Including Indigenous Knowledge systems in the curriculum will build a better Australia

All Australian students have opportunities to connect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge systems, histories and cultures following development of new curriculum resources and professional development modules, through the work of Ngarrngga (pronounced Naan-gah).

Ngarrngga is a signature project of the University of Melbourne and involves research and consultation by University of Melbourne education experts with educators from across the nation, led by Associate Dean (Indigenous) from the University’s Faculty of Education Professor Melitta Hogarth. It builds on foundational work by eminent Australian and University of Melbourne Associate Provost and Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies, Professor Marcia Langton.

The context

In December 2023 the Australian Government released a summary report of its review to inform a better and fairer education system.

Titled Improving outcomes for all the report identifies that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders need to be included in developing solutions to educational challenges, if schools are to provide culturally responsive learning environments and assessments for First Nations students.

But at a national forum on reconciliation in education co-hosted by Ngarrngga and Reconciliation Australia’s Narragunnawali program held in Canberra late in 2023, researchers expanded on this suggesting that inclusion of Indigenous Knowledge in education would benefit everyone involved – educators, students and society as a whole.

“Education does not just impart information; it shapes who we are and who we might be,” Professor Hogarth says.

“Beginning in every classroom, education in Indigenous knowledge systems, histories and cultures is a nation-building exercise. Beyond bricks and mortar, documents such as the Australian Curriculum inform institutions that shape society.

“The priority within the Australian Curriculum for deeper engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures is a matter of national significance: how we go about realising this priority will shape our future citizens.”

Ngarrngga is working to provide solutions to this challenge.

Diagram: Hogarth, M. (2022). The Ngarrngga conceptual framework.

Developing solutions

Ngarrngga (a Taungurung word meaning to know, to hear, to understand) is a multifaceted, trans-disciplinary program of work structured around three project nodes: Indigenous Knowledge in curriculum, Indigenous Knowledge in schools, and Indigenous Knowledge in Initial Teacher Education. Each of the Project Nodes informing the project activity within the program is interrelated yet independent.

Informed by a design-based research methodology (see diagram above), Professor Hogarth says Ngarrngga strives to support educators to be confident in showcasing Indigenous Knowledge within their teaching and learning. Ultimately, it can provide opportunities for all Australian students to learn about the contributions and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to Australian society.

“This program goes beyond the production of curricula resources by diving deep into the Australian curriculum to draw out and illustrate how Indigenous Knowledge complements and deepens our understanding of the world and our relationships with one another.

“Ngarrngga centres Indigenous peoples, knowledge systems, histories and cultures alongside western pedagogies and practices,” Professor Hogarth says.

“The program is guided by three critical principles ­– recognition of Indigenous cultural and intellectual property, a reparative approach, emphasis on the concept of relationality – and informed by the values of respect, restorative processes and [re]conciliation.”

Pilot study outcomes informing future work

Pilot studies of the current context of teachers and education academics’ attitudes towards engaging Indigenous Knowledge in their teaching and learning have reinforced the findings of existing published literature.

But more recently, nationwide focus groups found classroom teachers from across the nation needed targeted support and resources to ensure a more consistent and inclusive integration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content across all schooling year levels.

Educators at all career stages reported there were strong concerns around quality of content.  Time, budget constraints and lack of school and collegial support for engaging with Indigenous Knowledge were also identified as barriers.

How the researchers are responding

To ensure there is a balanced curriculum where Indigenous Knowledge is seen and valued alongside western knowledge, Ngarrngga’s work supports educators and education academics through strategic investigation and analysis of existing published literature to best inform its approaches. This includes a Needs Analysis currently being undertaken to understand the specific needs of educators in early childhood settings.

The team’s initial work involved establishing a comprehensive Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property set of guidelines and principles inclusive of protocols, resources and templates to inform all program and project activities. Their Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Declaration was developed in collaboration with Terri Janke and Co, leading experts in the field.

“Drawing on the learnings from past research, our work is flexible, collaborative, innovative and sustainable,” Professor Hogarth says. “We are developing a relational pedagogical framework to guide our approach when producing curricula and supporting materials for educators.

“Our approach is informing the development of a comprehensive toolkit of teaching strategies to align with schooling and university approaches, and to address teacher and education academics’ confidence engaging with Indigenous Knowledge, we are developing and trialling professional development and masterclasses complementary to the resource development.”

Ngarrngga is actively partnering with schools and Early Childhood Education centres across the nation to trial and evaluate the resources in educative settings ensuring the resources and the team are responsive to educator and system needs.

“In turn, we will be consistently reflecting on feedback to revise and reposit resources to be ‘fit for purpose’ in the education ecosystem. The program of works is shadowed by an evaluation team seeking to provide critical feedback and advice on the viability and success of the program.”

A comprehensive and exciting program of projects and activities are scheduled in 2024 for Ngarrngga.

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Banner photo: Getty Images/Belinda Howell

First published on 1 March 2024.

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