as universal topics of human knowledge about which the debates are largely technical. These themes present the opportunity to introduce exciting science, social sciences and arts resources into the Australian Curriculum that are rigorous and also present aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and knowledge from reliable sources.
1 The Commonwealth of Australia 1989, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy, https://www.dss.gov.au
2 Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) 2018, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures, https://australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/cross-curriculum-priorities/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-histories-and-cultures