The experience of working with the Sandon Point community happened in 2013 – at the very beginning of this project. First year Engineering at Wollongong University included an opportunity for students to engage with the Engineering Without Borders (EWB) mChallenge – a project-based approach to learning about design, teamwork and communication through real, inspiring, sustainable cross-cultural development projects (http://www.ewbchallenge.org/)
Engaging with Aboriginal Perspectives using 5Rights©
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.
All human cultures have unique features, as well as characteristics shared with all other humans. Being human involves a range of physical factors including managing family and group life, engagement in social and individual activities like work and play, and making sustained efforts to provide for basic health and safety needs. How all these elements are enfolded into particular cultures is uniquely shaped by intangible factors called – variously – beliefs, values systems or philosophies. These intangibles are powerfully strong in shaping actions and reactions, yet also very subtle and therefore hard to discern either from ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ their sphere of influence. Those for whom a particular set of beliefs and values are the ‘norm’ find it hard to consider that anything else could be viable, while those for whom it is unfamiliar and even ‘strange’ often have a highly judgmental view of what is unfamiliar, based on their comfort with what they know.
At the recent Aboriginal Engineering summit in Melbourne, we presented the model underlying our recommended approach to integrating aboriginal perspectives into engineering education. – (open link here) EAC Flyer 2015-1
This entry is part one of three entries exploring the model itself and introducing underlying principles and philosophies that inform the work of the ‘Engineering Across Cultures’ project.
As the culmination of a great deal of thought, analysis and discussion, we are finding that the simplicity of the sequence represented in this single image is both attractive and readily creates curiosity and conversation. Different people are tending to zero in on one or other aspect of the whole as they link our ideas to their own interests and understanding.
The 5 rights are presented here in a logical sequence likely to be the one most frequently applied to engineering projects. However it is important to realise that all five are interconnected, and any one may turn out to be the beginning point for any particular project.
The key factor here is learning how to be confident that the people with whom you are engaging in conversation are the ‘right people’.
Let’s begin with a definition –
- research grounded in a deficit perspective blames the victims of institutional oppression for their own victimization by referring to negative stereotypes and assumptions regarding certain groups or communities (Gale Group 209)
An intriguing thing about such a perspective is that, those who are not subject to it, will usually find it quite hard to identify what it ‘looks’ like. Grounded in the language of the more prominent community, a ‘deficit model’ appears reasonable and normal to its members, even while proposing a view of the world where those identified as ‘deficit’ are, in more or less explicit terms, defined as ‘less than’. Conversely viewers, who are members of a community identified as ‘deficient’, eventually succumb to implicit acquiescence in the ‘truth’ of the implied ‘lesser’ perspective.
What is wrong with this sentence?
Why did Australia not develop metal tools, writing, and politically complex societies?
The answer is both simple, and very complex. The question was posed by Jared Diamond in his book Guns, Germs and Steel – a short history of everybody for the past 13,000 years, (first published in 1997). His thesis is that –
- It is impossible to understand even just western Eurasian societies themselves if one focuses on them. The interesting questions concern the distinctions between them and other societies. Answering those questions requires us to understand all those other societies as well, so that western Eurasian societies can be fitted into the broader context.
Misconceptions about Aboriginal cultures and their access to an understanding – and use – of mathematical concepts have had a powerful and enduring impact on beliefs about their level of sophistication. One widely held belief is that Aboriginal cultures had very limited language references to numbers, being associated with a belief that ‘numbers’ are essential for measuring and assessing things (mathematics tasks) this combination has created a perception that these cultures are, therefore primitive and ignorant of facts known to ‘more sophisticated’ cultures.
Intersecting Worldviews with which to explore Aboriginal Engineering
Wherever there are competing worldviews, there are also competing motivations and agendas. Awareness of this shaped our exploration of how engage with Aboriginal students, and their communities, in regard to developing greater interest in engineering as a career.
In seeking to focus our work we identified three particular worldviews with which to explore aspects of the interactions among engineering activity and community needs and goals. These worldviews were chosen from among the many that are available, and we use them as tools for exploration, without suggesting they are the only ways of seeing the world.
Values and beliefs influence every aspect of how we suggest managing relationships among the factors in the intersection. In this regard we developed a set of principles we call the ‘5 Rights’ to guide interactions among the three worldviews.
These ‘5 Rights’ are not about entitlements. They are about appropriateness and suitability of behaviours, and are intended to guide thinking and actions in those complex situations where the Worldviews are interacting. The ‘5 Rights’ are
The following story illustrates their successful application to a specific teaching context.