Amandal Assessment1

Digital culture and confusion when teaching Australian Aboriginal art.

The first return on a quick Youtube search on “Aboriginal art + lesson” after a text message from a pre-service Primary teacher requesting help in teaching Aboriginal art to Year 3 revealed a six minute video titled “Dot Painting Lesson Inspired by Aboriginal Art and Culture” by American educator Dory Kanter. The video illustrates a very simple method of painting with dots and symbols; over simplified being an understatement, inspired by Australian Indigenous stories. For an avid reader of Youtube comments, those below the video reveal the truly complex nature of the protocols and opinions that need to be considered when one makes attempts at possibly teaching Aboriginal art in a classroom. Posted in July 2011 with approximately 96 200 views the video could hardly be described as viral and has attracted a mere 36 comments. It is this participatory nature (Jenkins, 2009; Smeaton, 2013) of the comments alone that would be enough to make a pre-service teacher think twice and abandon the idea of attempting Aboriginal Art in their classroom altogether by further adding to their confusion. Am I allowed to teach this? Mixed messages are perpetuated.

“Australian Indigenous art is the oldest ongoing tradition of art in the world.” (Australian Government, 2007) Aboriginal art tells the story of culture; the story of people, of place and of spirit. As the oldest ongoing tradition in the world, its exploitation and simplification makes it an often regarded “touchy subject.”( Robertson, 2014) With commonly held opinions such as “it’s not appreciated by some aboriginal peoples for non-aboriginal people to teach our arts or culture,” (Black, 2014) how is such an ancient landscape to be navigated by beginning pre-service and many serving educators in Australia when it is one of the three key areas mandated within the new Australian Curriculum?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is listed as priority as it affords rich opportunities for students of all levels to extend their awareness of the Australian culture, past and present, through engaging with “the world’s oldest continuous living cultures. Students will understand that contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities are strong, resilient, rich and diverse. The knowledge and understanding gained through this priority will enhance the ability of all young people to participate positively in the ongoing development of Australia.”(ACARA, 2010) The National education and the arts statement published in 2007 has also guided this initiative and sees the arts, in particular the arts of Indigenous Australia, as an integral part of education in Australian schools. Mutual respect and understanding can be enhanced when students engage with different cultures through the arts. The Australian identity is further enriched by Indigenous cultures and by “the wealth of cultural diversity brought to Australia through migration and by our distinct place in the Asia-Pacific region. An arts-rich education can help young people make sense of the world and enhance their awareness of diverse cultures and traditions and the wider global context in which they live.”(Australian Ministerial Council on Education Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEEYTA), 2007)

The internet and the digital culture that students, and teachers alike, belong to forms this “wider global context” and the shift in education to interactive technology driven environments is emphasised, and has been for some time now, in documents such as the Australian Curriculum. “Internet is not only the future of media consumption, it is also the future of education” (Pireddu, 2011) There seems to be little opposition in the countless policy documents, government initiatives, recent educational literature and research to the notion that creativity and innovation driven by information and communication technologies (ICTs) are vital elements for success in the current global environment. The Statements of Learning for Information and Communication Technologies (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs: MCEETYA, 2006), the Melbourne Declaration of Educational Goals for Young People (MCEETYA, 2008) and the Digital Education Revolution (DER) Strategy (Commonwealth of Australia, 2010) are all initiatives to “implement systemic change to increase the levels of ICT proficiency” (Lemon, 2011, p. 106) for both teachers and students at a National level. But the question on how to really effectively implement and embed technology in the classroom is still being asked. In Art and Technology Narelle Lemon states that technology itself will not deliver or support innovative and meaningful learning. Rather purposeful application needs to be considered and planned for. “Having a technology rich environment does not automatically ensure that effective teaching and learning takes place.” (Lemon, 2011, p.111)

Direction for those prioritising the incorporation of Aboriginal content into their classrooms can come from the many guides and protocols written mostly by state and federal government agencies. These can be located with a modest internet search, from a selection of organizations and can relate to specific areas of interest such as education, and can be explicit to areas such as drama or art copyright. The Australia Council for the Arts (2007) has a Visual Arts protocol guide that covers a vast array of general information in all areas of the Arts. The New South Wales Board of Studies produced a comprehensive document in 2001, and again published on the internet in 2006, titled Protecting Australian Indigenous Art: ownership, copyright and marketing issues for NSW schools, that covers many of the issues faced by teachers regarding the inclusion of Aboriginal content in their classrooms. The document acknowledges that students live in what Henry Jenkins (2009) has described as a “participatory media culture and “an era of referencing”(Australia Council for the Arts, 2007, p. 43) and that the issue of appropriation of styles “presents students with complex issues of ownership(Australia Council for the Arts, 2007, p. 44) The history of cross-fertilization of styles and techniques in the visual arts is referred to and older students may even be encouraged to discuss the possibility of ownership of styles. The stylistic qualities however remain in the public domain and while it may be valuable for students to simulate the techniques and processes associated with particular Aboriginal communities there must be no instance where the work is misrepresented or misleadingly displayed to give the impression that it is Indigenous. (Australia Council for the Arts, 2007, p. 44)

“There is very little information available to teachers explaining how to teach using Aboriginal perspectives, as opposed to simply teaching Aboriginal content from a western perspective. Current practice is often tokenistic, involving extracurricular activities that only serve to marginalise and trivialise Aboriginal knowledge. The best way for teachers to engage with high quality, educationally relevant, productive Aboriginal knowledge is from the Cultural Interface.” (Yunkaporta, 2009, p. 161) In Aboriginal pedagogies at the cultural interface (2009) Tyson Yunkaporta proposes solutions to two important and relevant questions; how can teachers engage with, and use, Aboriginal knowledge authentically and productively in schools? Yunkaporta proposes Aboriginal pedagogy can be incorporated into daily classroom practice in all parts of the curriculum and not just in “token cultural” capacities. “The reconciling principle that grounds the work is the theory of Cultural Interface, the dynamic overlap between systems previously defined as dichotomous and incompatible.” ( Yunkaporta, 2009, p. xv) Research involved approximately 50 teachers across a dozen schools in NSW for a two year period with more than 40 activities trialled in classrooms. The study concluded that the combination of understanding of Aboriginal pedagogy (not only content) and intercultural collaboration was the optimum way to not only teach knowledge of Aboriginal culture for non-Aboriginals but to enhance learning and foster pride and confidence in Indigenous students. It is of value that many of the participating teachers were not of Aboriginal origin. The project has successfully been transformed into the which is a comprehensive digital online space that incorporates information including lesson plans for all primary levels and curriculum areas. “This framework provides a way for teachers to embed Aboriginal perspectives in how they teach, rather than what they teach, thus making all existing curriculum content culturally responsive while also increasing quality teaching practice.” (Yunkaporta, 2009, p. 162)

Aboriginal art tells the story of culture; the story of place and of spirit. 1929 saw the first exhibition of Australian Aboriginal Art, staged in Melbourne at the combined Public Library, Museum and National Gallery of Victoria. “It was the first systematically organised exhibition of ‘Australian Aboriginal art’ in a public gallery space in the world.” (Lowish, 2011, p. 1) It wasn’t until the 1970’s when ironically, school teacher, “Geoffrey Bardon encouraged the Papunya Tula people of Central Australia to use acrylic paint on canvas which triggered an explosion of traditional and new Indigenous art and an increasing respect for and recognition of it among non-Indigenous Australians.” (National Film and Sound Archive, 2006) In 1988 Jennifer Hoffs, then Manager of the Public Programs Division at the National Museum of Australia completed research into collections of indigenous art held in Australia, Canada and the US and questioned why “this extensive source of material culture goes largely unseen.” (Hoffs, 1988, p. 14) Hoffs suggests “innovative interpretation programs (p14) and stimulating awareness of Aboriginal art, history and cultural values at all levels of Australian society through school and community education programs.” (Hoffs, 1988, p. 16)

One education program, a collection of documents titled Affirmations of Identity created by the New South Wales Board of Studies provide a vast array of information for teachers regarding the history of Aboriginal art and its inclusion in the contemporary classroom. Initially published in 2000 and again for the web in 2007 the resource sits separate to the official curriculum documents issued by the state. The Creative Arts syllabus recommends that “all students from Early Stage 1 to Stage 3 experience the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.” (New South Wales Board of Studies, 2007, p. 9) No Aboriginal or Torres Strait examples were previously included for direct reference in the Units of Work for Visual Art. This was no doubt intended to be remedied in the additional Affirmations of Identity documents and the Australian Curriculum.

Dr Narelle Lemon, Senior Lecturer in Curriculum Studies at LaTrobe University, Narelle Lemon engages heavily with digital cultures through Twitter, Instagram (@rellypops) and blogging ( and states that for the implementation of the National Curriculum to be successful, “the curriculum in primary school requires teachers to be capable and confident to teach all of the arts areas.” (Lemon & Garvis, 2013, p. 1) Lemon advocates more research into the into the teaching of arts education in the primary school landscape within Australia and the training of pre-service teachers in teacher education programs “There is also need to continually promote arts as a valuable subject areas in its own right but also in complementing inquiry into other areas of the curriculum that have a louder voice” (Lemon & Garvis, 2013, p. 8). Narelle Lemon is however incredibly optimistic about possibilities for embedding technology in the arts classroom and the “goodies” that are available to us as artistic educators. “Technology in the arts classroom assists exploring and understanding the world around us and contributes to how we then continue to gain knowledge and understanding. It’s about becoming adventurous in what can be possible.”(Lemon, 2011, p.133)

Australia Council for the Arts. (2007). Protocols for producing Indigenous Australian visual arts. Retrieved from

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). (2010). The Australian Curriculum. Retrieved from

Australian Government. (2007). Australian Indigenous Art [website]. Retrieved from

Australian Ministerial Council on Education Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEEYTA). (2007) National education and the arts statement. Retrieved from

Black, D. (2014). Youtube [Comments]. Retrieved from

Cantor, R. (2011, July 3). Dot Painting Lesson Inspired by Aboriginal Art and Culture [Video file]. Retrieved from

Commonwealth of Australia. (2010). National Partnership Agreement on the Digital Education Revolution. Retrieved from

Hoffs, J. (1988). Shared visions, separate realities: the politics of Aboriginal art. Australian Art Education, 12(2), 14-16. Retrieved from;dn=44007;res=AEIPT

Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture. Retrieved from

Lemon, N. (2011). Arts and technology. In C. Klopper & S. Garvis (Eds.), Tapping into Classroom Practice of the Arts: From Inside Out (pp. 97-138). Retrieved from

Lemon, N., & Garvis, S. (2013). What is the Role of the Arts in a Primary School?: An Investigation of Perceptions of Pre-Service Teachers in Australia. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 38(9). Retrieved from

Lowish, S. (2011). Setting the scene: early writing on Australian Aboriginal art. Journal of Art Historiography, 4. Retrieved from

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA), (2006). Statements of Learning for Information and Communication Technologies. Retrieved from
Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA), (2008). Melbourne Declaration of Educational Goals for Young People. Retrieved from

National Film and Sound Archive. (2006). Dreamings, Through Indigenous Art. Retrieved from

New South Wales Board of Studies. (2000). Creative Arts K–6 Units of Work. Retrieved from

New South Wales Board of Studies. (2006). Protecting Australian Indigenous Art: ownership, copyright and marketing issues for NSW schools. Retrieved from

New South Wales Board of Studies. (2007). Affirmations of Identity Teacher’s Handbook. Retrieved from

Pireddu, M. (2011). Education as a dying and outdated system. In M. Ciastellardi, C.M. de Almeida & C.A. Scolari (Eds.), McLuhan Galaxy Conference. Understanding Media Today (pp. 154-168). Barcelona: Editorial Universidad Oberta de Catalunya. Retrieved from

Robertson, Z. (2014). Youtube [Comments]. Retrieved from

Smeaton, D. (2013). It’s learning Jim, but not as we know it - Learning through participatory culture. Retrieved from

Yunkaporta, T. (2009). Aboriginal pedagogies at the cultural interface[Professional Doctorate (Research) thesis] Retrieved from