A key recommendation for incorporating traditional knowledge systems into scientific research: prioritising STEM education for First Nations Peoples

In an interview with Aboriginal water expert Brad Moggridge, the value of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) education for Aboriginal youth, and Australians as a whole was discussed. Brad’s take was that by making STEM education a priority, particularly for First Nations Peoples, we will be able to set the stage for their greater engagement in science. This will enable more innovative thinking to bridge scientific knowledge and traditional knowledge systems to address land and water challenges.

STEM education is key to preparing learners for the future, but this is an area that still has a long way to go for First Nations Peoples. Brad suggests that being an Indigenous scientist working in the water and environmental field can be a lonely experience.

“I’m always ever trying to influence the STEM side because Aboriginal People and science don’t really connect. There’s a few of us out there but I’d love to see more”Brad Moggridge, Aboriginal water expert

He notes that the next generation may be influenced to consider areas like natural resource management or other caring for country occupations.

He says that “if Aboriginal People get a say in research questions or the terms of reference of a contract, they get input through the whole process and authorship.”

Clearly, empowering and educating future generations with regards to STEM is key to bolstering Indigenous leadership in the future. But, how can this be done? And what is already working?

The importance of early education

“I think a lot of times, there isn’t that window of opportunity to jump in and get involved in science when you are in school,” says Moggridge. “This is really typical with maths. They say if you don’t have a good maths teacher then you are going to hate maths. Maths is great. It’s like a fun puzzle. If you don’t have that teacher who shows you that it can be really exciting and satisfying and you just don’t like maths and you shut down, and science is very much the same thing.”

The Australian government has introduced the ‘Restoring the focus on STEM in schools initiative’. It provides for an inquiry-led maths curriculum for primary and secondary school students, computer coding education, and summer school for STEM students focused on underserviced populations, such as Indigenous students.

Following through with further education

Other programs exist to keep the focus on STEM through further levels of education. For example, CSIRO’s Indigenous STEM education project “caters to the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students as they progress through primary, secondary and tertiary education, and into employment.”

The goal of programs like this is to provide learning opportunities and real-world examples of First Nations Peoples thriving in the STEM fields, throughout a student’s life so they can continually learn and feel inspired.

The future outlook

Department of Education and Training: higher education statistics show that Indigenous learners are still lagging behind their non-Indigenous peers in STEM fields and that Indigenous teachers are essential to bridging that gap. The same statistics also show that employment opportunities are far better for First Nations Peoples with degree-level educational qualifications. For a prosperous future, it is important to create as many opportunities for STEM learning as possible.

On an international scale, any disadvantaged or underserviced populations are facing similar issues. The same early education and intervention, and focus on showing real-life examples of successful STEM workers, is applicable across the globe in improving employment outcomes. STEM has a place in every country and efforts to improve education in this area are important to every population.

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