Teaching and learning indigenous histories and cultures: at the intersection of school culture and curriculum
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
School of Education
Dr Bill Allen
Associate Professor Matthew Byrne
Australian National and State Curricula require teachers in secondary schools to embed Indigenous histories and cultures (IHCs) into their classroom teaching. The overarching educational goals of schooling, found in the Melbourne Declaration (2009) state that this learning is essential for the process of Reconciliation between Indigenous Australians and other populations who have settled on Indigenous land since 1788. However, the nature of embedding IHCs means that finding evidence of the extent to which they are taught in secondary education is difficult.
This study examined the extent to which IHCs were being taught across a range of schools in Western Australia. This was achieved through a multiple case study methodology. This allowed for an in-depth study of three schools; two were systemic (government and Catholic) and one was Independent, and each had a disproportionately low Indigenous population. Executive level teachers, mid-level leaders such as Heads of Subject areas and classroom teachers from the three schools were interviewed using semi-structured, face-to-face interviews. Data were analysed on a case-by-case basis, and the findings were synthesised in a discussion of the emergent trends.
The findings reveal confusion around how IHCs are taught and who should teach them. The executive school leadership, which largely drives the predominant school culture, have a major influence as they dictate what is prioritised. The lack of emphasis placed on IHCs in each school largely reflected the low number of Indigenous students in the school, which highlights a persistent, mistaken belief that IHCs is mainly, or solely for Indigenous students.
These curricular omissions are partially because IHCs are rarely mandated within the official State curricula; rather, teachers and school leaders are left to decide what could be embedded, and where. These inconsistencies in curriculum implementation result in many from within the cultural majority being unaware of Indigenous perspectives in Australia’s history and culture. Further, they lack understandings of sustained Indigenous disadvantage. Finally, many negative stereotypes around Indigenous peoples persist as they go unchallenged at the formative stages of young people’s lives.
The implications from this study are important. Although not generalisable, the findings reveal important trends that may allow a range of individuals and institutions to reflect and revisit this important curricular issue. There are implications for curriculum organisations, systemic leadership, executive school leadership, middlelevel school leadership and classroom teaching. If these findings here are replicated in most schools across the nation, then Reconciliation is unlikely to develop in the foreseeable future.
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Booth, S. (2019). Teaching and learning indigenous histories and cultures: at the intersection of school culture and curriculum. https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/2192