As Australia celebrates NAIDOC Week, Dr Sam Schulz, whose PhD examined race relations in Australia, with specific focus on remote Indigenous Education, said the current curriculum and use of standardised testing tools continues to “normalise whiteness”.
She said having NAPLAN and other standardised testing as “the measure of the quality of education” forces teachers to view literacy in narrow terms as a neutral set of skills, when in fact tests like NAPLAN prioritise dominant white, English language and culture.
“Testing for literacy through NAPLAN does not capture the kinds of literacies that students require if education is going to be an effective platform for social equity and reconciliation.
“The content and form of NAPLAN are based on the knowledge and understanding of the dominant language and culture of our society, and so exacerbate existing divisions between groups of students along race, as well as class lines.
“In this sort of testing, literacy is viewed as a static, stand-alone and neutral skill that is easily quantifiable and testable.”
But, she said, inclusive educators view and understand literacy as “the social and cultural practices, skills and knowledge that allow us to interact and communicate with each other successfully in different settings in society.
“This approach does not water-down literacy, but makes it both inclusive and useful in the world beyond the school gates.
“However, these forms and functions of literacy are not captured in a standardised test – yet they are among the many literacies that Indigenous students bring to the classroom and should be valued in broadening the experience and understanding of everyone, within and beyond the classroom.”
She said including racial literacy across all subjects would create opportunities for increasing students’ and teachers’ awareness and understanding of the limitations of the curriculum, as well as the possibilities of a richer, more vibrant and equitable orientation to education.
“By increasing levels of racial literacy we may encourage students to question how we normalise whiteness – the white values, culture and history – in our presentation of history and literacy, and how in doing so we marginalise First Nations Australians.
“Australians live among the oldest living culture on Earth. If we value and teach it in the right way, it will serve and benefit all of us.”
Schulz pointed to the Respect, Relationships, Reconciliation website as a source of information that can help student teachers become more aware of their “white” perspectives and what they bring to the classroom, given that most Australian teachers draw from the Anglo-dominated mainstream.
“As teachers become more aware of their own beliefs and how they may influence their teaching, they open themselves to providing a pedagogy of possibility, rather than the restricted content that standardised testing demands of them."
Schulz said many teachers, Indigenous and non-indigenous, already choose a reconciliation approach to teaching that values fairness and equality for all Australians, and capitalises on resources that acknowledge Indigenous sovereignty.
“This can mean choosing resources that allow Indigenous knowledges and ways of caring for country to be part of everybody’s knowing, listening respectfully to Indigenous voices, representing the world we share from multiple perspectives, and seeking information rather than waiting for it to come to us.
“When we submit to a process of ‘seeing’ the world from others’ viewpoints, we begin an awakening that has to happen in the hearts and minds of the dominant culture - because we are the ones with the greatest scope to create change.
“Teachers can’t change the system today, but they can look at what’s possible within the curriculum, and starting with small steps help their students recognise and understand more about the world they live in. This is a process that promises to enrich us all.”