What good a national curriculum for Indigenous students?

Year: 2009

Author: Burgess, Catherine

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper seeks to question the relevance of a national curriculum to Indigenous education. If it doesn't significantly contribute to bridging the achievement gap for Indigenous students or seek to acknowledge the centrality of Indigenous knowledges, histories and cultures in the core content and the spirit of the curriculum, then it is difficult to imagine any additional benefits to Indigenous and indeed non-Indigenous students than what is currently on offer.

The National Curriculum Board began its work in 2008 buoyed by a rare alignment of state and federal party politics. 'The Shape of the National Curriculum: A Proposal for Discussion' followed by 'Framing Papers' in English, History, Mathematics and the Sciences were published for consultation at mainly 'invitation only' forums and for general public submission within a relatively short timeframe. For Indigenous parents and community members, grass roots consultation is the cornerstone of decision-making, so this process alienated those already struggling to be heard by largely unresponsive systems. The lack of inclusion in any significant way prior to submission dates, despite 'diversity' rhetoric within the documents, has resulted in deep suspicion of the processes and their products. It also raises valid questions about the commitment of resources to yet another layer of education bureaucracy.

Further, there have been numerous reports around issues of Indigenous disadvantage since the beginning of this century. The crucial role of education in addressing this disadvantage has been consistently identified in one way or another. The role of the teacher, their relationship with student's families and how they teach is frequently cited as the key to bridging the disadvantage gap. Any mention of curriculum is a call for the deeper inclusion of Indigenous histories and cultures. The introduction of a National Curriculum has not been identified as contributing to solutions, and by the processes employed and the products created, this position appears well founded.

More recently, attempts to include Indigenous voices have been welcomed, but is it too little too late? Can truly inclusive curricular that engages Indigenous viewpoints and expands understanding and acceptance of diversity be developed after the groundwork and indeed the decision to have a national curriculum has been made?

Key Phrase: Educational Policy, Leadership and Management