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Issue #1741      July 27, 2016

Forum told of teaching

Participants in a forum on Indigenous education have heard there are significantly fewer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people taking up and completing teaching degrees than non-Indigenous people because of racism, family responsibilities and negative experiences at school.

Teaching Indigenous studies, who should teach it and how was also discussed at the Australian Council of Deans of Education Forum in Adelaide.

According to the Australian Indigenous Lecturers in Teachers Education Association, there are about 4,000 Indigenous teachers nationally and about 450,000 non-Indigenous teachers.

Monash University Faculty of Education Indigenous education and leadership officer Dr Peter Anderson said he wants non-Indigenous teachers to get involved in teaching Indigenous studies.

“You can’t teach culture. We have Elders and community members who do that for us. We can teach about culture but we can’t teach culture,” he told the Koori Mail.

“So why don’t we get schools to pay for a community member to come in and teach culture? These are the kinds of things that we wanted to get the deans to think about. We wanted to get them thinking about Indigenous perspectives. We want Indigenous studies in schools but no-one’s teaching the teachers how to teach it.

“The pool of Indigenous teachers is quite small so we want to build a bigger workforce too.”

Dr Anderson, a Warlpiri and Murinpatha man, said many factors contribute to the lack of Indigenous teachers.

“On average most Indigenous teachers only teach for about four years before they burn themselves out,” he said. “There’s still racism in the classroom and there’s still racism at university. As an academic I have experienced racism myself.

“It shocks the deans that it still happens so we’ve had a commitment from them to create equality in their faculties.”

“Fight up”

Dr Anderson said that he and other Indigenous academics have always had to “fight up”, but now that the deans have taken on the issue, they can tackle it from the top down.

“It means their work will flow into schools because it’s the thinking that we need to shift. It’s not just the Aboriginal kids we need to teach about culture, it’s the non-Indigenous kids too,” he said.

“I think it will be a generational shift, and it will show so much maturity in our country and our society if Indigenous culture can be integrated into our education system.

“I believe in my heart that Aboriginal people make great teachers. Often, though, the way they have experienced school is negative and that prevents people from taking up teaching.”

Djungan and Tagalaka woman Fallon Patolo, a third-year teaching student at James Cook University, said the forum was a chance to learn about Indigenous education issues.

“It was good to listen to the speakers and learn what their vision is for Indigenous education. They looked at how to raise the confidence of Indigenous teachers,” she said.

“They also talked about the retention rates of students and how racism in universities and schools can prevent people from disadvantaged backgrounds from becoming teachers.

“I’m finding the course challenging but so rewarding because finding time to study and balance my family and part-time work is hard.”

Patolo said she felt she could relate to a lot of the issues spoken about at the forum. “I know what they were talking about with the retention rates because it’s overwhelming to stay motivated,” she said.

“At the moment only one third of Indigenous students complete their degree, but I want to finish mine because I want it to be 100 percent of Indigenous students who finish.

“I decided to become a teacher because I wanted to make a difference and lead from the front. I feel like the reason a lot of Aboriginal people don’t finish is because of family and community commitments.

“I am very grateful that I had flexible lecturers who helped me succeed and encouraged me.”

Koori Mail

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