This project seeks to explore ways in which Indigenous knowledge
can be introduced into the science curriculum in schools.
This will be done in 3 ways:
1. The first approach will be to explore the cross-cultural dialogue between areas of Western science and specific Indigenous knowledge systems: those of the Yolŋu people of northeast Arnhem Land and those of Indigenous communities of the South Coast of New South Wales. The investigation of communities with markedly different social and historical circumstances is a necessary part of engaging with the richness and diversity of Indigenous knowledge systems. The Yolŋu research will be carried out by the chief investigator, Howard Morphy. The Yuin research will be carried out by Daphne Nash, the APAI. The outcomes of their research will be delivered through academic papers, some of which will be made available on the project web site, and a doctoral thesis.
2. The second approach is to examine the ways in which Indigenous knowledge is being taught in a number of very different schools and communities.
'Both-ways' education at the Yirrkala Community Education Centre (CEC) and the 'Science in Context' initiative of the NSW Department of Education will be used as examples. Ideally, a dialogue will also take place between participating schools and researchers that will help to generate an innovative approach to the teaching of Indigenous knowledge, especially taking advantage of the potentials of digital media.
The 'both-ways' learning approach of the Yirrkala
CEC and the work of schools participating in the 'Science
in Context' project will be showcased on the project web
3. Thirdly, an online module will be developed as a way of investigating how networked curriculum materials can be used to introduce aspects of Indigenous knowledge into the NSW school science curriculum.
Within Australia various cross-cultural categories are emerging in the context of discourse between members of different societies. In particular, we are witnessing the development of a cross-cultural category of science that enables discourse between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
The Aboriginal Programs Unit (APU) of the New South Wales Department of Education & Training has actively sought to include Indigenous science within the school curriculum. In 2001, the unit approached the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research (CCR) to collaborate in the development of a web-based module introducing elements of Indigenous science into the Years 7-10 science NSW curriculum. The initiative was inspired by the exhibition Saltwater Paintings — a series of bark paintings from Yirrkala acquired by the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM). These paintings illuminate in many obvious and in many subtle ways the detailed knowledge that the Yolŋu people of northeast Arnhem Land have of the coastal marine environment.
The CCR successfully applied to the Australian National University for a development grant co-funded by the APU and the ANMM. This has enabled the establishment of protocols for research with prospective Indigenous communities, and the development of a prototype web resource.
While this initial collaboration between the APU and the CCR has demonstrated the potential of using the Saltwater paintings to create networked curriculum materials, it has underscored the need for research designed to resolve key cultural, ethical and educational problems associated with the creation and integration of on-line resources offering cross-cultural perspectives on science within the school curriculum.
The most significant research problem is the precise nature of the relations between Indigenous and Western science. While Indigenous knowledge custodians and leading non-Indigenous researchers agree that a degree of equivalence exists between these two knowledge systems, the problem of defining equivalence is a complex one: it requires the investigation of Indigenous and European sciences as discrete systems and then seeking to understand what relationships exist between them.
The interrogation of cross-cultural categories has been a major theme in the history of anthropology, beginning with the nineteenth-century discourse over the definition of such concepts as magic and religion, through to contemporary debates on the nature of economics, gender, art and aesthetics. Indigenous Australian ethnography has been at the heart of many of these debates. Considerable research has been done in the area of ethno-science, but the category ‘science’ itself has been largely taken for granted and it is an area open to major investigation and reinterpretation (Harding 1994 and Franklin 1995).
As Indigenous and Western science are equally the products of particular social and cultural contexts, understanding their meaning and values in cross-cultural perspective requires the undertaking of research drawing on the research methods and knowledge of various fields of anthropology, including Indigenous knowledge systems, cross-cultural categories and applied anthropology, especially in the area of education. It is essential if components of Indigenous knowledge are to be included in non-Indigenous teaching and learning that they be thoroughly researched in the context of their own socio-cultural system. This is partly in order to provide richer resources for curriculum designers, but more importantly to provide them with a detailed understanding of the implications of integrating knowledge produced in specific cultural contexts within school curricula by means of networked digital media.
To this achieve these goals this project brings together as industry partners the NSW Education Department & Training (APU), the CCR, the Yirrkala Community Education Centre (YCEC) the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM). The industry partners have complementary objectives. The APU wishes to include an Indigenous component in its years 7-10 science curriculum. It aims to do this in part by using on-line resources based on the Saltwater Collection to demonstrate Yolŋu environmental knowledge and aspects of the Yolŋu world-view. The YCEC intends to take advantage of this opportunity to develop materials that can be used in its own science curriculum in the main community school and in the schools associated with the more remote homelands communities such as Yilpara and Gängan. The ANMM have joined this research venture with a view to using its outcomes to develop materials informing museum audiences of the cultural significance of the Saltwater Collection.
While the industry partners’ ultimate goal is the creation of high quality curriculum and educational materials in networked digital formats, the aim of this project is to undertake the background research that will facilitate the production of these materials by the industry partners.