We talk Indigenising education with Dr Ali Sammel

For over 200 years in Australia we’ve been teaching science and other subjects to Indigenous children from Western cultural assumptions and pedagogies. It’s time to change that according to Griffith University academic Dr Ali Sammel, co-author of ‘Indigenizing Education: Discussions and Case Studies from Australia and Canada’.

“People in power who write the curriculum put together the narrative of how they want the next generation to be socially enculturated…those ways are very much from a Western lens. It silences other voices”, says Ali.

Ali Sammel was born and raised on the Gold Coast and lived and taught in Canada for 20 years where she did her PhD. At no time in her 30+ years of educating did she learn about Indigenous cultures of the people whose land she was teaching on.

Says Ali “When I accepted the role of Head of Science Education at a university in Saskatchewan…there was a large Indigenous population there. I was teaching mainly white people who were going to be teachers of a large population of Indigenous peoples.

“I realised I had no knowledge and there was such an absence of their voices…I started to unpack my own white privilege and things I took for granted. I started my journey to understand these regimes of power that block out voices.”

Ali then started to work with a lot of Elders to learn Indigenous perspectives.

Ali has been back on the Gold Coast for 15 years and advocates for teachers to question some of the assumptions that teachers make about Indigenous culture, and not just look at it as “lovely stories”, trivialising and marginalising a culture that has extraordinary depth of knowledge.

She says that teachers need to unpack their whiteness and privilege that comes with whiteness, then work with the local community by first building relationships, respect and trust:

“For example, in science when we teach ‘push and pull’ physics we talk about two forces, but that’s really all we talk about. What I found is, when talking about it from Indigenous perspectives there are so many different layers to it…how ‘push and pull’ relates to everything in your life and community. Everything has a moral story that comes back to how to be respectful, and be in community with each other and with nature.”

Respecting nature, the Kombumerri and Yugambeh land is an important aspect of her teaching: “Every time I teach a subject, I do so with the understanding that we are all connected.”


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