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Australian Aboriginal perspectives in the classroom

Critically analyse the inclusion of indigenous perspectives in AusVELS the Australian Curriculum in Victoria and in Victorian classrooms.
by

Claire James

on 15 October 2012

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Transcript of Australian Aboriginal perspectives in the classroom

Critically analyse the inclusion of indigenous perspectives in
AusVELS the Australian Curriculum in Victoria and in Victorian classrooms. My teaching methods are History and Religious Education. As Religious Education is not
mentioned in the Australian National Curriculum my assessment task will focus on the subject of History. Australian National Curriculum The national curriculum was developed to engage all students within the classroom, and one significant group within the classroom is the Australian Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander population. The Australian Curriculum is a single national curriculum to be implemented in all schools throughout the nation. AusVELS has been developed to incorporate the National Curriculum ‘within a framework that reflects particular Victorian priorities and approaches to teaching and learning’ (VCAA, 2012) and has been designed to be used during the development of the Australian Curriculum. The Australian Curriculum has been developed to ensure that every student receives an enriched learning experience across all areas of the curriculum. Indigenous Perspectives in the National Curriculum The Australian Curriculum endeavours to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into all areas of the curriculum. As outlined in ‘The Shape of the Australian Curriculum Version 3 May 2012’ on the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority website:

‘The Australian Curriculum also means that all young Australians can learn about the histories and cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, of their contribution to Australia, and of the consequences of colonial settlement for Indigenous communities, past and present. For Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, the Australian Curriculum promotes the importance of pursuing excellence within education settings that respect and promote their cultural identity.’ (ACARA, 2012, p. 7)

One of the major priorities of the National Curriculum is to include Indigenous perspectives in all areas to allow all students to gain an understanding and appreciation of the cultures and histories of Australia’s first peoples. It is hoped that students will realise the huge impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have had, and continue to have, on Australian and world cultures (ACARA, 2012, p. 22).
Implementing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives is a national priority, and educators should be committed to teaching this subject area thoroughly to provide students with a well rounded education (Craven, 2011, p. 2). History Curriculum Australian Aboriginal perspectives in the classroom By Claire James S00091252 One area of the curriculum that is of the utmost importance when incorporating Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into the curriculum is within the subject of History. History is the study of the past and aims to provide students with knowledge, understanding and a grounded appreciation of past events, people, cultures, practices and ideas (ACARA, The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: History, 2009, p. 4). In the classroom historical perspectives are presented through oral means, documents, artefacts, monuments and traditions. It is intended that students will develop the ability to recognise that there are many different interpretations of history and be able to distinguish the difference between opinion, bias and fact (ACARA, The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: History, 2009, p. 4). History of Australian Indigenous People The Indigenous History of Australia is one that is filled with the Dreaming and a strong connection with the land. Many prehistorians accept that the Aboriginal peoples came to Australia from South East Asia not by chance, but through planning and a desire to reach the continent due to any number of factors which could include warfare, famine or curiosity (Broome, 1982, p. 13). The Aboriginal Peoples were the first inhabitants of the Australian continent and first came to Australia more than 50,000 years ago, and it could be found that there were Indigenous inhabitants in Australia from anywhere up to 120,000 years ago (Broome, 1982, p. 14). Indigenous People Today The percentage of Australians identifying as Indigenous is increasing; ‘The number of people identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in the 2006 Census was 455,028 representing 2.3% of the total Australian population’ (Government, 4713.0 - Population Characteristics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2006, 2010). This number has increased by 11% since 2001 and is expected to continue to grow (Government, 4713.0 - Population Characteristics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2006, 2010). This increasing number emphasises the need for further inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in the classroom.

A Government Initiative looking at the inclusion and welfare of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today is the Closing the Gap campaign. Closing the Gap is a national challenge which aims to achieve lasting change and ensure that future generations of Indigenous Australians have all the opportunities enjoyed by other Australians to live full, healthy lives and achieve their potential. This includes medical care and access to education and further studies and employment. The national Closing the Gap strategy aims to reduce the gap between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous Australians in life expectancy, child morality, access to early childhood education, educational achievement and employment outcomes (Beresford, Partington, & Gower, 2003, p. 167). Difficulties in teaching Australian
Indigenous History The History of Australian Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples is extremely diverse and spans tens of thousands of years. Richard Broome in his work ‘Aboriginal Australians’ (1982) presents three problems which arise when attempting to teach a history of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples when confined to a classroom setting: the vastness of the subject and content, the sources used within the classroom and the variations on the Aboriginal themes. Because the History of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is so complex it is impossible to confine teaching the complex and changing society in a few lessons a year in the classroom. Secondly, the teacher should be objective when presenting information as much of the history of Indigenous peoples is based upon information created from European observations and not from firsthand accounts or indigenous sources. Lastly, there were ‘approximately 300,000 Aborigines living in 1788 when the Europeans arrived, divided into over 500 tribes, each with their own distinct territory, history, dialect and culture’ and so there were numerous variations on themes and practices spanning the nation and cannot be contained into a single classroom definition (Broome, 1982, p. 15).

Although there are issues when attempting to teach a history of Aboriginal Australians it is an essential aspect of the History curriculum. It is vital to present a number of different perspectives on each topic as ‘we cannot understand our history without understanding both’ Indigenous perspectives and the European perspective (Broome, 1982, p. 8) as well as other perspectives when required. It should be the teacher’s aim to provide students with many different perspectives within history so they can establish an opinion based upon fact and identify any bias that may be present within the information.

Student self-knowledge can be gained through the study of Indigenous history. It is through history that we can begin to understand the attitudes and actions of Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islander peoples as well as a more complex understanding of European Australians. In the past the teaching of Australian history was very exclusive of Aboriginal Australians, and so ‘we were presented with half a history – half an Australian Experience’ (Broome, 1982, p. 8). It is hoped that the new National Australian Curriculum will provide a more rounded and inclusive history of Australia. Indigenous Perspectives within the National
History Curriculum The introduction of the National Curriculum aims to ensure all Australian students receive an equal education. The History curriculum is being established with an increased emphasis on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives. Although the inclusion of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives is fantastic in its efforts to be inclusive, the teacher of such curriculum needs to ensure that they provide a holistic approach when teaching the history curriculum, and encourage additional points of view within the classroom. In order to provide such an approach, the teacher needs to be up to date in their knowledge of all aspects that go into teaching Indigenous perspectives including Indigenous elders’ views and by providing inquiry approach to student learning. It is an understandable concern that ‘through no fault of their own, [teachers] have tended to become dependent on ‘general knowledge’ (Prentis, 2008, p. 6) and on the media of mass communication’ such as the internet and websites such as Wikipedia and although these sources can be useful they are ‘notoriously uneven in their accuracy and balance’ (Prentis, 2008, p. 6). Next are two examples from AusVELS (Government, Victorian. , 2012) for levels 5 and 6 indicating how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives have been included in the National Curriculum in the subject of history: AusVELS Level 5 -The Australian Colonies: the nature of convict or colonial presence, including the factors that influenced patterns of development, aspects of the daily life of the inhabitants (including Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Peoples) and how the environment changed. Investigating colonial life to discover what life was like at that time for different inhabitants, including Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Peoples as well as European families.

-The Australian Colonies: the role that a significant individual or group played in shaping a colony; for example, explorers, farmers, entrepreneurs, artists, writers, humanitarians, religious and political leaders, and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples. AusVELS Level 6 -Australia as a Nation: experiences of Australian democracy and citizenship, including the status and rights of Aboriginal people and/or Torres Strait Islanders, migrants, women, and children. The lack of citizenship rights for Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in Australia, illustrated by their early classification as flora and fauna, controls on movement and residence, the forcible removal of children from their families leading to Stolen Generations, and poor pay and working conditions. Describing the significance of the 1962 right to vote federally and the 1967 referendum. Investigating the stories of individuals or groups who advocated or fought for rights in twentieth-century Australia (for example the Aborigines Progressive Association)

-Australia as a Nation: the contribution of individuals and groups, including Aboriginal people and/or Torres Strait Islanders and migrants, to the development of Australian society, for example in areas such as the economy, education, science, the arts, sport. Considering notable individuals in Australian public life across a range of fields, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is important to include different perspectives on issues from History, but it needs to be ensured that correct and relevant information is provided to students and that the information is from an array of perspectives so that the history presented is not one-sided. Indigenous perspectives need to be included in a way which doesn’t simple present Indigenous viewpoints and beliefs as artifacts but rather as reliable historical sources. Critiques A critique of the National Curriculum is the seemingly not present input of those who identify themselves as being leaders and elders within the Indigenous community. Education writer Justine Ferrari in her article from The Australian explained ‘Indigenous leaders, academics and educators are angered by a lack of consultation in the development of the national school curriculum, which they argue relegates Aboriginal people and their culture to "historical artifacts"’ (Ferrari, 2009). This concern about the lack of Indigenous contribution to the National Curriculum emphasises the need for a more diverse and inclusive curriculum in which those who are most knowledgeable about the curriculum area are consulted for their input. Without the input of these knowledgeable people, such as Indigenous leaders, the curriculum suffers greatly, not only in a lack of material but a lack of knowledge that is put forth to students, who are tomorrow’s leaders. Without consultation from appropriate and important sources the curriculum will suffer and may revert back to a single European view within the classroom which is morally and ethically outdated. Government Policies There are a number of Government Policies that need to be considered when implementing Australian Aboriginal perspectives into the curriculum and classroom. These policies dictate how all students are to be treated and should influence how the teacher presents information to their class.
The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 states Australia’s obligations under the ‘International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination’ (Australia, 2012). The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 aims to:

- Promote equality before the law for all persons, regardless of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin, and
- Make discrimination against people on the basis of their race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin unlawful.

The 1967 Referendum was a significant milestone for Australian History, from both an Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspective. The 1967 Referendum was another step in trying to extinguish racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia in today’s society. The Federal referendum was held on the 27th of May 1967 and Australians were asked to vote on whether or not the wording of a section of the constitution in reference to Indigenous Australians should be altered.

The sections of the Constitution that were up for review were:
51. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:-
...(xxvi) The people of any race, other than the aboriginal people in any State, for whom it is necessary to make special laws.
127. In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives should not be counted.

An overwhelming 90.77 per cent of Australian citizens voted for the changes to the constitution to occur (National Archives of Australia: The 1967 referendum, 2012).

Another important Government Policy which was the cornerstone of beginning the elimination of racial discrimination in Australia was giving Indigenous People the right to vote in 1962. These two Government policies in particular were extremely significant in bringing closer the idealism of closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Racism Racism is a concern in today’s society, and unfortunately can be present within the classroom; studies have shown that even in today’s multicultural classrooms racism is a ‘common occurrence in schools (Beresford, Partington, & Gower, 2003, p. 158). This racism can range from name calling and taunts to physical and psychological abuse. Unfortunately racism is not just at the hands of other students, as some teachers have been known to be racist in their presentation of information and in their treatment of students. Beresford, Partington and Gower (2003) found that ‘reported racist teacher behaviour included exclusion, unfair treatment or inaction in response to student racism’ (p. 159). It will not be possible until racism has been eradicated from the inside out that full inclusion in the classroom will occur. Teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in the classroom As the number of Australians identifying themselves as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander increases, the likelihood that one will be present in the classroom also increases. The inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in all areas of education are well known and the ‘statistics are not improving anywhere near the rate they should be (Beresford, Partington, & Gower, 2003, p. 36). One of the main aims of the ‘Close the Gap’ campaign is to bring about equal educational opportunities for all Australian students.

Within the classroom there are a number of approaches teachers can embrace when teaching Indigenous students. Beresford, Partington and Gower (2003) suggest that one option is to ‘embrace and celebrate aboriginality, their values and beliefs’ (p. 152). It is through embracing the Indigenous culture that the teacher can give Indigenous perspectives in the curriculum the attention they deserve as well as engaging the Indigenous students within the classroom. Embracing indigenous culture goes beyond superficial and stereotypical knowledge and could include ‘involving Aboriginal community members and family members in the everyday activities of the school’ (Beresford, Partington, & Gower, 2003, p. 152).

And as with teaching all students in the classroom the teacher needs to ensure that how they are teaching and the activities they are using are ‘working for the Aboriginal students and, if it is not, then they need to change it until it does work’ (Beresford, Partington, & Gower, 2003, p. 170). ACARA. (2009, May). The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: History. Retrieved from Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority: http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/Australian_Curriculum_-_History.pdf
First accessed on 28th of September 2012

ACARA. (2012, May). The Shape of the Australian Curriculum Version 3. Retrieved from Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority: http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/The_Shape_of_the_Australian_Curriculum_V3.pdf
First accessed on 28th of September 2012

Australia, Commonwealth Of,. (2012, February 14). ComLaw. Retrieved from Australian Government : http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2012C00236
First accessed 5th of October 2012

Beresford, Q., Partington, G., & Gower, G. (2003). Reform and Resistance in Aboriginal Education. Crawley: UWA Publishing.

Broome, R. (1982). Aboriginal Australians. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin .

Craven, R. (2011). Teaching Aboriginal Studies: A Practical Resource for Primary and Secondary Teaching. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.

Ferrari, J. (2009, October 26). Aboriginal leaders seek role in national curriculum. The Australian.

Government, Australian. (2010, May 4). 4713.0 - Population Characteristics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2006. Retrieved from Australian Bureau of Statistics: Uslianhttp://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/B7164C771F4A35D7CA2578DB00283CB1?opendocument
First accessed on 3rd of October 2012

Government, A.ustralian (2012). The 1967 referendum. Retrieved from National Archives of Australia: http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/fact-sheets/fs150.aspx
First accessed on 5th of October 2012

Government, Victorian. (2012). History: Curriculum . Retrieved from AusVELS: http://ausvels.vcaa.vic.edu.au/The-Humanities-History/Curriculum/F-10
First accessed 28th of September 2012

Prentis, M. D. (2008). A Concise Companion to Aboriginal History . NSW: Rosenberg .

VCAA. (2012). AusVELS Overview. Retrieved from Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority: http://ausvels.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Overview/AusVELS-Structure
First accessed 28th of September 2012 Bibliography Recommendations for the future In order for Australia to truly become an inclusive community, and for all classrooms and the curriculum to be inclusive, there are steps that need to be taken. For example, the eradication of racism is of the utmost importance; this can be achieved through education. The National Curriculum is taking important steps in including Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives across all subject areas. However, more needs to be done to ensure that the inclusions are relevant and are informed. An important step that needs to be taken is ensuring Indigenous leaders are consulted when creating curriculum.
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