My love affair with the three Rs: respect, relationships and reconciliation

In Uncategorised by IndigenousX

Author: Kaye Price

Originally posted on The Guardian on Saturday 10 October 2015 07.30 AEDT.

My love affair with the three Rs: respect, relationships and reconciliation

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@IndigenousX host Kaye Price has spent her career in education helping us to better understand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives

When I was a child, I loved the 3Rs – reading, ‘riting and ’rithmetic. I still love reading and ‘riting, but once I went to secondary school and was expected to work with things like 6 + x = 13, I couldn’t cope. No one could tell me why anyone would want to do that, and I was lost.

However, every Friday (and sometimes Saturdays and Sundays) for some time now, I have engaged with my keyboard and collaborated with others to further develop the 3Rs. No, not reading, ‘riting and ’rithmetic, but respect, relationships and reconciliation (

In the early 1980s, I was a member of the National Aboriginal Education Committee (NAEC). By chance, I was placed on the NAEC curriculum sub-committee and had the opportunity to work with some very kind, talented educators. As part of my participation, I remember being consulted on the content of the Aboriginal Studies Kit of the Monaro Region. To my horror, I found that it included statements like “Dreaming Stories are just like fairy stories”.

The fire was ignited and I worked to become involved in the development of Aboriginal studies material across the country. Later, in 1984, my husband was selected to receive an Aboriginal Overseas Study Award and I accompanied him to several destinations in North America.

Although his award was totally unrelated to my interests, it was an eye-opener in that I saw engaged Aboriginal people developing their own curriculum, and that they were being consulted in an appropriate way about curriculum content and “across curriculum perspectives”.

  • Four years later, I was working with ACT Education as the Aboriginal education consultant. This was the most amazing job, and that one-person unit has grown exponentially in the ensuing years. While I would experience the odd “I’m doing ‘Aborigines’ next week – help” occasion, or “There’s an Aboriginal kid here turning the power point switches off and on” I did get to work with some schools in developing units of work that were localised. Switched-on teachers.

    Later, I had the opportunity to work on an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies project. At the time, Australian education was in the process of writing material for the eight key learning areas of English, maths, studies of society and environment, technology, health and physical education, the arts, languages other than English, and science. While our task was to “embed things Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander within studies of society and environment”, with Di Kerr egging us on, we took advantage of the funding and my position as coordinator of the project to have as much input as possible to the other seven areas as well.


We also produced three resources for teachers that covered principles and guidelines for developing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies, a resource guide, and a motivational video with teacher notes. We consulted hundreds of people, including students. The video “You can do it too” was filmed with teachers and students across the nation and has footage that is as relevant today as it was then.

Several collaborative efforts were subsequently published by Curriculum Corporation and much positive feedback was received from teachers in schools. I remember vividly emailing my first scanned image to Curriculum Corporation for inclusion in the Footprints and Signposts materials for teachers. By this time there were heaps more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working in the area and one of the things I loved most was facilitating workshops that resulted in a finished product.

Then – joy! – I was asked to work with Jenni Connor and others in writing the Integrated Units Collection. My first attempts were quite naïve, but the more I thought about it, read other people’s material and worked with other writers, I came to the conclusion that collaborative efforts were more rewarding.

Later, I moved into the higher education sector. Here it was glaringly obvious that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies were marginalised, often being seen as the responsibility, the preserve even, of people working within the support units.


And this is where it gets really interesting. To use Steve Kinnane’s phrase here “A long, slow, dance” is an understatement. There are so many hurdles to jump within universities. While within the primary and secondary sectors, it is relatively easy to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content, change within universities is much more difficult. I found that I could change only 10% of the content without jumping through a number of necessary hoops. Sometimes too, staff just want to be able to “tick the brown box”, and while I do not believe this is due to conscious prejudice or racism, we always seem to be writing ourselves in.

Many initial teacher education (ITE) students have grown up with a school curriculum that either omits the nation’s history, or paints Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in negative stereotypes. We desperately need authentic, accurate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content within our nation’s universities if we want to mature as a nation, and we desperately need more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers within our classrooms.

While working with the More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teacher Initiative (Matsiti), a group of us from La Trobe University, the University of Southern Queensland, Australian Council of Deans of Education and the University of South Australia submitted a tender that would develop a prototype for embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content within ITE.

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Within a very short time, consultation with a number of stakeholders was undertaken as well as a number of focus groups of ITE students and recently graduated teachers. Many lecturers whose faculty has an action plan following Matsiti collaboration willingly shared what works within their ITE programs and offered advice and feedback along the way. Notably among these are Lindy Abawai (USQ), Peter Anderson (Monash), Tace Vigliante (CSU) and Nerida Blair (ACU).

Nerida and Peter are two of some 28 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lecturers across the country working in Initial Teacher Education within education faculties, schools and colleges. We have more than 200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors of medicine. What can we do to encourage and support more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lecturers in Initial Teacher Education?

We desperately need more lecturers to embed the 3Rs: respect, relationships and reconciliation.

“Our stories, our way” – each week, a new guest hosts the @IndigenousX Twitter account to discuss topics of interest to them as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. Produced with assistance of Guardian Australia staff.

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