WA study explores teaching on country experience

Nakeisha Gilbert and Chrissaleah Lockyer climb a tree near a river where they had been taken by an elder after hearing the stories about the place.

A Western Australian university is investigating how teaching on country could become an important part of school for Aboriginal children in remote areas.

Associate Professor Libby Lee-Hammond and Elizabeth Jackson-Barrett from Murdoch University’s School of Education will work with Burringurrah Remote Community School over the next six months on the project.

“On Country Learning (OCL) is a simple yet radical idea, positioning traditional Aboriginal knowledge as central to the curriculum rather than peripheral,” Professor Lee-Hammond said.

“This has learning implications for all children attending schools in Australia.

“We hope that by Aboriginal children participating in learning experiences directly connected to their ancestral country, they can access a rich source for play and creativity and context for the mandated curriculum.”

The Murdoch researchers will accompany children and teachers from kindergarten to year three from the Burringurrah Remote Community School on regular class visits to sites chosen by elders of the community.

Professor Lee-Hammond said elders had expressed the view that learning on country held the most promise for enabling their children to reach their potential.

“The relationship between elders and children is one of deep mutual respect and reciprocity, and elders can teach and nurture a generation of children with the skills, knowledge and values from that country,” she said.

“We believe that OCL offers a promising opportunity to provide learning experiences that are hands-on and relevant to children’s lives, thus supporting wellbeing, identity and learning.”

The Murdoch University researchers conducted a pilot study on the effects of the OCL program implemented in two urban primary schools in 2016, which demonstrated a clear improvement in children’s levels of involvement and wellbeing as well as their school attendance.

“We have found that OCL enables children and teachers to make connections with curriculum areas such as languages, history, numeracy science the arts technologies health and education,” Ms Jackson-Barrett said.

“Hopefully by documenting this rigorously over this project, we can influence future policy and provision for Aboriginal children in the early years of schooling.”

The study, which begins at the end of March, is funded by the Froebel Trust (UK).

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