The small Central Australian Aboriginal community of Utju (Areyonga ) has hosted this year’s annual CSIRO Indigenous STEM Awards and taken out one of the top gongs in the process.
The Indigenous STEM education project was founded by BHP Billiton in an effort to get more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students interested in studying science, technology, engineering and maths, with the CSIRO managing the 5-year-long project.
The Areyonga Primary School, nestled amongst the mountain ranges 220km West of Alice Springs, was announced as the winner of the STEM School Award for its work incorporating traditional knowledge with modern science as part of their two way bilingual science program.
Tana Andrews works with the school in assisting the program and said what the students learn from western science in the class room they combine with traditional knowledge taught out bush.
“It’s really good to take the kids out with elders on these trips where we talk about what animals and plants live in the area as well as learning about the stars, both culturally and scientifically and in the Pitjantjara language, which we follow up in the classroom with a lesson in English," she said.
Headmaster Jonathon Fernando said having local elders involved in the class room also brings the best out in the students.
“The students are naturally drawn to them and their stories and how they relate back to what we are trying to teach,” he said.
Among other projects, students have been monitoring the health of their local ecosystem, in particular the nearby Manta- Manta water hole.
Students have identified local wildlife that rely on the water source and how they and the ecosystem have been impacted by large feral animal populations such as horses, donkeys and camels.
As winners, Areyonga Primary school was awarded $10,000 in recognition and support of their hard work.
Fiona Webb, a project officer at Tangentgyre Council which was contracted to administer the STEM program through their Land and Learning project, said winning the award was "a huge deal".
“To pick up a national award is an amazing thing plus everything that is done here can be shared with other Pitjantjara communities throughout Central Australia,” she said.
Other STEM award winners announced today : The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander STEM Professional Career Achievement Award Rhett Loban, Macquarie University, New South Wales. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander STEM Professional Early Career Award Tui Nolan, University of Technology Sydney, New South Wales. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tertiary Student STEM Achievement Award Taylah Griffin, Queensland University of Technology, Queensland. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Secondary Student STEM Achievement Award Jordan Salmon, Clancy Catholic College, New South Wales Jordan Griffiths, Seaton High School, South Australia. School Award Areyonga School, Northern Territory. Teacher Award Markus Honnef, Innisfail State College, Queensland. STEM Champion Award Marcus Lacey, Gumurr Marthakal Rangers, Northern Territory. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student Science Award Deklan, Paralowie R-12 School, South Australia Sha-Kira Austin, Byron Bay High School, New South Wales. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student Maths Award Stacey and Renee Edwards, Mount St Bernard College, Queensland Lara Riley, Newton Moore Senior High School, Western Australia.