Details of Thesis

Title An Exploration of Teachers’ Knowledge About Aspects of Australian Indigenous History and their Attitude to Reconciliation
Author McClure, Diane
Institution Australian Catholic University
Date 2008
Abstract In contemporary Australian society the term Reconciliation refers to the process by which the Indigenous and wider Australian communities strive to improve relations with each other. It seeks to do this by recognizing past wrongdoings, addressing the disadvantage faced by Indigenous people today, whilst working together as Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians for a better future (Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, 1993a,b,g). Education is seen to play an important role in the advancement of this process. This is evident in the policy documents of Australian education departments (Brisbane Catholic Education, 2006; Department of Education, science and Training, 1999; Education Queensland, 2000) and the observed level of support for Reconciliation in the educational community (Burridge, 2006). It is apparent that Reconciliation is a key issue for teachers in modern Australia. This is particularly the case for teachers in Catholic schools. Catholic school teachers are required to model gospel values, one of which is the notion of reconciliation, embodied in the sacramental rite bearing the same name. Although the theological and secular meanings of this term have some similarities there are significant tensions between “Christian” reconciliation and reconciliation in the broader Australian context. The importance of Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to Catholic school teachers is articulated in the National Catholic Education Commission’s Statement: Educating for Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation (1998). This document makes a strong commitment to support and encourage educators in the Catholic community to journey with Indigenous Australians and work towards reconciliation through education. Teachers in Catholic primary schools are the interface between Reconciliation, the Catholic ethos, and students. The attitude of these teachers towards this process will have a significant bearing on how it is addressed in the school setting. The National Catholic Education Commission (1998) regards a positive and productive approach to Reconciliation is dependent on an appreciation of Indigenous Australian history. It is this link between knowledge of Indigenous Australian history and attitude towards Reconciliation that is the principle focus of this study. This investigation tested the hypothesis that teachers’ knowledge of Indigenous history impacts positively on their attitude towards Reconciliation. In testing this hypothesis data on these constructs were collected via an attitude inventory and a history test, presented in questionnaire format. These research instruments were developed specifically for this investigation and administered to 100 staff from 11 Brisbane Catholic Education Primary schools. These 11 schools were those that agreed to participate from a sample of 50 schools randomly selected from within the Brisbane Diocese. The participants’ scores on each of the instruments were correlated in order to test the research hypothesis and their responses to the attitude survey were subjected to factor analytic techniques to search for underlying patterns in the data. Schools differed significantly in their attitude scores and history test results, however, across the sample it was found that there was a small to moderate positive correlation between a teacher’s knowledge of Indigenous history and their attitude towards Reconciliation. Participation in formal training in Indigenous history, Indigenous studies, or cultural awareness was also shown to correlate with a positive attitude towards Reconciliation. With regards to the factor analysis, it was observed that the response patterns of participants to the Attitude survey could be grouped into five broad themes and that the highest level of agreement was observed on items relating to “Recognition of ATSI history in Australian Culture”. The latter finding indicates that the teachers sampled considered Indigenous history an important aspect of the Reconciliation process. The correlation between history test results and attitude inventory scores supports the research hypothesis that that teachers’ knowledge of Indigenous history impacts positively on their attitude towards Reconciliation. This, coupled with the observation that participation in formal training also impacts favorably on this construct, suggests steps by which teacher attitudes could be improved. These steps could include making in-service training and pre-service units focusing on Indigenous history a compulsory component of teacher education programs.
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