Aboriginal Education

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Bringing Country to the classroom

September 13, 2018

Inverell High School is proud of its Aboriginal Studies course, one the school believes has fostered a deeper and more authentic relationship between the school and the local Aboriginal community.

Classes in the Stage 6 course have grown substantially since its inception in 2009, with Indigenous and non-Indigenous students embracing the key themes of the subject and benefitting substantially from the opportunities it provides to develop authentic relationships with the wider community.

The Aboriginal Studies alumni of Inverell High School includes an impressive number of students who are now working in the fields of health, law, education and politics, to name a few. All students agree that the course content has significantly helped them in their tertiary studies.

As past student Courtney Beard (studying a Bachelor of Social Welfare at Southern Cross University) said: “Aboriginal Studies was the best thing I did at school.

“I can use it in all my subjects at university. The first discussion in one of my subjects was the colonisation of Australia and I went to read the first chapter and we had already done it in Aboriginal Studies.

“I was literally cheering. I am so happy I kept all my Aboriginal Studies stuff, I have already used it heaps.”

Preliminary Aboriginal Studies examines traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies as well as Indigenous communities around the world. It also investigates the process of colonisation and the legacy of dispossession on these people until the 1960s.

Students are provided with the opportunity to develop sophisticated research skills when completing their local community case study.

The HSC course focuses on the period after the 1960s to the present day, with core study that investigates social justice and human rights issues from a global perspective. Students conduct a comparative study of an Indigenous Australian community and an international Indigenous community, investigating specific socioeconomic indicators.

Students are also provided with the opportunity to conduct a research project of their choice, enabling them to explore a topic that they are passionate about and utilise their academic and creative strengths to present their investigation

Stage 6 Aboriginal Studies also holds many cross-curriculum benefits. A significant amount of the subject material shares similar themes and concepts with a variety of other Preliminary and HSC subjects including Community and Family Studies, PDHPE and Legal Studies. This allows students to develop a deeper understanding of core concepts that, in turn, help to increase academic achievement in a variety of subjects.

Aboriginal Studies has the potential to significantly enhance the relationship between the school and the local Aboriginal community. The curriculum content provides a variety of opportunities to involve community members inside and outside the classroom. Furthermore, Aboriginal Studies fosters a sense of contribution and ownership for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and their families.

The Department of Education and Training and NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) Partnership Agreement 2010-20 includes a number of specific focus areas designed to improve relationships between the school and their local Aboriginal community, as well as to improve Aboriginal student achievement.

Focus Area 3 deals with Relationships and Pathways with the aim of “building the capacity of Aboriginal parents and families, and community members to actively engage and participate in education and training processes”.

The course provides an avenue for schools to work collaboratively with Aboriginal people and communities on a regular basis. It is a proactive way to encourage Aboriginal people to make valued contributions to the school community.

The Partnership Agreement also focuses on Quality Teaching and Training in Focus Area 4, which seeks to support “quality teaching through culturally inclusive curriculum, pedagogy and practices that are intellectually demanding, futures orientated and that value Aboriginal students’ cultural identities and heritage”.

Stage 6 Aboriginal Studies has the potential to significantly increase the opportunities for teachers to promote a culturally inclusive curriculum. The course content effectively encourages community members to be able to work in collaboration with teaching staff to design and subsequently deliver syllabus content that is intellectually demanding and sustainable.

Furthermore, it provides a foundation for which to expand local community contributions in other subjects that also have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content.

Another significant benefit of Stage 6 Aboriginal Studies is the vocational advantages it offers students after they leave school. The course content is relevant to many vocations including health, education and law.

Madison Roussos, who is studying Bachelor of Medicine at University of NSW, found Aboriginal Studies gave her a “significant advantage” during interviews at UNSW and James Cook University in Townsville.

“I found it to be a significant advantage to have studied Aboriginal Studies,” she said. “Both panels had specific questions asking about the importance of helping in disadvantaged communities (Aboriginal communities in particular).

“They had a scenario on how we can ensure the proper implementation and increased participation in Indigenous communities. Other students who were also being interviewed came up to me afterwards and told me how they struggled to answer this question and how difficult it was to provide a half decent response.”

Madison said Aboriginal Studies had helped her to become aware and passionate about how important these issues are.

“The assessors stated how immensely important it is for medical practitioners to have an open-minded approach as well as a knowledge of cultural appropriation regarding Aboriginal and Torres strait Islander peoples and that many of those seeking enrolment in either university were not aware of this.

“Aboriginal Studies has given me the knowledge to be able to enlighten my peers and in some cases my lecturers, as to the complex nature of the issues facing Australia’s Aboriginal communities in relation to health and wellbeing.

“The subject also gave me life skills such as empathy and cultural awareness which will be invaluable as I progress through my studies and embark on my career in medicine.”

Chelsea Thom, who is employed at Best Employment under a Jobactive contract, works closely with the various local communities of the district to assist people in obtaining and retaining employment.

“In particular, I work with the local Kamilaroi and Anaiwan nations (Inverell and Tingha), trying to overcome socio-economic barriers which can prevent them from gaining employment,” she said.

“Aboriginal Studies has immensely improved my understanding of physical, cultural and social factors that may prevent some clients from finding a job.

“It has taught me the importance of cultural awareness when addressing certain barriers within Aboriginal communities and which barriers need specialised attention due to generational disadvantage.”

Cath Jeffery teaches at Inverell High School.