Resources helping science teachers integrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge into the national curriculum have been completed from Foundation to Year 10.

Designed to support teachers in integrating cross-curriculum priorities into the Science part of the Australian Curriculum, the resources were developed after extensive consultation with the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group and in partnership with Indigenous communities.

While knowledges, technologies and processes were on the table to be taught, aspects of culture like ceremony were firmly off the table.

“It’s not [teachers’] job to teach culture,” said ACARA Curriculum Specialist and proud Jingili man, Joe Sambono.

“The thing we had to be very careful of was … making sure these educators do things in a respectful and appropriate manner.”

Mr Sambono said one of the biggest challenges of the new elaborations was having to think at a national level.

Due to the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures across Australia, Mr Sambono and ACARA worked to write large elaborations that allow interpretation in a local context.

“But how it gets done in your area … has to be determined by [the] local community and in collaboration with them,” Mr Sambono said.

“I think that’s one of the pieces that will make this work unique and successful.”

Mr Sambono said it’s important to remember that educators often won’t have the specific knowledge required to teach traditional Indigenous science.

“We all came through an education system where we didn’t learn much at all about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Mr Sambono said.

“We’ve got over 330,000 educators, which the vast majority are non-Indigenous.”

According to Mr Sambono, traditional knowledge and science can come together in the classroom when teaching basic concepts such as states of matter.

“Historically, a teacher might give a student a saucer and an ice cube and say, ‘Describe what occurs as the ice cube warms up’,” Mr Sambono said.

“Instead of that, we’re saying we could investigate an underground oven, how does a traditional underground oven work … we can utilise the exact same science knowledge.”

Both explore the same concepts, yet one better integrates Indigenous knowledge into the national curriculum.

Plans are already underway in South Australia to roll out the elaborations into schools across the state.

Local teachers are working with ACARA and other stakeholders to improve cultural awareness in educators.

Science and STEM Coordinator at Woodville High School in SA, Sam Tuffnell, said learning about Indigenous culture is the educational right of all students.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the oldest, continuous living culture in the world, and it would be negligent of us as a scientific community to not embed their knowledge in mainstream classroom learning,” Mr Tuffnell said.

“This project is about working with community, and we have the privilege of working with Kaurna/Ngarrindjeri/Narungga Elders who guide us in contextualising these elaborations.

“This inclusive consultation process is most important as we need to be respectful of the local cultural knowledge we incorporate in these contextualisations.”

“It would be remiss to make generalisations about Aboriginal knowledge.”

Mr Sambono said Indigenous communities he’s spoken with have expressed surprise at the work.

“A lot of the communities are really blown away … because they didn’t realise that they actually have this sophisticated science knowledge,” he said.

“The language of science … has excluded them or made them think that they don’t.”

Historically, Indigenous knowledges and cultures have long been excluded from science and relegated as primitive.

Mr Sambono said it was ‘bad science’ that classified Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the Other and historically denounced traditional knowledges.

“For many of these communities there’s been a long-held feeling and animosity with science and being researched by scientists.”

For now, the integration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge into the national curriculum rests on the areas of science and maths – two critical subjects that Mr Sambono said Indigenous learners are underperforming in.

While these resources aren’t mandatory teaching and can be used at teachers’ discretion, Mr Sambono believes making these teachings mandatory too soon will be counterproductive.

“This is like long jump – your first jump is not going to be the world record,” Mr Sambono said.

“I fear if we jump too far, we will leave too many people behind.”

The Jingili man said there are a lot of non-Indigenous educators calling out to do the work and teach more about Indigenous culture and knowledge.

However, Mr Sambono also said before making these curriculum integrations mandatory there needs to be a national conversation with mob across Australia.

“The important thing is that this science [work] has great success [first].”

By Hannah Cross