The latest research from Reconciliation Australia’s 2020 Barometer shows that 68% Australians believe education institutions should deliver formalised learning about the issue of reconciliation.
A staggering 95% of all Australians also believe it’s important to know about the histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. However, most people admit having little or no knowledge about these histories.
One organisation that has devoted its existence towards bridging the educational gap in this crucial area is Reconciliation Australia, formed in 2001 as the national body for promoting and facilitating relationships, respect and trust between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
As part of its work to recognise and celebrate the vital role Australian teachers and students play in reconciliation, the organisation runs the Narragunnawali Awards – Australia’s first and only national reconciliation in education awards for schools and early learning services. Cash prizes of $10,000 as well as media and promotional opportunities are on offer to the winning school and early learning service that displays exceptional commitment to reconciliation.
In 2019, The Educator spoke to Reconciliation Australia CEO, Karen Mundine, about how these initiatives, and how they are inspiring and enabling young people and educators to contribute to the reconciliation of the nation.
More than a year on, The Educator caught up again with Mundine to discuss how these programs are tracking, and what opportunities lie ahead for school leaders to play their part in strengthening reconciliation education in Australia.
TE: More than a year has passed since our initial interview. Can you tell us about the current state of reconciliation education in Australia in 2021?
KM: That’s a very timely question as earlier this year we launched the 2021 State of Reconciliation in Australia Report; a snapshot of where Australia is on its reconciliation journey, where we need to go, and how we are going to get there.
It is based on our 2020 Australian Reconciliation Barometer (ARB) data, the views key of First Nations leaders, and practical examples of reconciliation in action.
The report finds that the reconciliation movement is at a tipping point and that we as a nation need to move from safe to brave on issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
It shows there is far greater awareness of First Nations cultures and knowledges today than ever before; and that many more Australians now understand the brutal impact of colonialism and the modern Australian state on First Nations families and communities.
In education, this is apparent in the findings of the ARB, that show 80% of Australians believe it is important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures to be taught in schools; and an increase in respondents who strongly agreed that the education sector should do something to help improve reconciliation.
Schools and early learning services are critical to how we understand and think about the world. While there is still some way to go, active inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges and perspectives are moving into the mainstream.
Reconciliation in education is becoming an increasingly embedded expectation of the profession.
TE: How did COVID-19 impact on the organisation’s educational programs, and what were some of the key learnings for the organisation from the remote learning experience?
KM: Last year, we saw Australian school and early learning service communities adapting quickly to new methods of providing safe, secure learning environments during the pandemic, despite many still recovering from community losses and upheaval due to bushfires and floods.
In the face of all of this, schools and early learning services remained committed to their critical role in shaping Australia’s reconciliation journey. Despite significant disruptions, engagement with Narragunnawali RAPs continued.
To support schools and services during this period, we developed a guide to Doing Reconciliation Remotely, which included tips for taking action towards reconciliation in online classrooms, and via ‘virtual’ communities of practice.
The Narragunnawali team also increased its webinars on top of the continuation of the team’s own webinar program, offering six introductory Narragunnawali webinars, one of which focussed on National Reconciliation Week 2020.
A new RAP Action webinar series helped explain the actions and resources on the Narragunnawali website. Many of this series’ attendees were able to count their participation in this webinar towards NESA registered professional development.
Reconciliation Australia rapidly adapted National Reconciliation Week to become an online event and the 2020 theme, In This Together, resonated in ways we did not foresee when it was developed in the previous year.
Many schools and early learning services were among the thousands of people and organisations that contributed to our virtual Welcome to Country, launching our virtual National Reconciliation Week. Ultimately, the program of online events and activities brought us together while still being apart.
TE: Can you provide an update on how the Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP) and the Narragunnawali platform is tracking across Australia?
KM: Throughout 2020, the Narragunnawali team has supported a continually growing community of practice of reconciliation action in schools and early learning services.
The Narragunnawali program has doubled since we last spoke, with almost 7,000 schools and early learning services across the nation registering to develop a RAP, constituting just under 25% of all schools and early learning services in Australia. Of these, approximately 1,200 have a current public RAP.
Just under 44% of Australian universities have a current endorsed RAP and 75,000 individuals are registered on the Narragunnawali online platform.
As well as supporting schools and early learning services in their RAP development journeys, the Narragunnawali team has extended positive, reciprocal relationships with the wider education and training sector RAP partners.
Of the approximately 60 education and training sector organisations with a current endorsed RAP, close to half have RAP actions that support the Narragunnawali program.
TE: Are there any exciting new initiatives Reconciliation Australia has planned for 2021?
KM: This year, 2021, marks twenty years of Reconciliation Australia and almost three decades of the Australian formal reconciliation process.
The 2021 theme More than a word. Reconciliation takes action, urges the reconciliation movement towards braver and more impactful action.
We are seeing more people speaking up, speaking the truth, asking the hard questions, seeing the hard facts, and informing themselves about issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The 2021 theme calls on others to follow their lead by reflecting on their own contributions and striving to do more.
This year is a busy year for Reconciliation Australia with the third edition of the Narragunnawali Awards 2021; the Indigenous Governance Awards 2021; the third National RAP Conference (February); National Reconciliation Week (27 May – 3 June); and later in the year will be the Australian Reconciliation Convention, the first Reconciliation Convention in over 20 years.