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Old Ways, New Ways

The program stems from the desire to improve the participation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students in science subjects


Old Ways, New Ways is a new outreach initiative at Edith Cowan University (ECU), which brings together Western and Aboriginal knowledge and perspectives on science. It has been developed to encourage and support Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander school students from WA’s LSES communities. The Old Ways, New Ways program’s financial support is predominantly through the Commonwealth Government’s HEPPP fund.


  • Edith Cowan University
    >>School of Natural Sciences
    >>Kurongkurl Katitjin: ECU’s Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education and Research
    >>Engagement Unit
  • National Indigenous Science Education Programme (NISEP)
  • Macquarie University
  • WA primary schools and high schools.

Old Ways, New Ways stems from the desire to improve the participation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students in science subjects, and thereby increase their employment in science and technology. It is focused on finding ways to inspire Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander young people to reach their full potential by improving their educational and employment outcomes.

Through peer-supported learning and demonstrator training, the program enhances confidence, leadership and communication skills; while providing and promoting positive role models who inspire the students to improved education pathways and science career opportunities.

The initiative provides training and teaching resources, promotes cultural competence through Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander engagement, and facilitates the integration of locally-relevant and specific Indigenous knowledge into the teaching of science.

Creative, hands-on science activities are at the core of the program. Students are taken on a journey of scientific exploration, where traditional methods of Aboriginal toolmaking and ancient techniques for bushland survival are celebrated and shared. This is complemented by practical experiments in forensic chemistry, such as fingerprinting and chemical analysis of samples, all within a context of modern scientific methodology and enquiry. The workshops are adapted to the differing requirements of students’ age, cognition and literacy levels.

Upper level high school students are trained to be demonstrators and provide technical and theoretical expertise in running workshops for younger students.

The practical nature of the workshops strongly engages the students, giving them a fresh vision into educational possibilities for their future. There is an emphasis on capacity-building and raising aspirations for higher education attainment and participation. This hands-on approach seeks to motivate students to study science at high school and beyond, and to improve understanding of traditional knowledge and its complementarity to modern science. Old Ways, New Ways allows young people to see value in the rich heritage of Australia’s first peoples and the significance of their knowledge to contemporary Australia. Celebrating and showcasing traditional aspects of science by Nyoongar Elders reinforces cross-cultural collaboration and increases respect for traditional knowledge and perspectives.

The program team comprises both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff, and models strong cross-cultural partnerships.

By the end of 2014, approximately 600 primary school and high school students from LSES backgrounds across WA will have taken part in the Old Ways, New Ways initiative. The team have travelled to the South West Region, a number of metropolitan locations, the Pilbara, and the Kimberley Region.

The initiative has forged stronger links with ECU’s LSES metropolitan and regional school partners, and has established a strong dialogue around embedding cultural knowledge further into the school curriculum.

The continued engagement of students from primary through to high school aims to demystify tertiary education pathways and early anecdotal evidence suggests this goal is being achieved. Further longitudinal studies will be undertaken to monitor the efficacy of these initiatives.

The program sees strong partnership between ECU’s School of Natural Sciences and its centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education and research: Kurongkurl Katitjin. Kurongkurl Katitjin, is a Nyoongar phrase meaning ‘coming together to learn’. The centre’s purpose is to ‘provide excellence in teaching, learning and research in a culturally inclusive environment that values the diversity of Indigenous Australian history and cultural heritage’ – a guiding principle for Old Ways, New Ways. These intra-university links have been strongly supported and deepened by ECU’s partnership with NISEP, which offers both financial and program support.

Staff from Macquarie University set up the Indigenous Science Experience Program just under a decade ago and it became the National Science experience in 2012. They have a long history of working in partnership with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Elders on traditional medicinal plant knowledge for cultural preservation and new drug discovery. Working with the Yaegl community in the Clarence River valley in northern NSW, a community project was established to preserve bush medicine knowledge and to use contemporary scientific methods to analyse the efficacy of this ancient knowledge. These relationships have informed NISEP’s engagement strategies, looking to pass this information on to younger generations and in turn, to increase participation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students in science.

The NISEP partnership culminated in the Indigenous Science Experience at Redfern, NSW in August 2014. This event brought together all of NISEP’s partners across Australia to showcase the science engagement work they had been undertaking throughout the year. This event connects the local community and highlights educational and cultural opportunities, creating cultural ties with the wider community. The inter generational approach creates unity, using science as a common language.

Additional regional and remote schools will benefit from these outreach activities for the remainder of the year. The Old Ways, New Ways program will culminate in a science demonstration at ECU at the end of 2014. Participating students from metropolitan areas and the South West Region of WA will be brought onto campus for a day of exciting science demonstrations from Mr Tim Harrison, Director of Outreach and Science Communicator in Residence, Bristol University, UK.

The ECU team plan to develop written resources to preserve and share the scientific knowledge of the Nyoongar people. This would further assist in embedding Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander studies into the Australian National Curriculum. ECU will continue to build on the partnerships that have been established with WA schools and will further explore science-based outreach activities with these education providers. On-going funding for the project is currently being explored.

Image depicting four types of partnerships. All four types are highlighted.

This case study is one of a series of 31 presented in our case study publication, Partnerships in Higher Education.

Posted 27 January 2015 Posted in General, Indigenous, Low SES