Michael Michie and Mark Linkson
Northern Territory Department of Education
Paper presented at the 30th Australasian Science Education Research Association Conference, held at Rotorua, Aotearoa New Zealand, July 1999.
Three initiatives for the implementation of primary science education in Indigenous community schools in the Northern Territory are described. These attempt to value Indigenous knowledge alongside Western science learning. These are
1. a curriculum which places a higher value on Indigenous knowledge other than simply "enrich" Western science
2. resource materials which parallel the experiences of Indigenous learners with Western understandings, and which are inclusive of Indigenous cultural considerations
3. an attempt to facilitate profiling of Western science learning outcome in the context of a holistic Indigenous curriculum.
There has been considerable discussion in the literature about the relationship between Western science and Indigenous science, or more correctly, Indigenous sciences. Without trying to circumvent the discussion (and having indicated our true colours in the previous statement) we believe that because
* in western knowledge systems, knowledge is partitioned into areas or subjects, and Western science is a segment of that body of knowledge acquired through particular ways and identified by the participants as belonging to the area
* in Indigenous knowledge systems, knowledge is perceived as holistic and purposeful to the owners (Fleer, 1999),
it is most effective for us in this paper to use the terms Western science and Indigenous knowledge. Other authors, such as Aikenhead (1997), have made this same distinction.
National curriculum developments in science in Australia in the past decade or so focused on the philosophy of Science for all and the need to make science accessible to all members of society. The inclusion of minority groups, particularly in the Northern Territory of Australia where about 30% of students are Indigenous Australians, has meant looking beyond the rhetoric of inclusivity to practical ways of its implementation. As well, national and state/territory policies promote the inclusion of Indigenous studies in the curriculum for non-Indigenous students (e.g. NT Board of Studies, 1997b), again in non-tokenistic ways.
The other major impact on these developments has been the concept of two-way learning, enunciated by Indigenous people and used by Harris (1990) and others, to fulfil the needs of Indigenous people in their cross-cultural lives.
Consideration of the cultural backgrounds of students in planning and teaching science has informed much recent discussion (Aikenhead, 1997; Aikenhead & Jegede, 1999: Cobern, 1996; George, 1999; Michie, 1998; Linkson, 1999). In this paper we look at three Northern Territory initiatives which support the inclusion of Indigenous students while giving them access to both their own Indigenous knowledge and Western science knowledge. We then briefly consider some other approaches taken in similar situations in other countries.
The Northern Territory curriculum is an outcomes based curriculum following the national statement and profile (Australian Education Council, 1994a, b). There are two documents, the Learning Area Statement (NT Board of Studies, 1999a) and the Board Approved Course of Study (NT Board of Studies, 1997a). The Learning Area Statement describes the essential outcomes and content for any courses to be taught (except senior secondary). It includes the NT outcomes profile for Science, which was compiled when it became obvious from a pilot program that the number of outcomes in the national profile was too numerous (Shantha Jacob, pers. comm.). A decision was made by the NT Board of Studies to reduce them to a workable number: in the science learning area this was achieved by reducing them to one general outcome for each strand at each level. The Board Approved Course of Study is the course generally used by teachers to devise their teaching/learning programs (see below).
Michie (1998) has indicated how the national science curriculum documents were used as the basis for developing the Northern Territory curriculum. The conceptualisation of the place of Indigenous knowledge in the NT curriculum is best illustrated by comparing statements from the two sources.
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)
... 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)
One of the aims of the NT curriculum, as expressed in the latter statement, is to promote consideration of different worldviews and facilitate a two-way exchange of knowledge and cultural understandings, rather than the assimilationist approach promoted in the national statement.
The curriculum documents also make teachers aware of the cultural considerations in teaching Indigenous students whose 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.
Indigenous students need to be given access to the full range of Western science and to understand its underlying philosophy. This philosophy holds that the quantitative is paramount, with a focus on controlling and manipulating nature (Woolgar, 1988). However, Australian Indigenous cultures value the qualitative through acknowledging beneficial connections between people, environment, totems, ancestors and the Dreamtime, with a focus on co-existence with nature rather than control. Teachers are thus advised of the potential for conflict when two world views are compared unsympathetically rather than considered as complementary, and to avoid conflict through the realisation that both world views are equally valid and are based within each culture. Teachers need to consider a science teaching/learning model, and to make explicit statements about which perspective is being presented and how other cultural groups have different sets of information.
This project, Implementing the Common Curriculum in Aboriginal Schools (ICCAS), was funded originally under the Australian Government's National Aboriginal Education Policy in the 1993-96 quadrennium, and production of materials was completed in the 1997-99 triennium. The project funding in primary science originally provided for two education officers, one of whom was an Indigenous person, to develop materials for teachers of middle and upper primary Indigenous students (predominantly in remote community schools). Over the duration of the project the composition of the team varied. Much of the development and evaluation of the units was undertaken in workshops involving Indigenous and non-Indigenous teachers from across the Territory. The materials were also considered by the Indigenous Education Standing Committee on their way to approval by the NT Board of Studies. These steps ensured the science materials were culturally appropriate and relevant to the lives of our Indigenous students, as well as fulfilling curriculum outcomes.
A series of 24 titles was produced, nominally at years 4, 5 and upper primary, covering the five strands of the science curriculum (Table 1). The units are teacher resource books and focus on using materials which are readily available in communities. Also, they were written keeping in mind that the students are learning in their second language, and this was addressed more fully in the later units. Other factors addressed were the high number of inexperienced teachers working in community schools and the consequent unavoidable cultural naivety of many. A section in each lesson, Cultural Considerations, tries to give such teachers an insight into why a particular science concept may be difficult to teach, thus assisting in the "culture broker" role that science teachers should take when working across cultures. Aikenhead and Huntley (1997) define the culture broker science teacher as someone who "will help Aboriginal students move smoothly back and forth between an Aboriginal culture and the subculture of western science (conventional school science), and will help students deal with cultural conflicts they might experience" (p.7).
Table 1. ICCAS primary science materials indicating the titles which are available and the strands and NT Outcomes Profile levels they cover.
|Year Level||Title||Strands and NT Outcomes Profile Levels|
|Working scientifically||Earth and beyond||Energy and change||Life and living||Natural and processed materials|
|Rocks||level 2||level 2|
|The Sun, the Moon, the Earth||level 2||level 2|
|Sounds good||level 2||level 2|
|Solar energy||level 2||level 2|
|Caring for the environment||level 2||level 2|
|Flowering plants||level 2||level 2|
|Drips and drops||level 2||level 2||level 2||level 2|
|Science with food||level 2||level 2|
|Climate||level 3||level 3|
|Mining and minerals||level 3||level 3||level 3|
|Bicycles||level 3||level 3|
|Flight||level 3||level 3|
|Plants and their uses||level 3||level 3|
|Animals and protection||level 3||level 3|
|Using materials||level 2||level 2|
|Air||level 3||level 3|
|Landforms||level 3||level 3|
|Universe and solar system||level 4||level 4|
(Years 6 & 7)
|Energy and how we use it||level 3||level 3|
|Transferring energy||level 3/4||level 3/4|
|Adaptations of plants and animals||level 3/4||level 3/4|
|Effects of people on the environment||level 3/4||level 3/4||level 3/4|
|Sticks become spears||level 3||level 3|
|What's the matter?||level 4||level 4|
Where appropriate, the units start by negotiating Indigenous knowledge of a concept through traditional stories and activities with elders, and then move into western scientific investigations of the same concept. This compartmentalised approach is explained more fully in Linkson (1999), and is an attempt by the developers of the materials to have Indigenous students learn science without compromising their traditional beliefs. However, it is considered by some commentators to possibly be the least effective means of imparting science knowledge in a cross-cultural context (Aikenhead and Jegede 1999). Compartmentalised or "parallel collateral" learning is seen as context-specific (the context of the western science classroom) and thus unrelated to everyday life. As the context of the science activities suggested in the ICCAS materials is predominantly grounded in everyday community life, we would see such a compartmentalised approach as pragmatic and efficacious. And given the almost completely separate natures of western versus indigenous knowledge, it is hard to imagine how an Indigenous student can easily be expected to hold and synthesise two completely different ways of thinking. (For an example of this dichotomy, see Table 2). In support of such pragmatism, June George (1999) believes that the aim of science teaching to students of indigenous cultures " ... should be to help students access conventional science. Whether or not the student accepts the conventional science to the point of making it direct his/her life, is a matter of choice for the student." (p. 4)
Table 2: Comparison of the origin and acquisition of Australian Indigenous knowledge with Western scientific knowledge about landforms.
|Concept: Landforms||Australian Indigenous knowledge||Western scientific knowledge|
|Explanation||Results from the effects of religious events in the Dreamtime. For example, the actions of the Rainbow Serpent travelling across the land.||Results from the effects of erosion. For example, the effects of wind, the movement of water in rain and rivers and heating from the sun.|
|Evidence||Comes from stories, songs and dance.||Comes from observations, theories, predictions and experimental confirmation.|
|Available to||Particular people who are related to that land and own the knowledge. Others can be aware but will not claim the knowledge publically.||Anyone who is able to access it and has some background science knowledge. |
|Can be accessed by||Participation in ceremonies; oral transmission; art; singing; dancing. Manipulation of media containing Indigenous knowledge: print, video, audio, CD-ROM, internet.||Participation in science education. Manipulation of media containing western scientific knowledge: print, video, audio, CD-ROM, internet.|
Development of the units took place simultaneously with the development of the new NT curriculum (Science Board Approved Course of Study TransitionYear 10, NT Board of Studies, 1997a) and the NT outcomes profile (in NT Board of Studies, 1999a). These in turn relate back to the national statement and profile which had been printed when the project started. Thus the units were initiated in an environment which was informed by the national curriculum developments and evolved as the NT curriculum was being shaped. The strands covered by the units are the same as in the national curriculum - Earth and Beyond, Energy and Change, Life and Living and Natural and Processed Materials - and Working Scientifically is integrated across the program.
Working Scientifically was seen as essential in developing the curriculum and it has a high level of emphasis in these materials. A teaching/learning model based on Working Scientifically was devised and features in each unit. It also features in the Board Approved Course of Study as the recommended teaching/learning method and links the following steps:
* focus - present a problem or a question to focus on; find out what students know about the topic
* investigate - plan and carry out investigations; make observations; gather and record information
* process data - talk about observations; identify patterns; make conclusions
* evaluate findings - evaluate investigations and findings
* use science - apply findings to everyday life and making meaning
* act responsibly - use information to make decisions about being responsible in the community.
The level of work in the units was linked to the profile levels (Table 1) and this features in the introduction to each unit.
1. an acknowledgment that students at the early childhood level are primarily engaged in understanding their personal environment and that this situation may not be essentially different between cultures, although it may manifest itself in culturally-appropriate ways. Many of the science outcomes could be linked directly to the cultural program already operating in the school.
2. the community makes use of a range of western technologies which impact on the students' lives and environment. At the early childhood level their impact on the students' personal environment relates to the science outcomes, rather than an explanation of the principles behind the technologies. It is also unlikely that these students make any attempt to classify their surroundings and experiences into Tiwi and Muruntawi (literally white-skinned, i.e. non-Indigenous).
The recommendation from the visit was for the school to devise a science program which
* is inclusive of Tiwi language and culture
* based on the experiences of the students
* complies with the Science Board Approved Course of Study , including
- addressing all the strands of the course each year
- being outcomes-based
- allowing student progress to be compared using the outcomes profile for Science.
Another outcome was to consider the kinds of activities which might be appropriate at a community school as a basis for profiling students (Michie and others, in prep.). Matching students' progress in early childhood classes to the outcomes profile is fairly straightforward, as there is a focus on them understanding their personal environment. These outcomes are universal in scope although they can written from an Indigenous/Tiwi perspective.
There are a number of models of curriculum and resource development we have examined which have potential for teaching western science to indigenous students, while retaining cultural appropriateness:
Inuuqatigiit (1998) is a curriculum developed by Inuit educators from northern Canada, and it reflects the Inuit direction and perspective. Elders were first involved for their guidance and information, then later for continued validation of collected information. Its goals are a summary of what Inuit say is important for children now and in the future. The goals are to
- maintain, strengthen, recall and enhance Inuit language and culture in the community and the school
- enhance unity within Inuit groups
- create a link between the past and the present
- encourage the practice of Inuit values and beliefs
- encourage pride in Inuit identity to enhance personal identity (from Foreword).
The foundation (Tunngavinga) of Inuit life is visualised as three concentric circles - the Circle of Belonging, the Cycle of Life and the Cycle of Seasons. These connect to two frameworks, the relationship to people and the relationship to the environment, to give information about what is important in Inuit life.
McKinley (1996) has discussed the development of a Maori curriculum in Aotearoa New Zealand, which offers a precedent for similar curriculum development elsewhere. In writing the Maori science curriculum, the curriculum was reconstructed to match up with Maori understandings of the world, "much of the Planet Earth and Beyond strand, in the Maori version, has gone into the Biological World strand, which was renamed ... Mataora. What is important for Maori it that this represents the joining of Papatuanuku (earth) with the rest of living things (as defined through science)." (p. 164).
However, there are a number of conditions imposed which limited the accessibility of students to the curriculum. Firstly, the document is written in Maori, for students who are learning through the medium of Maori. Secondly, there were issues regarding language at two levels. At one level there were differences which are apparent with the syntax construction between native speakers and second language learners of Maori. Then there were issues of a 'standardised' Maori language in a country made up of various tribal groups with differing dialects.
This is probably the main approach which has been taken to provide indigenous students with culturally-sensitive materials. The following examples are ones that we know of.
In the Northern Territory the ICCAS curriculum resource materials described before were developed centrally and primarily interpret the curriculum from a western, rather than Indigenous science perspective. As noted above, the materials generally start by negotiating Indigenous knowledge of a concept, then move to western scientific investigations of the same concept.
In Alaska, the curriculum focuses on the Alaskan/US standards complemented by cultural standards developed by the Alaskan Native Knowledge Network (ANKN, 1998). Resource materials focus on culturally-appropriate contexts (e.g. moose, snowshoes, plants of the tundra, animal classification) for learning science and on the Alaskan standards. Village Science (Dick, 1997) develops physical science concepts through Inuit 'village' contexts.
Materials from Nunavut (Baffin DBE, nd) examine the science behind some indigenous technologies and the weather, and are written to the Pan-Canadian science curriculum standards. In another proposed project, Cross-Cultural Science & Technology Units for Northern Saskatchewan Schools, one of the objectives is to produce some teaching strategies and materials (CCSTU) that exemplify culturally sensitive science teaching for Aboriginal schools, as well as developing a prototype process for producing resources within any particular community (CCSTU, 1999).
Unlike the Maori curriculum and Inuuqatigiit, the writing of an Australian Indigenous science curriculum would be virtually an impossibility (as in many other regions worldwide). Indigenous people in Australia belong to many distinct language groups (rather than dialects of a common language), which vary from well-documented and living entities to others for whom English is their only functional language. As well, the experiences of Indigenous peoples and the environments in which they live in Australia are much more varied than those of the Maori in Aotearoa or the Inuit in North America. This is also the case in a single jurisdiction such as the Northern Territory.
Local curriculum development within a single language group (such as the Tiwi) may be relevant. As with other indigenous groups, Tiwi learning focuses on a holistic approach and it is obvious that much of the learning which could be labelled 'science' would be taking place in their cultural program. This creates a quandary about how invasive the western curriculum should be. A bureaucratic response would be to map the cultural program against the curriculum: one of the benefits of mapping their cultural program is that the Tiwi would be able to see where learning is taking place in more relevant and culturally appropriate contexts. This step was taken by the Inuit in the Northwest Territories when preparing Inuuqatigiit (Foreword).
Inuuqatigiit is not a science curriculum but promotes culturally-appropriate experiences in a wide range of Inuit contexts. In this it shares some of the features of culturally-sensitive resource materials, where there is the potential for articulating Western scientific ideas with indigenous knowledge or technologies. These need to be scaffolded in a culturally-appropriate fashion, rather than as tenuous links between indigenous and western ideas; concept mapping is an extremely valuable exercise, to ensure a conceptual flow from one culture to the other, making for smooth border crossings.
Developing curriculum relationships between Indigenous knowledge and Western science
A challenge in developing curriculum relationships between Indigenous knowledge and Western science is the difficulty in finding points of convergence. For example, Table 2 outlines the different approaches taken by the two knowledge systems to the origin and acquisition of the concept of landforms, which formed the basis of the ICCAS unit, Landforms (NT Board of Studies 1998). They appear almost completely incompatible. Indigenous knowledge is generally holistic, making no artificial boundaries between types of information. Western knowledge is dissected into subject areas (in this case, science) and the NT curriculum dissects it even further into the four strands. The organisation of knowledge into subjects is a western artefact rather than an indigenous one. As noted above, in the case of the Maori curriculum there was reconstruction of the western science curriculum to take into account the Maori belief system of the Earth as a living organism (McKinley, 1996).
Another consideration relates to the knowledge which would be part of the curriculum. The knowledge base of Australian Indigenous peoples varies, with cases recorded of neighbouring groups having different knowledges about the same animals and plants. For example, the Anindilyakwa people of Groote Eylandt apparently have no knowledge of processing the fruit of milawurungkwurra (Avicennia marina), which is common knowledge along coastal northern Australia. There are also questions about the ownership of knowledge, acknowledgment of ownership, and the protocols by which the knowledge can be obtained and to whom it can be transmitted. And this is by no means a unique Australian situation. The Sami anthropologist Marit Myrvall (an Indigenous Norwegian) asks
When researchers belonging to the indigenous community begin to produce knowledge about their own culture and traditions, knowing that certain kind of knowledge is not supposed to be of access to all, how do we research on that? Where do we draw the line? Or do we? (Jane George, 1998)
As suggested in the section on the Murrupurtiyanuwu project, the focus in early childhood is in students developing an understanding of their personal environment. Learning in the early childhood years places emphasis on an integrated approach, and science is an effective area on which to focus students' learning. As students progress through the primary years into secondary school, there is a divergence in their world views. This has been documented within western culture (e.g. school science, Aikenhead, 1996; religion and science, Fysh & Lucas, 1998) and between cultures (e.g. Ogawa, 1995; Ogunniyi et al, 1995). There are probably many examples of the difference between Australian Indigenous world views and the western science world view which have gone unrecognised and/or undocumented. These become more apparent with increasing maturity of the student. For example, Jane Anlezark (pers. comm.) tells of a student, age 16, thus old enough to be regarded as a man in his community, coming out of a science lesson and telling her, "Miss, that miss in there (teacher), she bin saying the clouds make the rain", and emphasises the body language of disregard. Linkson (1999) also makes references to similar differences in world view.
Although there appears to be no overlap between the two approaches, common ground is slowly being established and understood. For some Western scientists it has been a process of valuing Indigenous knowledge through the experience of talking and working with Indigenous people. This has meant a change from a position of total disregard for Indigenous knowledge, to comparing it with Western science (valuing how the knowledge is obtained), to a realisation that the understandings are different but compatible because they arise from different world views (valuing the knowledge). This has happened more in the ecological sciences rather than the pure sciences (NT Board of Studies, 1999b). For example, the vast knowledge Indigenous peoples have of the medicinal uses for plants has been well documented (CCNT, 1991; Latz, 1996; Wightman & Smith, 1989). As an example of the value of Indigenous knowledge to western science in the area of geology, see the following Table 3. This shows that a western scientific hypothesis, backed up with field work, can be confirmed by pure Indigenous knowledge and vice versa.
Western standards, benchmarks and profiles
Recent curriculum development in Western nations has led to the development of outcomes-based education and the production of various standards, benchmarks and profiles. Despite the rhetoric of Science for all, it is problematic whether standards and profiles can meet the needs for all students (Tobin, Seiler & Smith, 1999). Basing their experience on students in poverty, they suggest that school science typically reflects white, middle class experiences. Aikenhead (forthcoming) discusses how school science takes on a gatekeeping role in maintaining the integrity of the scientific disciplines through what he calls "survival-of the-fittest type of curriculum". In common with students in poverty, indigenous students generally underperform in standardised tests, casting doubt on the appropriateness of these tests. For example, the language used in science performance assessments can be very significant. If students do not understand a word or give it a slightly different meaning to that intended because of their cultural or linguistic background, their performance may not accurately reflect their scientific knowledge and skills (Solano-Flores & Nelson-Barber, 1999). In Western Australia, student performance against the national profile was monitored prior to the profile's incorporation into the curriculum (EDWA, 1994). Student performance was generally lower than anticipated, and there was a pattern of lower performance in all strands for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
Table 3: Two ways of knowing about the possible past existence of a large freshwater lake in northern Australia.
|Concept:||possible past existence of a large freshwater lake in northern Australia situated where the saltwater Gulf of Carpentaria currently exists. |
|Australian Indigenous knowledge||Western scientific knowledge|
|There is information relating to the existence of a large freshwater lake in northern Australia from a number of Indigenous sources:|
* information from Ngukurr (an Indigenous community 50 km from the coast of the Gulf) tells how the water changed from fresh to salty, and how the people had to learn how to hunt saltwater animals
* information from Indigenous people living on Cape York (on the eastern side of the Gulf) tells about people walking around a great lake
*Yolngu people from around the coastline of north-west Arnhemland (on the western side of the Gulf) identify a number of sacred sites which occur underwater, both within and outside of, the Gulf of Carpentaria.
|In the 1980s a group of scientists assembled by Dr. Tom Torgesen (Australian National University) sampled the bottom and took cores of sediment within the Gulf of Carpentaria. Analysis of the cores showed:|
* changes in the sediments
* changes in the microfauna and microflora
which were consistent with the isolation of the Gulf of Carpentaria from both the Arafura and the Coral Seas during the last ice age, and with it being a freshwater lake at that time.
Of the three (standards, benchmarks and profiles), profiles appear to have more value for all students, provided they are used appropriately. Profiles are used to show where a student is in a learning progression (Hannan & Ashenden, 1996), rather than a standard or benchmark which determines where the student should be at a particular age or year level. Our experience through both the ICCAS materials and the Murrupurtiyanuwu project, is that at least at the primary levels, Indigenous students can be profiled using the more general outcomes of the NT outcomes profile. However, beyond that point (level 4), we believe that the concepts tied into the profile are basically those relating to Western science.
It is apparent in preparing curriculum and resource materials for Indigenous students, that there are three factors which need to be taken into consideration:
* curriculum: we found that a curriculum based on conceptual development and with student outcomes provides a sound basis for Indigenous students. Concepts allow for development in either world view and for movement between world views, whereas content is contextualised in its own culture. The content needs to be appropriate to the learner, both in terms of its context and cultural considerations. We also feel that standards and benchmarks, as impositions from western culture, are inappropriate for indigenous learners, whereas profiles may be useful to a point (which is where they diverge to another context).
* context: the learning needs to be within the context of the learner and this is becomes more important for indigenous students. We believe that some resource materials we have examined start by focusing on an indigenous technology but move too quickly to western ideas without scaffolding the knowledge adequately.
* cultural considerations: Indigenous ways of learning, ownership of knowledge and students' world views all need to be considered specifically; for western science these considerations are all assumptions of the dominant culture. The experience elsewhere in identifying culturally-responsive guidelines provides curriculum and resource developers a framework that they can work within.
We believe that in the Northern Territory we have started to make some inroads to adequately provide teachers with these tools.