Imagine how different your life would be if you hadn’t completed school. Imagine if no one in your family had ever completed school. Imagine for those of you with children if they did not believe they were good enough for school. For too many Indigenous people, this is the reality.
The National Indigenous Science Education Program (NISEP) aims to address this inequality through building the self-belief of Indigenous youth by making them leaders, using science to do so.
How NISEP began
In late 2004, three science lecturers from Macquarie University, visited northern NSW to discuss bush medicines research with Aboriginal Elders of Yaegl and Bundjalung Country.
To connect with the Elders, Associate Professors Joanne Jamie and Subra Vemulpad and Dr Ian Jamie brought along some science activities as ice-breakers. These were exceptionally engaging and unexpectedly thought provoking.
The Elders started to discuss their concerns of their young people’s education and the lack of encouragement they were being given to complete school.
They asked the academics: “Can you help us help our youth? Can you make them leaders through science shows, and inspire them to complete school and go on to further education?”
And so, together with the Elders, the Macquarie team created NISEP. The initiative has developed into a unique collective of Aboriginal Elders, science academics and high school staff, each one committed to helping the educational attainment of Indigenous youth in a meaningful way.
How the program works
NISEP seeks to enhance educational outcomes for Indigenous youth. The initiative provides training to Indigenous secondary school students from rural and regional low socioeconomic status communities to be leaders – at school, community and university STEM events.
Among these NISEP leaders are keen students, shy students and disengaged students. The program does not seek out elite students. Rather, it is about enabling all Indigenous youth to recognise their potential.
NISEP provides in-school, community and university science events. It so far incorporates 16 high schools from low socioeconomic rural and regional areas and 3 universities. Each year, the program places around 150 Indigenous students in leadership roles, with around 2000 people as their audience.
NISEP is committed to working with its student leaders over the entire duration of their high school studies so as to strengthen their confidence and aspirations. The program helps students broaden their ideas of what’s possible, develop confidence in their own abilities, and become role models in their communities.
NISEP creates cycles of learning and leadership to improve educational outcomes of Indigenous youth, strengthen community ties and foster a sense of pride and identity. The leaders involved want every student in Australia to have the chance to unlock their potential, ignite their imaginations and become our leaders of tomorrow.
Working in partnership with Elders
Working with Indigenous people requires respect, two-way exchange of knowledge and strong relationships. For example, for the past five years, NISEP has worked with Redfern Community Centre to develop a four-day program for National Science Week.
Wagga Wagga City Library has also recently worked with NISEP to develop a similar program during National Science Week 2017 thanks to an already well-established school and university network. This successful collaboration will be again presented in National Science Week 2018.
Anyone interested in developing similar events in other locations would need to first work with NISEP to develop proper partnerships with Elders, a local university and schools. Building such relationships takes time and requires funding support for the NISEP team to work with local Elders and develop appropriate regional connections.
Guest post by Associate Professor Joanne Jamie. For more information about NISEP, please visit the website or contact A/Prof Jamie by email