Most of the education authorities and science education curriculum documents now advocate that students should look at Australian Indigenous knowledge and culture. Looking at Indigenous science will give students another window on Indigenous Australians that relates to their culture and their worldview (how they see the world).
understanding of the Australian environment is developing through the western
science perspective, there is now an acknowledgment that Indigenous knowledge is
a valuable component. This knowledge component in
There are several key ideas to keep in mind about Indigenous science that are important for students to understand:
On occasions you will find that there are Indigenous students in your classroom and you will need to be sensitive to their presence. They may not be aware of the knowledge in this chapter or some of it may conflict with their local cultural knowledge. In some cases it may be culturally inappropriate for them to take part in lessons. For example, knowledge of didgeridus is traditionally considered men’s knowledge and girls will be reluctant to be involved in a lesson about them.
Why indigenous science should
be included in the science curriculum
In Michie (2002) I suggested that indigenous science should be included in the curriculum because of its value because
The following are extracts from Michie (2002):
Indigenous science reminds me that there are different ways of looking at the world and that knowledge is valued in different ways. Indigenous science gives me another perspective on the world. It also gives me, as an individual, a way of understanding Indigenous cultures and the ways they understand things beyond just a tokenistic “spaghetti and polka” or “bush tucker and corroboree” version of culture (Michie et al, 1998). The aim of the science curriculum should be to promote consideration of the differing worldviews, not solely to enrich Western science but to facilitate a two-way exchange of knowledge and of cultural understanding.
of understanding indigenous science is that it can offer knowledge about the
Australian environment that has been collected over thousands of years.
Indigenous knowledge has been shown to be of value, particularly in the area of
environmental management. For instance, traditional burning practices are used
in the management of areas such as Kakadu and
I think it is important to consider the nexus between science and science education, and the nature of science. The emphasis of science education in the past has been on science content but new initiatives in curriculum, particularly focusing on scientific literacy, are attempting to move away from this focus. If one of the concerns of science education is looking at the nature of science then it could include ideas outside of the definition of “science”, such as indigenous science and the history of science. It would be interesting to examine in detail pseudoscience and even creation science to see why they are rejected as science.
Some people would ask, “What does science have to do with Reconciliation?” Firstly it is the western way of thinking which has divided knowledge into various disciplines, a relatively recent phenomenon. To match the Indigenous “holistic” approach to knowledge, Western knowledge has the disadvantage of having to reconstruct itself from its various disciplines. Secondly, understanding indigenous cultures needs to celebrate the positives about Indigenous cultures rather than focusing on the pejorative aspects, and this needs to include science as part of culture.
think that Indigenous science should be included in classroom science but it
needs to be approached in a non-tokenistic way – informed and not dismissive
in its status. However, it could be approached in a different way, using an
integrated/holistic approach, particularly in primary school.
school teachers have the potential to become better teachers of indigenous
science because they can integrate the learning over a range of subjects –
they can take a holistic/integrated approach similar to the Indigenous people
(which they may already do through integrated and cooperative learning
strategies). Secondary teachers may have less potential for this although the
middle school facilitates such methodologies.
tokenistic approach to Indigenous science can oversimplify the complexity of the
understandings. Indigenous knowledge brings with it a complex web of
relationships which western science overlooks. Teachers themselves may not have
the depth of understanding and may unwittingly pass on poor attitudes about
Indigenous people to their students.
Secondly, there is a perception that Indigenous science is not as valuable as western science and teachers may see the need for students to understand real science as a justification for dropping the indigenous components. It is valuable to the people who own the Indigenous knowledge and who are often willing to pass it on because of its potential.
[Extracts from Michie, Michael. (2002). Why Indigenous science should be included in the school science curriculum. Australian Science Teachers’ Journal, 48(2), 36-40. You can download a pdf copy of this paper from Michie02.]
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