CROSSING BORDERS: UNDERSTANDING DIFFERING WORLDVIEWS OF SCIENCE THROUGH THE NORTHERN TERRITORY SCIENCE CURRICULUM
Northern Territory Department of Education
Development of the Board Approved Course of Study for Science Transition-Year 10 in the Northern Territory has incorporated not just an Indigenous perspective but encourages consideration of the worldviews of both Western and Indigenous peoples, with the potential to include the worldviews of other cultural groups and subcultures. In acknowledgment of the Territory's population of about 30% Indigenous (Aboriginal) students, this is probably the first system-level science curriculum to recognise the value of the different worldviews of Indigenous peoples, and it goes beyond the national statement which calls for inclusion of the science of various cultural traditions to inform Western science. This is linked to the theoretical basis for incorporating worldviews.
However, it is a two-way street. Curriculum support materials are being developed to provide Indigenous people access to Western science and these incorporate Indigenous cultural considerations and construct knowledge based on these students' experiences at the same time. Teachers in a western setting are also encouraged to incorporate Indigenous and other cultural perspectives into their teaching/learning programs.
The development of the science curriculum in the Northern Territory has been taking place over a number of years and has incorporated much of what has been happening at the national level. However the curriculum needs to reflect the population for which it is written and in the NT we are aware that about 30% of the student population are Indigenous people, many of whom are living in communities as well as in the urban areas. Although basically a western science curriculum, it allows for the inclusion of both Indigenous and Western knowledge, for both Indigenous and Western students (1). Indigenous people have often stated that they want access to Western knowledge and the expression two way schooling has been coined to describe learning taking place where this is achieved without loss of cultural identity (Harris, 1990).
The policy of the NT Board of Studies is that all students enrolled in NT schools should have the opportunity to undertake Australian Indigenous studies in some form, across the curriculum (NT Board of Studies, 1997b). The Science curriculum therefore encourages opportunities for teaching Indigenous knowledge to Western students. In the NT this group of students includes many from a wide variety of cultural traditions. The need for the curriculum to be applicable to both Indigenous and Western students is consistent with the aims of the Science curriculum and is discussed below under Cultural considerations. One of the aims of the NT Board Approved Course of Study for Science is specifically to
consider that the worldviews of Western and various Indigenous peoples may be different and that their alternative perspectives inform others about using and classifying materials, and understanding phenomena and relationships in the natural and technological world (NT Board of Study, 1997a, p. 3).
This can be compared with an equivalent statement from A statement on science for Australian schools:
Scientific knowledge.... has been enriched by the pooling of understanding from different cultures - western, eastern and indigenous cultures including those of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders - and has become a truly international activity (Australian Education Council, 1994a, p. 3).
This latter statement carries with it an assimilationist view of Western science, allowing for its enrichment and maintaining its international profile relative to Indigenous science. The aim of the NT Science curriculum is to promote consideration of the differing worldviews, not just to enrich Western science but to facilitate a two-way exchange of knowledge and of cultural understanding.
WESTERN SCIENCE AND INDIGENOUS SCIENCE
Our understanding of the nature of Western science and Indigenous science has frequently been to express them as two separate worldviews. Peat (1996) suggests that there are many terms used to describe features of the two views of science, many of which are incompatible (Figure 1). Western science divides things into parts, looking at the parts to explain the whole, based on reasoning. Knowledge is thought of as subject-specific and is considered by many to be universal and culture-free. Indigenous people have a holistic approach to knowledge, in which process is more important than the knowledge itself (Christie, 1997). A wealth of knowledge important for survival is passed from generation to generation by word of mouth or learned by experience. Often this knowledge is entwined with explanations of creation which relate to the traditional beliefs and lifestyles of the people.
Figure 1. Comparison of Western and Indigenous Science (from Peat, 1996)
Experimentation Instrumentation Observation
Prediction Mathematics Representation
Control Objectivity Distancing
Freedom of external social values Uniformity
Models Causality Technology
Progress Fragmentation Explanation
Authority Truth Transformation
Spirituality Location Observation
Initiation Cosmology Causality
Role of humanity Harmony Ceremony
Elders Artifact Practice
Spirit Dreams Visions
History Maps Symbols
Subjectivity Relatedness Understanding
Sanction Transformation Path
Sacred mathematics Sacred space Representation
What is not apparent from the two worldviews is that there is an overlap between the two, of what is considered important by both Western and Indigenous people (Figure 2). Another way of looking at the acquisition of Western science by Indigenous people is to classify it in three ways:
· knowledge about the environment and the plants and animals in it
· useful and/or important Western science, particularly where it helps to explain how Western technology works, e.g. how a motor works
· non-useful or unimportant Western science, some of which is likely to contradict indigenous understandings.
Worldviews and their application in science education
A number of science educators have addressed the idea of worldviews, often in looking at the culture of Western science as a subculture of Western society (Cobern, 1996) or school science as a subculture of Western science (Aikenhead, 1996). Cobern (1996) describes a worldview as "the set of fundamental nonrational presuppositions on which conceptions of reality are grounded.... antecedent to specific views that a person holds about natural phenomena whether one calls these views common-sense theories, alternative frameworks, misconceptions or valid science" (p. 585). Different metaphysical systems operating within different worldviews lead to different views of knowledge (Ogawa, 1995). Different ways of knowing (metaphysics) come from different ways of thinking (epistemology); however as a Western person I realise that I may be able to know what an indigenous person knows but not necessarily think as they think. Without both epistemology and metaphysics, I am unable to function from their worldview.
Examination of the divergent worldviews of Western and Indigenous science and their relevance in science education has been attempted by a number of authors (Aikenhead, 1997; Pomeroy, 1994), including some who have had the direct experience of crossing the border between the two (e.g. Ogawa, 1995; Ogunniyi, Jegede, Ogawa, Yandila & Oladele, 1995). Problems have been experienced by students who have an indigenous traditional background and who attempt to learn a subject which is grounded in Western culture (Aikenhead, 1997), although there are instances where students demonstrate an ability to move between subcultures (Medvitz, 1985, and Waldrip & Taylor, 1994, quoted in Aikenhead, 1997). A major consideration is to what extent Indigenous students can learn Western science without being assimilated by its dominant Western culture - establishing the limits of two way learning (Harris, 1990).
This theme of assimilation was taken up by Pomeroy (1994) in her assessment of the agendas of science education for cultural diversity (Figure 3).These agendas move science teaching from a static multicultural view to a more dynamic cross-cultural perspective with a need to access alternative views. Aikenhead (1997) saw agendas 1-7 as leading "to the assimilation of students into Western science, whereas agendas 8 and 9 challenge us to conceive of alternatives to assimilation" (p. 224).
Much of what has been written has looked at the implications for indigenous students of having to cross borders and the demands of curriculum in the past which only relate to the dominant Western science perspective. Modern curriculum theory in science education is based on the constructivist model, with students constructing knowledge from their own background; for indigenous students, this can be from another worldview. However, curriculum by itself does not change teachers' practice; what is also needed are curriculum support materials developed to
· make border crossing explicit for students
· facilitate border crossings
· substantiate the validity of students' personally and culturally constructed ways of knowing
· teach the knowledge, skills and values of Western science in the context of societal roles (social, political, economic etc), including the role of a hegemonic icon of cultural imperialism (Aikenhead, 1997, pp. 228-9).
Figure 3. Agendas for science education for cultural diversity (from Pomeroy, 1994)
Agenda 1 Support systems for under-represented groups
Agenda 2 Localised context of the science curriculum
Agenda 3 Appropriate teaching strategies for diverse learners
Agenda 4 Inclusion of the contributions of those generally omitted
Agenda 5 Study of the real stories of Western scientific discovery
Agenda 6 Science for language minority students (including non-standard English speakers)
Agenda 7 Study of the science in folk knowledge or native technologies
Agenda 8 Bridge the world view of students and that of Western science
Agenda 9 Explore the beliefs, methods, criteria for validity and systems of rationality upon which other cultures' knowledge of the natural world is built
The same applies to Western students. They also need to be challenged through the curriculum to engage in ways of knowing which differ from that of their own, dominant, worldview. The development of curriculum support materials for them should follow the same guidelines as suggested above.
SUPPORTING THE CURRICULUM
The earlier comment regarding the aim of the NT science curriculum, to consider that the worldviews of Western and various Indigenous peoples may differ and that these alternative perspectives inform each other, can be referred back to Pomeroy's agendas at levels 8 and 9. The NT science curriculum is a top-down document, and the practices which are suggested and the challenge for students to engage in different ways of knowing can only occur if there is appropriate support for teachers. This is being put in place in a variety of ways.
The term, Cultural Considerations, was used originally in some of the materials being developed by the NT Department of Education for Aboriginal primary school students. It is a term which has since been incorporated into the Science curriculum, and is couched mainly in terms of Indigenous students being taught by Western teachers, although they are being replaced in community schools by teachers of indigenous origin. Many students in the Northern Territory are Indigenous Australians and many grow up with a different world view to that of Western science. Indigenous people¼s understandings of the world are based on
· direct experience of the environment, both as individuals and through instruction within Indigenous social groups
· learning about relationships between individuals and groups, their Ancestors and the environment.
The potential for conflict between the two worldviews arises when the knowledge is compared unsympathetically rather than considered as complementary. This can be avoided through realisation that each worldview is equally valid and is based within its culture. However, it is important for Indigenous students to be given access to the full range of Western science and to understand its underlying philosophy. Similarly, other students should be given opportunities to develop an understanding of the science of Indigenous Australians and other First Peoples of the world (NT Board of Studies, 1997a).
Teachers need to consider the science teaching/learning model(2). Western science is based on questioning and discovering answers while Indigenous societies pass on accumulated, useful or important knowledge related to their existance. In a two-way situation, teachers need to make explicit statements about which perspective is being presented and how other cultural groups may have a different set of information (Harris, 1990).
Curriculum support materials and professional development
The following is a brief description of the development of some curriculum support materials which support the NT curriculum. A number of projects have been funded under the Commonwealth's National Aboriginal Education Project (NAEP) since 1991, so the development of curriculum support materials may have taken place prior to completion of the NT curriculum but has been informed by development of the national statement and profile.
· Implementing the Common Curriculum in Aboriginal Schools (ICCAS) has seen the production of primary and secondary materials for use in teaching science in Aboriginal schools. The implications of cultural considerations are more obvious in the primary materials (the term as used in the NT curriculum has its origin here). The writers have tried to express the ideas of Western science in an Aboriginal community context, taking into account English as a Second Language learning styles. A teaching/learning model based on the Working Scientifically strand is used throughout the materials.
· As part of the Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Program (IESIP) in the latest triennium, there is a project to implement Australian Indigenous Studies across the curriculum. Currently the production of curriculum materials focusing on the environment for middle primary schools is under discussion. These could examine Indigenous knowledge of the seasons and use of resources (bush tucker and medicines) and so achieve the outcomes of the Science and Social Education curriculums. A similar project is being considered for the junior secondary level.
Other examples of materials which have been produced or are being produced include:
· The Curriculum Corporation undertook development of curriculum support materials relating to the national statement and profile. Story is the basis of a unit called There's an emu in the sky (Malcolm, 1995). In it, three children of different cultural traditions try to understand the motions of the Sun and Moon and the mysteries of the night sky. They seek the wisdom of their elders and traditional legends in their communities, to see scientific explanations in the context of making meaning and generating understanding.
· The Kormilda Science Project operates outside of the NAEP framework and is privately funded, however there has been participation in the project by officers of the NT Department of Education. The focus of the materials is to give explanations of a variety of Australian landscape features from Indigenous and Western science perspectives. The locations are vary in their origins (in a Western sense they include sedimentary and volcanic and plutonic igneous origins) and the writer is incorporating the Indigenous explanations for their formation.
Professional development is available in a variety of ways. Some teachers have been or will be involved in the development of some of the materials listed above (ICCAS, IESIP), and this is seen as an effective form of professional development. As all of these materials become available, it will be possible to involve larger numbers of teachers in their use. A professional development package, linking to understandings of Indigenous science and worldviews, could be prepared and make use of new technologies.
Profiling student progression and assessment
The NT Outcomes Profile for Science are part of the curriculum in science and are derived from the national profile (Australian Education Council, 1994b). The same strands are used as in the national materials but the outcomes have been synthesised into a single statement for each strand at each level, and the language altered to be appropriate for reporting to parents. Although the strands are not congruent with Indigenous understandings (but Science isn't, either) the outcomes, particularly at the lower levels, are general enough to allow for assessment of Indigenous students independently of the culture in which they are learning. As students move up through the levels the outcomes profile becomes more focused on Western conceptual development.
One implication of this is the need to reassess the outcomes profile to ensure that Indigenous understandings can be addressed. However, development of an outcomes profile for Indigenous students would be politically unwise, although reshaping of the whole profile congruent with Indigenous understandings may be a possibility.
Assessment of Indigenous students needs to be reexamined in terms of learning styles. Most of these students are ESL learners, so this is an added complication, and some schools use bilingual programs for teaching in the early childhood years. The indicators of student progress through the outcomes profile are currently product-based and it is important to develop indicators which are applicable to Indigenous students without compromising the validity of the outcomes profile (this has also been recognised as an issue in the early childhood area).
I would like to thank Jane Anlezark, Nick Cockshutt, Shantha Jacob, Louise Finch and Anne Scherer, all of the NT Department of Education, for their comments on earlier drafts. This paper was originally presented at the Australasian Regional GASAT/IOSTE Conference held at Curtin UNiversity of Technology, Perth, Australia, in December 1997.
1. The term,Western students, is used to indicate students of non-Indigenous origin, although in the NT this population includes many students from a wide variety of cultural traditions. The use of negative terminology is a problem in discussing alternative groups and various strategies have been used to refocus on the positive (e.g. Aikenhead describes himself as a Euro-Canadian). Although this paper focuses on Indigenous knowledge (i.e. Aboriginal knowledge), the discussion of worldviews does not preclude knowledge from other cultural traditions or a gender perspective being employed. This position may be seen as suggesting that the teaching of science from a creationist or pseudoscience perspective would be supported, but this is not the case. The underlying worldview in both of these is Western science. For example, the proponents of creationism accept that objective methodologies can explain the functioning of the world about them. Evolution is rejected by them although it is explained through similar methodologies.
2. A science teaching/learning model based on the Working Scientifically strand of A statement on science for Australian schools was developed as a component of the ICCAS curriculum support materials and has since been incorporated into the curriculum.
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This paper was recently published and the details are:
Michie, M. (1998). Crossing borders: Understanding differing worldviews of science through the Northern Territory science curriculum. Proceedings of the Australasian Joint Regional Conference of GASAT and IOSTE (ed. J E Goodell), pp. 441-448.