On-Country Learning (OCL) is a unique pedagogical approach to Aboriginal early years education developed and piloted in Australia by the applicants named in this funding request. The approach aims to address new ways of meeting the educational aspirations of Aboriginal students, their families and communities.
The approach consists of class group visits to designated places on Country on a weekly or fortnightly basis, the frequency of the visits is dependent upon how the community and school want to run their program. The Elders of the community choose the sites, so that they can teach and nurture a generation of children with the skills, knowledge and values from that Country. Children are active participants in the experiences, and are encouraged to explore and experiment in collaboration with their peers, teachers and Elders. Through this participation, the children adopt an active role in constructing meaning from their experiences, and thus develop deep understandings based on these experiences. OCL enables children and their school based educators to make connections with curriculum areas such as languages; history; literacy; numeracy; science; the arts; technologies; health and physical education. Teachers are supported to work alongside the children to connect the experiences on Country with the school curriculum and to plan further investigation of wondering questions, observations, new knowledge and skills that germinate from the visits on Country. OCL provides children with educational experiences that are hands-on and relevant to their lives. This engages them in a central tenet of their being, Country.
Our pilot work in two urban schools provides preliminary evidence that the experience of being involved in OCL improves children’s levels of involvement and wellbeing. This was measured using the Leuven Wellbeing and Involvement Scale (Laevers, 1994).
In this project we wish to explore the impact of what we term On Country Learning (OCL) for Aboriginal children living in a remote region of Australia. We pose the following questions:
• How is the relationship of every child to family, community and to nature, culture and society understood and practiced in a remote community by schools and Aboriginal peoples? (FP2)
• How can a model of OCL be developed that recognises the rights of the child to play and creativity within an otherwise centralised and mandated curriculum? (FP1, FP5)
• What opportunity does OCL present in terms of collaborative culturally responsive pedagogies to support Aboriginal children’s learning and development in remote settings? (FP4, FP2)
• How does learning On Country with strong connections to the community and cultural relevance impact Aboriginal children’s wellbeing, involvement and engagement in learning? (FP6)
• How does OCL develop the cultural and pedagogical responsiveness of educators to support the development of each child and recognise and encourage their competencies? (FP3)