Integrating Aboriginal Perspectives Into Engineering Education (Part Three)

Engaging with Aboriginal Perspectives using 5Rights© Jade Kennedy

The 5Rights© are, collectively, a guide to our recommended approach to integrating Aboriginal perspectives into engineering education. These are responsibilities – not entitlements – and their origins are anchored in that Knowledge Gap outlined in the first of this series of entries. When people on each side of the knowledge gap are ignorant of the others’ body of knowledge, and do not appreciate its underlying values and principles, at least three possible avenues are available for action. The most damaging of these is in play when knowledge is assumed to be absent from one side. Conversely a ‘deficit model’ assumes the superiority of one set of knowledge, and operates ‘as if’ problems are solved by use of its ‘more progressive’ solutions to relevant contexts.

The 5Rights© recognise that different knowledges are involved, guides a process for acquiring the requisite knowledge to ensure that planned activity is based on adequate awareness, and even-handed acceptance of, the whole of the context. At the beginning of any collaborative process there is agreement that no one has ‘more’ – or ‘better’ – knowledge of how to define a ‘good outcome’, and each has sufficient curiosity about what everyone else brings to the setting.

Like the elements of an Aboriginal perspective these five factors must be initially considered in the sequence presented below. And, just like those other elements, they are closely interconnected, such that any one may prove to be a good starting point for preliminary exploration, while this sequence represents the order in which to proceed –

  • Right People
  • Right Place
  • Right Language
  • Right Time
  • Right Way

Each of these is described in more detail in the Blog entry titled Describing the Five Rights, (June 10th) and you are invited to explore their meanings by reading about them there.

The 5Rights(C) in Action

The case study below describes a time when all five rights aligned to create a most successful learning experience for a large group of engineering students, while simultaneously providing a wealth of options for the local community’s consideration and demonstrated that an adequate understanding of how to address the knowledge gap benefited all those involved.

Right People

In this project the people involved were SPATE members, local government staff, academic staff and university students. The most vital ‘right people’ were the SPATE members involved, a fact which was highlighted 12 months later, when the absence of those same people meant the project could not be developed further. (see the note on Right Time)

Right Place

Sandon Point is near the university campus and readily accessible. There is quite a lot of readily accessible information about SPATE and the history of its activities. There was a strong need to address the various engineering related topics for the students to exercise their creativity. The students met SPATE representatives on site, enabling them to get a deeply personal sense of what is involved in establishing and maintaining such a place.

Right Language

The situation at SPATE was discussed with the people on site, using their own words to identify their priorities and needs. Similarly discussions with the local government staff were conducted in terms of their perceptions and priorities. While the academic staff involved were the one most directly involved, the students were kept well advised.

Right Time

2013 was a moment in time when everything was aligned for such a project, as noted in ‘Right People’. And this fact emphasises the interconnectedness of all five Rights. By 2014 the series of changes that had occurred meant that Sandon Point could not be revisited in the same way.

Right Way

This is perhaps the most complex factor and is both first and last in terms of sequencing. As with so much else in life there is a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way’ to get things done. Approaching a project like this while using an entirely Western worldview would have failed, because that kind of framework seldom allows scope for attending to philosophical and social beliefs  prior to taking action. Taking time to visit and sit with the Embassy people, providing detailed information about appropriate ways to treat the land. Setting technical criteria to replicate local traditions ensured that students experienced the ‘right way’ of approaching such a context, and their feedback reflected enhanced awareness of what it means to be Indigenous.

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