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Wadjak Noongar Curriculum Project

Education Curriculum for Perth Secondary Students About Wadjak Noongar History, Culture and Contemporary Issues (2013-15)

Whadjuk Noongar Education Curriculum


Rotary Clubs: Rotary Clubs of Belmont, Subiaco, West Perth (leading Club) and Western Endeavour

Partner Organisations: The South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council; Murdoch University; WA Department of Education; Four Senior High Schools, Slater and Gordon and Black Russian Productions.

The project sought to assist the WA Department of Education to develop more effective ways of teaching secondary students about Aboriginal history, culture and issues, in the context of the (changing) requirements of the Australian Curriculum. It also addresses related issues regarding the training of teachers at universities and via in-service professional development. The project demonstrates an approach which focuses on local and regional (rather than Australia-wide) information, with the relevant Aboriginal cultural organization playing a key role in curriculum development.

The major long-term objective of this Rotary Project is to raise the general level of understanding of Western Australian people regarding Aboriginal history, culture and contemporary issues. The current low level of such knowledge is a major obstacle to Reconciliation, Recognition and advancement of Aboriginal peoples. A complementary objective is to affirm Aboriginal students and build their identities.

The project has developed a set of 20 pilot (one hour) lessons covering ten topic areas about Whadjuk Noongar history, culture and issues. This includes support materials and films for teachers to introduce into the Humanities and Social Sciences Year 9 Secondary School curriculum. Materials were sourced from the SWALSC (under an IP agreement), Murdoch University and other reference material sources. SWALSC endorsed the use of all materials.

Four Senior High Schools and Colleges were identified in collaboration with the WA Education Department to teach the pilot Whadjuk Noongar curriculum to year 9 students in Terms 1 and 2 of 2015. In preparing for teaching the curriculum, teachers were offered a 2-day Professional Development (PD) short course in early December 2014, including a cultural experience with Whadjuk elders. Dr. Turk (Murdoch University) was largely responsible for developing and delivering this course, with the assistance of Aboriginal teacher, Donnelle Slater. Ten teachers participated in the PD program, together with senior Education Dept. personnel, Aboriginal and Islander Education Officers (AIEOs) and Rotarians. Following the PD program, and detailed feedback from teachers, the pilot curriculum was revised by Dr. Turk, before being used in 13 classes in the four Senior High Schools and Colleges. Aboriginal Elders participated in 6 lesson sessions across the schools, as part of incursions and there was also an excursion during the course at most of the schools.

The methods of evaluation used for the project were approved by the Department of Education and by Murdoch University’s Research Ethics Committee. They involved: review of literature on past and contemporary efforts to implement courses about Indigenous Australians; student feedback (via a pre- and post-course questionnaire); teacher feedback (in writing and via interviews); and input from senior Education Department staff/consultants (via interviews). An independent Researcher was engaged to undertake most of this work.

Analysis of the data confirmed the value of the Whadjuk Noongar curriculum and that it should continue to be taught in Perth secondary schools. It is therefore recommended that the curriculum materials be revised in accordance with suggestions made by teachers. Approval should be sought from SWALSC who, together with Rotary, hold the IP rights, for on-going use of the revised curriculum materials.
Other findings were:

  1. Any proposed teaching about Australian Indigenous peoples’ history, culture and issues needs to be carefully integrated with the latest curriculum framework from the WA Department of Education and the current version of the Australian Curriculum.
  2. Teaching all students about Australian Indigenous peoples’ history, culture and issues is very different to teaching Indigenous students. Two examples, were Aboriginal Students may be embarrassed to admit that they have little cultural knowledge/understanding; and some Aboriginal Students may be embarrassed (or indignant) about a non-Indigenous person teaching them about their culture.
  3. Probably the most effective approach to teaching about Indigenous history, culture and issues (within the broader curriculum framework) is to have a synergistic combination of (probably short) stand-alone courses on this specific topic and also incorporation of a suitable amount of discussion of relevant Indigenous knowledges, perspectives, and examples during teaching about any topic in any discipline at any year level. It is critical that these integrated approaches to teaching are well structured so that there is a proper progression of aspects of teaching in a sequence from year to year, without inappropriate repetition, focusing on the ideas appropriate to that year level and the nature of a particular class (given that students will have different life experiences, intellectual abilities and cultural backgrounds).
  4. During teaching about Indigenous history, culture and issues, the formulation and execution of effective approaches to providing students with engaging activities, leading to appropriate skills development, is probably as important as having access to a suitable range of content-based curriculum materials. A critical aspect of these activities is comprehensive and respectful discussion of topics, in a manner suited to the level of knowledge and maturity of any particular class, especially for students in the usually argumentative and formative years around school year 9.
  5. For any set of curriculum materials, it is necessary for a teacher to select from available materials and teaching strategies and alter and creatively combine them to produce an engaging and effective educational experience for their particular students on that day. There are so many variables relevant to this process that it is impossible to create curriculum materials (including teaching strategy options) that cover all possible combinations of student needs and appropriate responses. Rather, the curriculum materials should be complete enough, and as user-friendly as possible, to facilitate the teacher undertaking the task of tailoring the lesson to the students’ needs on each occasion. Thus, providing teachers with the skills and tools (and adequate time for this task) is critical to the success of the teaching and learning.
  6. The selection and training of teachers so that they have appropriate levels of knowledge, attitudes and enthusiasm is critical to the success of teaching about Indigenous history, culture and issues. This needs to be incorporated into the education program of all undergraduate teachers, especially if the Australian and/or WA curriculums require teaching of Indigenous material across a wide variety of discipline areas. However, in any year, the number of new graduate teachers is likely to be vastly fewer than those teachers who have graduated some time ago, perhaps as long as 40 years. Hence, effective in-service Professional Development (PD) in this area of teaching is vital and should be focused on development of attitudes as well as knowledge and teaching strategies, probably via at least some element of immersive cultural experience with Aboriginal elders, preferably ‘on-country’.
  7. While it is important to include in the curriculum discussion of Indigenous Australians from other language groups, and regional and national issues and government policies and practices, it is likely to be most effective for most of the curriculum materials to be about the local language group. Hence, local and regional Indigenous individuals and cultural organisations should be involved to the maximum extent practicable in the design and development of curriculum materials, teaching activities (including incursions and excursions), evaluation of teaching programs and training of teachers at university and especially during in-service PD courses. Indigenous individuals and organisations should be appropriately remunerated for their assistance in these processes and for the use of Intellectual Property. Although the development of local aspects of curriculum in all WA regions may seem a difficult task, the resources expended will be repaid via more effective teaching and learning and improved collaboration between schools and their community (including Aboriginal parents and organisations). The development of local and regional cultural materials to insert into a generic state-wide curriculum could be productively integrated with PD (and/or ‘cultural competency’ training/certification) for teachers. AIEOs from the local language group could play an important role in the development of local materials.

The project can be considered as a success with detailed responses generated for the research questions. It has also resulted in a set of curriculum materials regarding Whadjuk Noongar history, culture and issues and recommendations regarding how these may be modified for ongoing use.
It is hoped that the findings and recommendations will assist the WA Department of Education in its decision-making processes regarding secondary courses about Aboriginal history, culture and issues. This project should facilitate both Reconciliation and Recognition. Education must play a key role in assisting people to understand the need for appropriate recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitutions of both WA and Australia.