Indigenous Cultural Competency in Teaching and Learning: Guiding Principles

Given the general historical lack of Indigenous education provided to university students, including academics, the development and delivery of high quality culturally inclusive professional education is reliant upon the cultural competency training of academic staff, particularly in relation to culturally sound pedagogies for teaching Indigenous students and Indigenous Studies effectively.

Producing graduates invested with the foundational knowledge, skills and attributes of Indigenous cultural competency derived from high quality culturally inclusive professional education if Australia will help to close the gap in the socio-economic disparity experienced by the majority of Indigenous Australians.

On this basis, the Guiding Principle for Teaching and Learning is:

All graduates of Australian universities should be culturally competent

The following recommendations and examples can assist Australian universities in implementing this Guiding Principle.

Recommendation 1: Embed Indigenous knowledges and perspectives in all university curricula to provide students with the knowledge, skills and understandings which form the foundations of Indigenous cultural competency.

Recommendation 2: Include Indigenous cultural competency as a formal Graduate Attribute or Quality.

Recommendation 3: Incorporate Indigenous Australian knowledges and perspectives into programs according to a culturally competent pedagogical framework.

Recommendation 4: Train teaching staff in Indigenous pedagogy for teaching Indigenous Studies and students effectively, including developing appropriate content and learning resources, teaching strategies and assessment methods.

Recommendation 5: Create reporting mechanisms and standards which provide quality assurance and accountability of Indigenous Studies curricula.

Rationale

The recommendations for Best Practice in Indigenous Cultural Competency in Teaching and Learning are born of the findings of the literature review and influenced by the recommendations of the Pilot Projects and current national and international exemplars of practice.

The evidence is clear. There is a need to ensure that the Australian higher education sector produces graduates invested with the foundational knowledge, skills and attributes of Indigenous cultural competency derived from high quality culturally inclusive professional education if Australia is to close the gap in the socio-economic disparity experienced by the majority of Indigenous Australians, including Indigenous student and staff participation in the higher education.

Given the general historical lack of Indigenous education provided to university students, including academics,The development and delivery of high quality culturally inclusive professional education is reliant upon the cultural competency training of academic staff, particulary in relation to culturally sound pedagogies for teaching Indigenous students and Indigenous Studies effectively.

The incorporation of Indigenous knowledges and perspectives into University programs provides a valuable vehicle for the development of a coordinated university-wide engagement with the broader inter-related scholarship of Indigenous teaching and learning, research and community engagement. As Wright (2002:5) suggests: ‘[t]he establishment of this [type of] cultural framework…allows Indigenous people to realize their own potential and speaks to the creation of viable regional agreements and partnerships between [Universities,] private business, state institutions and Indigenous people’. Similar to the Indigenous Learned Academy advocated by the Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council (2007), such an approach has a number of benefits, including:

  • Involvement of a wide range of schools and professional programs across the university in the research and development of inclusive curriculum design and partnership teaching;
      
  • Development of collaborative partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous academic and research staff across disciplines, Institutes and Research Centres;
      
  • Dissemination of information to colleagues from across and beyond the university through seminars, conference presentations, publications and research findings, thus contributing to the growing body of knowledge and theory of Indigenous cultural competence pedagogical frameworks and teaching and assessment strategies;
      
  • Forming mutually beneficial relationships with Indigenous communities and organisations, private business and government and non-government bodies and institutions;
      
  • Furthering the process of reconciliation and achievement of social justice and human rights for Indigenous Australians, both nationally and within the region.

The following determinations, recommendations and statements of commitment emerging from the Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education (2000) and the discussions and Vice Chancellors workshop at the Ngapartji Ngapatji ~ Yerra: Stronger Futures Conference (2007) provide sound rationale for the five Guiding Principles for Best Practice in Indigenous Cultural Competency in Teaching and Learning whilst highlighting the value of Indigenous knowledges to the sector and Australian society.

‘Higher education has the fiduciary responsibility to craft the societal architecture for the nation’s future. Very few of the nations ‘graduate attributes’ refer to a knowledge of Indigenous cultures or an understanding of historical issues as they apply to Indigenous Australians. This is in spite of the outcomes of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody which called upon educational institutions to include Indigenous history in their curricula. The outcome has effectively been a knowledge apartheid that denies (non-Indigenous) Australians access to the knowledge of the cultural heritage of this land. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders this knowledge apartheid means that the professional services they receive is jaundiced and flawed as a result of cultural incompetence within the institutions’ (Andersen, Robertson and Rose cited in (IHEAC 2007 p. 30).

‘It is critical that Indigenous knowledge is recognised as an important, unique element of higher education, contributing economic productivity by equipping graduates with the capacity to work across Australian society and in particular with Indigenous communities. Arguments for incorporation of Indigenous knowledge go beyond the provision of Indigenous specific courses to embedding Indigenous cultural competency into the curriculum to ensure that all graduates have a good understanding of Indigenous culture. But, and perhaps more significantly, as the academy has contact with and addresses the forms of Indigenous knowledge, underlying assumptions in some discipline areas may themselves be challenged’ (Bradley Review of Higher Education, 2008 pp. 33-34).

‘Higher Education providers should ensure that the institutional culture, the cultural competence of staff and the nature of the curriculum recognises and supports the participation of Indigenous students. Indigenous knowledge should be embedded into the curriculum to ensure that all students have an understanding of Indigenous culture’ (Bradley Review of Higher Education, 2008 Chapter 3.2) p. xxvi).

‘Cultural security is the underpinning for Indigenous students and Indigenous staff to engage with universities. Indigenous knowledge is the underpinning of cultural security. In universities, we need stronger formal recognition that Australia has two knowledge systems operating – a ‘collective’ non-Indigenous or western knowledge system that links to similar systems worldwide (Universities) and an Indigenous knowledge system (also a collective but held by Indigenous communities) that links to other Indigenous knowledge systems worldwide, and which operate in higher education as well as Indigenous community contexts…Australia has invested heavily in developing its ‘western’ knowledge capital in universities. Similar substantial resource investment in Indigenous knowledge is required for Australia to have both of its knowledge systems operating effectively in universities and able to contribute to the development of Australia’s full and unique knowledge capital. The nature and custodianship of Indigenous knowledge means that this must include funding for Indigenous scholars and researchers within universities, Indigenous communities and knowledge custodians outside of universities and the relationships between them… it isn’t just Indigenous people that benefit from Indigenous knowledge in higher education, Indigenous knowledge and cultural competence are valuable graduate attributes for all students’ (IHEAC 2007 p. 51).

‘While much intellectual discussion and debate is taking place across Australia, it is timely for DEEWR and Universities Australia to assert, along with the many committed academics, strong leadership in the teaching of Australian Indigenous Studies. A concerted effort between all three stakeholders to equip graduates with a range of understandings will assist graduates greatly to engage positively with Indigenous people during their professional careers. The positive thesis behind this is that a combined effect of a systematised approach across the higher education sector will help to improve Indigenous outcomes. The teaching of Australian Indigenous Studies incorporating a focus on ‘cultural competency’ has been advocated as a pedagogical framework. The importance of a graduate attribute also was contended as a key element for orienting university curriculum objectives’ (IHEAC 2007 p. 37).

‘To develop ‘Cultural Competencies’ in current and future curriculum development, as well as in the teaching and learning of Australian Indigenous Studies, there needs to be a process for a recognised authority to provide standards and accreditation on what is taught, how it is taught, and who to can teach it’ (IHEAC 2007 p. 36).

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