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Indigenous experts point to mistruths in curriculum

First Nations education experts respond to mistruths in relation to the Australian Curriculum Review

More than 150 Indigenous education experts and practitioners who together represent 2,168.5 years of teaching experience, have issued a statement responding to mistruths in relation to the Australian Curriculum review.

The signatories agree that the proposed changes to the curriculum will assist teachers and educators to make the curriculum more culturally responsive and inclusive.

They are joined by a coalition of 10 education sector peak bodies, who have signed a joint letter to the Minister for Education expressing strong support for the inclusion of First Nations’ histories and cultures, and for greater truth-telling in the Australian Curriculum.

“Our goal is to improve the education system to ensure the best possible outcome for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, while at the same time ensuring all students have the opportunity to learn about the unique first cultures of this land,” said Dyonne Anderson, President of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Principals’ Association.

“Our vision clearly reflects the national vision of ensuring all students learn about the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, and to seeing all young First Nations Australians thrive in their education, as agreed to by Ministers through the 2019 Mparntwe (Alice Springs) Declaration,” said Ms Anderson.

“The arguments being made by some education leaders that this review will “Indigenise” the curriculum are utterly false. This is about broadening student’s perspectives, not narrowing them,” said prep teacher Alinta Iddles-Williams.

“We need to give our students a lot more credit. They are keen to engage with different ways of looking at the world. Even though most of the changes suggested by the review sit in the non-mandatory part of the curriculum, they still suggest ways teachers can use content to support students to understand First Nations perspectives.

“For example, if you are doing work on the seasons children can look at local Indigenous seasons and how they relate to the changes they are seeing in the weather. They might also walk on country with a local elder, which gives them a chance to build relationships, empathy and understanding.”

Beresford Dominic, Principal of Bwolgcolman Community School on Palm Island highlighted the importance of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cross-curriculum perspective in his school.

“We aim to help our students maintain a strong cultural identity while also developing the skills necessary to participate in the global community.

“Respect, responsibility and safety are at the forefront of everything we do. Ensuring our students have the opportunity to see themselves – their experiences – reflected in the curriculum is a critical element of this work.

“As a nation, we all have a role to play in helping to close the gap. There are clear opportunities through the Australian Curriculum to help ensure First Nations students have the opportunity thrive in their education, and at the same time help ensure all students in Australia have a better understanding of the diverse and unique Aboriginal and Torres Strait cultures,” said Mr Dominic.

“We urge members of the Australian public to support the modest changes proposed by this review and encourage all supporters of the changes to put in a submission to the ACARA curriculum review,” said Ms Anderson.

Statement on the Australian Curriculum from
First Nations Experts on Education
7 July 2021

We, the undersigned experts in education, are teachers, education support professionals, principals, early childhood educators, lecturers, associate professors and professors. We are First Nations people who collectively embody a millennia of minutes, thousands of hours, and hundreds of decades of long, hard work in the Australian education industry.

We make this statement in response to the mistruths that are being spread in some sections of the Australian media in relation to the Australian Curriculum review with particular reference to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cross-curriculum priority and the modest inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in to the mandatory key learning areas and non-mandatory content elaborations.

We have spent our careers in the Australian education sector working with two key objectives in mind:

  1. to improve the education system to ensure the best possible outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners; and
  2. to improve the education system so it ensures that all students in Australia have the opportunity to learn about the unique diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, as the first cultures of this land.

The attainment of these objectives for all Australian students is not just our vision – it is a vision shared by the whole nation – as articulated and signed by all Australian Ministers for Education in the 2019 Mparntwe (Alice Springs) Declaration, which states in its preamble:

We recognise the more than 60,000 years of continual connection by the First Peoples of Australia as a key part of the nation’s history, present and future. Through education, we are committed to ensuring that all students learn about the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, and to seeing all young First Nations Australians thrive in their education and all facets of life.

It is this vision for the Australian education system that is brought to life in classrooms every day through the mechanism of the Australian Curriculum.

In our expert opinion, the changes proposed in the current review of the Australian Curriculum do not ‘Indigenise’ this version of the curriculum. In fact the proposed changes are modest in scope and will improve the current education workforce’s approach to achieving our shared objectives as a nation. In particular, they will assist teachers and educators to respond more fulsomely to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, parents and communities by highlighting approaches that teachers can use to make the curriculum more culturally responsive and inclusive.

We further note that commentators in the Australian media are arguing that there has been an ‘elevation of Indigenous studies’ throughout the curriculum, yet these commentators have failed to mention that the majority of the proposed changes are to the non-mandatory ‘Content Elaboration’ section of the curriculum. Content elaborations are ‘suggested learning experiences’ and are designed to support teachers by providing clarity on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content, with the aim of improving teacher responsiveness.

The changes proposed in the review will contribute to both ‘closing the gap’ in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educational attainment and closing the ‘why weren’t we told?’ gap in knowledge and understanding of the richness and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and in the teaching and learning of the shared history of our country.

We urge members of the Australian public to support the modest changes proposed by this review and encourage all supporters of the changes to put in a submission to the ACARA curriculum review.

Karel Williams, Palawa, Executive Director; Rod Little, Wilunyu and Wajuk of the Yamatji and Nyoongar Nations, Owner, Director; Shannai Clissold, Kamilaroi, Teacher; Annie Mitchell, Bundjalung, Teacher; Bel Crowley, Gamillaraay, Teacher/Pedagogy Coach; Chantal Brown, Barada Barna, Teacher; Saraya Stewart, Yidinji, Teacher; Mervyn King, Waanyi, Teacher/Trainer; Name withheld, Jingili,Curriculum; Samantha Ritchie, Mandandanji, Teacher; Chantal Brown, Barada Barna, Teacher; Name withheld, Yawuru, Teacher; Gulwanyang Moran, Birrbay and Dhanggati, Aboriginal and Cultural Diversity Officer; Anissa Jones, Boorooberongal Darug, Teacher, trainer and assessor; Carly Meares, Wiradjuri, Teacher; Alicia Morgan, Gumbayngirr and Bundjalung, Classroom teacher; Name withheld, Wiradjuri, Project Lead, Department of Education; Anna Renfrew, Wonnaruah, Awabakal, Darkinyung, Itinerant Teacher Hearing; Narelle Daniels, Murramurang/Yuin, Teacher; Kristy Davies, Gomeroi, Classroom teacher; Lauren Castino, Gamilaraay, English Teacher; Rachel Bos, Kaurna, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Officer; Holly Sanders, Bundjalung, Classroom teacher; Name withheld, Ngemba, Teacher; Kate Fincher, Wanaruah, Class Teacher- Primary; Name withheld, Arabana/Adnyamathanha, Classroom Teacher; Leanne Jamieson, Gamilaroi, HSIE teacher and Year 9 Year Advisor; Name withheld, Bundjalung, Teacher; Name withheld, Biripi, Head Teacher; Mark Morgan, Aboriginal, Lecturer Coordinator Aboriginal Rural Training Program; Name withheld, Wiradyuri, Teacher; Rosina Grieves, Barkindji, Teacher; Amber Houston, Bundjalung, Teacher; Peter Lübke, Bidjara, Teacher; Juanita Hickson, Wiradjuri, Teacher; Cheree Stokes, Stolen Generation connected to QLD and NT Artist sole trader formerly Teacher, Assistant Principal, and Principal; Michelle Brown, Aboriginal, AEO/ Teacher; Rebecca Miles, Darkinjung, Teacher; Name withheld, Bundjalung, PO; Name withheld, Palawa, Music teacher; Jordyn Green, Wiradjuri, Teacher & Aboriginal Education Coordinator; Ashlee, Wadi Wadi, Wandi Wandian, Dharawal, Aboriginal Education Officer; Kaylene Ledden-Cooper, Bundjalung, Teacher, Librarian; Lorretta Swindale, Yuin Visual arts teacher/Aboriginal Education team; Kiera East, Bundjalung, Aboriginal education coordinator; Micheal Beale, Wailwan, Classroom Teacher; Name withheld, Yuin, Teacher; Lee Willis, Wiradjuri, Assistant Principal; Elizabeth Tailby, Kamilaroi, Teacher; Cassie Williams, Yamitji, Classroom Teacher; Malcolm Sky, Darkinjung, teacher; Alinta Williams, Ngunnawal/Ngambri, Prep teacher/leadership; Naomi Oakley, Gamilaroi, Toorong Marnong Project Officer; Elizabeth, Darug Nation, Classroom Teacher; Debbi-Ann Johnson, GunaiKurnai, Teacher Inclusion coordinator; Name withheld, Kalkadoon,Teacher; Tanna Draper Nagas, Byellee / Kanaka, First Nations Advocate & Classroom Teacher; Ainslie Thompson, Gooreng Gooreng, Classroom Teacher; Shannai Clissold, Kamilaroi,Teacher; Debbie Cottier, Gunditjmara, Principal; Mikaela, Badimaya,Teacher; Name withheld, Anaiwan, Wiradjuri & Ngemba Wailwan,Teacher; Amanda Levett, Wiradjuri, Teacher; James Davies, Unknown – Stolen Generation descendant, Classroom Teacher/Digital Technologies Coordinator/Google for Education Trainer; Patrick Norman Lock, Ngunnawal, Chairperson and founder; Helen Uren-Randall, Wiradyuri, Executive Teacher; Name withheld, Wiradjuri, Secondary Teacher; Anton Trees, Dunghutti, Teacher; Rebecca McLean, Gaangalida, Teacher; Kiana Charlton, Goenpul/Yuggera and Kabi Kabi, Teacher & Indigenous Education Officer; Name withheld, Wiradjuri, Principal; Belinda, Warrabal and Gangalu, Teacher; Amy Lane, Aboriginal, Leading teacher; Elaine Lomas, Galari Clan, Associate Lecturer In Wiradyuri Language Charles Sturt University Wagga Wagga Campus, Wiradyuri Language Culture and Heritage Teacher Wagga Wagga High School; Shayne Hill, Wiradjuri, Classroom Teacher; Anna Perry, Moombahlene Tribe, Teacher; Name withheld, Wiradjuri, Outdoor education teacher; Name withheld, Torres Strait Islander – Saibai, Teacher; Deanne Lawn, Yorta Yorta/Bangarang, Visual Arts Teacher; Natalee Forder, Gangulu and Jiman, District Relief Teacher and Language teacher; Debbie Chambers, Wiradjuri, Classroom teacher support education; Steve Collins, Wiradjuri, Principal; Madison Piercy, Murrawari, Teacher; Name withheld, Gamilaraay, Classroom Teacher; Kate Williams, Gumbayngirr, Teacher; Freddie Reid, Wakka Wakka, Teacher; Karyn Pol, Wiradjuri/Ngemba, Teacher but 2021 SLSO role; Name withheld, Wiradjuri, Aboriginal Education Officer; Ellie Dryden, Wonnarua, CRT; Dakota Hillery, Gumbaynggirr, Teacher; Robyn Ridgeway, Thungutti, Teacher; Deseleen Morgan, Wiradjuri, Secretary & Aboriginal Education Officer; Russell Honnery, Gomerio, Aboriginal Education Coordinator; Tracey Rose, Gumbaynggirr, Aboriginal Education and Engagement Coordinator; Siobhan, Darkinjung, Teacher; Name withheld, Wemba Wemba, AEO; Ruth Caruso, Gureng Gureng Nation,Teacher; Jessica Bryant, Mununjali, Teacher; Mikaela, Badimaya, Teacher; Jade, Kalkadoon/Kullili, Teacher; Michelle Purdy, Palawa, Aboriginal Support Officer; Kara Williams, Aboriginal-Gunditjmara, Senior Wellbeing and Engagement Officer; Leonie Atkinson, Unknown, Head Teacher History First Nations Education; Kerri Douglas, Dja Dja Wurrung and Bangerang, Koorie Engagement Support Officer; Holly Ratcliffe, Wiradjuri,Teacher; Nola Illin, Ngadjon,KEO; Kirsty Bell, Arrernte, Koorie Liaison Officer; Catherine Naden, Wiradjuri, Primary School Teacher; Name withheld, Gunai Kurnai, CRT; Danny Ellis, Mirning, Aboriginal Community Education Officer; Name withheld, Gulidjan, Cultural Adviser for the LOOKOUT Centre; David Cooms, Quandamooka, Teacher; Tammy Anderson, Biripi, Principal; Carly Jia, Yidinji, Maluilgal and Meriam, Senior Advisor, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education; Darryl Andy, Djirringanj, YUIN, Koorie Engagement Support Officer; Angela Swindle, Wiradjuri, Koorie Engagement Support Officer; Meryn Murray, Dunghutti, Teacher; Ash Johnstone, Dunghutti, Academic; Name withheld, Stolen, Academic; Name withheld, Kamillaroi, Teacher Shopfitting & Joinery; Peter Anderson, Walpiri and Murinpatha, Professor of Education; Name withheld, Kutija Teacher, Sue Davies, Darug Class Teacher / Relieving Assistant Principal; Kath Wenban, Bundjalung, Deputy Principal; Kirste McCrindle, Wadikali,Teacher; Amber , Dhudhuroa/Waywurru, Early Childhood Teacher; Toni Fitzsimmons, Wiradjuri,Teacher; Name withheld, Gunai Kurnai & Wotjobuluk, KESO; Peter Thornley, Guggari, Teacher and Musician; Danielle Kenton, Darug/Dunghutti, Teacher; Sharon Kennedy, Ngyampaa, Library Teacher; Michelle Wright, Wiradjuri, Teacher; Lynda Pascoe, Kamilaroi, School Counsellor in Training; Jesse King, Waanyi, Team Leader; Lee-Ann Lowes, Wiradjuri, not stated; Bec Woolcock, Aboriginal – Goreng Goreng, Teacher; Dr Jessa Rogers, Wiradjuri, Research Fellow; David Banfield, School teacher, Science teacher; Name withheld, Aboriginal, Primary teacher; Vanessa Masters, Dungibara, Teacher/Year Level Coordinator; Maryann Ebsworth, Paakantyi/Wangkumara, Teacher; Kirsty, Bundjalung, Teacher; Safina Stewart, Withathi Country & Mabuiag Island, Owner; Shannon Bourke, Garawa, Early Childhood Teacher; Brian Walker, Yorta Yorta / Wemba Wemba, KESO; Letitia Choppy, Yuwai & Waiben Nations, Teacher; Vanessa Masters, Dungibara, Teacher/Year Level Coordinator; Lyndal Thompson, Yugambeh, Teacher; Name withheld, Gunai Kurnai, Teacher; Linda Blake, Wiradjuri, Teacher; Name withheld, Laugia, Teacher; Associate Professor Christine Evans, Wiradjuri, Associate Professor of Practice; Professor Lester Irabinna Rigney, Narungga, Kaurna, Ngarrindjeri, Professor of Education; Dr John Davis, Murri Ambae, Chief Executive Officer; Professor Peter Buckskin, Nurungga, Adjunct Professor Education Futures UniSA, retired Dean Indigenous Engagement and Strategy.

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