The Importance of Indigenous Education for Our Teachers

I took Indigenous Studies as an elective when I was in university and it was the best decision I could have made. Since I work in a school with a large number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, the knowledge that I gained from partaking in Indigenous Studies at university has been really handy. While I understand that not every teacher will work with Indigenous students in their career, I still think it’s essential that Indigenous Studies be compulsory for all teachers during their training.

I was covering an English class for an absent teacher one day and had a student ask me what the difference was between an Aboriginal person and an Indigenous person. I was more than happy to answer the student’s question. There was a second teacher in the classroom that day, who was taken aback with my answer. He’d had no idea that there was a difference between the two and was surprised that I was able to provide an answer. Honestly speaking, he’s not the only one at all. Most people don’t seem to know that there is a difference and it’s quite sad how limited our knowledge is on the subject. We’re living on Aboriginal land after all, but we haven’t even educated ourselves about their very basic facts.

If you’re living in a country with an Indigenous history you SHOULD know all about the people, their histories and their perspectives. Currently in Australian schools when students are taught about Aboriginal history, usually within history class itself, the perspectives of Aboriginal people are rarely addressed. The histories studied are often written by the white man, and often provide a colonial perspective of the events. There is rarely a focus on Aboriginal history from the perspective of Aboriginals, and there is rarely a look at the long-term effects of colonialism on Aboriginals. Most people do not recognize the fact that Indigenous populations are still suffering as a result of what happened during colonial times. Most people are also oblivious to the fact that by teaching Aboriginal History through the perspective of white men, we are still silencing Aboriginal people by failing to let their perspectives be heard.

While the Board of Studies do implement a compulsory Aboriginal Component that must be applied in every subject, the fact that most teachers do not have the adequate knowledge to effectively teach this content is being overlooked. As a result of this, teachers are choosing the “easy way out” by simply choosing texts with just a hint of Aboriginality, without having been written by an Indigenous person, or showing the Aboriginal perspective at all. Such was the case in my sister’s Year 11 English class in which their teacher told them that “We’ll read a book from a convict’s perspective because there’s too much emphasis on the Aboriginal perspective. Nobody gets to see the White perspective to colonialism”. Just let that sink in.

Unfortunately, many teachers don’t have the adequate knowledge to appropriately incorporate Aboriginal Components into their teaching in a way that does it justice. Something that desperately needs to change. For people to truly understand the history and the culture of the country that we live in, we need to ensure that our teachers are trained in this field. By encouraging our teachers to undertake a course in Indigenous Studies as part of their training we will ensure that they have the adequate resources to educate the future generations, and best meet the Aboriginal Component requirements.

We have in the past wiped out the history and cultures of Indigenous populations, the very least we can do now is learn about them, teach them to our students and allow them to live on in our classrooms.


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