Learning from experience

First national workshop will learn from the past to help map the future for Indigenous teachers

Professor Peter Buckskin
Prof Peter Buckskin, MATSITI Director

The experiences of pioneering Indigenous teachers and some of the most experienced professionals in the field will be a key focus at the first workshop associated with the $7.5 million Commonwealth funded More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative (MATSITI) this week.

The workshop, to be held at UniSA’s City West campus on September 15, will bring together about 50 leading educators and education specialists to begin to identify factors that contribute to encouraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to enter teaching and remain teachers in Australian schools.

Lead researcher for the MATSITI project, UniSA’s Professor Peter Buckskin says the aim of the research project is to This is a project which will draw on the teaching strengths of Indigenous people and culture to enrich and add quality to Australian teaching and the western paradigm. Indigenous people have been teaching a living culture for 65,000 years, respect their elders, and have developed an unparalleled understanding of how to co-exist and interact with their environment.

“We want to turn around the participation figures and contribute to Australian education. Only one per cent of Australian teachers are Indigenous,” Prof Buckskin says.

“But we understand that to do that in any sustainable way, we need to examine all the factors that might influence those figures – from role-modelling right through high school completion rates for Indigenous students and nurturing existing teachers so that they stay in the system. It will unpack the factors that are building barriers to Indigenous Australians becoming teachers and remaining in the teaching workforce.

The workshop has asked participants to consider the issues outlined as a scoping plan for the research project.

And it will be the wisdom of many professionals that will help to inform the research including the now 80 year old May O’Brien one of Western Australia’s first Indigenous teachers.

Other education and teaching pioneers include Dr Kaye Price, one of the first Aboriginal teachers in Tasmania, Emeritus Professor Paul Hughes, the second Aboriginal teacher to qualify in SA, and Lewis O’Brien, one of the first four Senior Aboriginal Education Workers appointed by the SA Education Department to link schools to community.

It will draw on the real life experiences of Indigenous teachers as a key to their strengths, unlocking the issues that may discourage teachers from staying in the profession and how best to overcome them.

Prof Buckskin says the workshop will draw on the wealth of experience in the room to develop a path forward in delivering policies to increase the pool of Indigenous applicants for teaching and to enhance aspirations in school age Indigenous students to enter the profession.

“We will consider existing policies and programs, look at the links and networks that already exist and see how they can be improved or strengthened and also consider innovative new ideas for turning around the deficit of Indigenous teachers,” he said.

“By the end of the workshop we hope to have firm direction about the best way of determining future priority initiatives that will deliver more ATSI teachers and their strengths in the workforce.”

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