• The National NAIDC Minecraft Challenge was the first of its kind (Indigital)Source: Indigital
More than just a fun video game challenge – the National NAIDOC Minecraft Challenge highlights the pathways needed to close the digital divide.
Rae Johnston

23 Nov 2020 - 4:31 PM  UPDATED 23 Nov 2020 - 4:31 PM

How would you decolonise your town, city, community or school using Indigenous science, technology, engineering, arts and math? This is the question 1000 year 3-8 students at 31 schools across the country set out to answer - using the world-building and crafting video game, Minecraft.

The challenge was designed using the foundations of the Indigital Schools program. As the continent's first Indigenous-designed digital skills training program, it teaches kids how to bring cultural knowledge, history and language to life through augmented reality - using Minecraft and Python coding.

While playing in Minecraft might sound like just a bit of fun, Indigital founder and Cabrogal woman Mikaela Jade told NITV News there are two big reasons why this challenge is essential.

"First and foremost, there are a lot of new technologies designed and developed where First Peoples don't have a seat at the table to influence those designs so the technology could actually work for our people," said Ms Jade.

"We're trying to provide a pathway of opportunity for young people into those industries."

Secondly, Ms Jade said we have rights as Indigenous peoples to imagine our own futures. And a great way to imagine the future - to conceptualise and visualise what we would like to create for ourselves - is through video games. Minecraft was a natural fit.

"The kids have created the area where they live, they've created their community, and they've told their [Dreaming] story through animation using Minecraft and three-dimensional character development," said Ms Jade. 

"It's pretty incredible, and it really just brings home to me that talent is equally distributed, and opportunity is not. If we can only just get the devices and the tools into the hands of our kids, they can do incredible things with it."

Ms Jade said working on this challenge has shone a light on some misconceptions about the digital divide in this country.

"We can't just assume that people in remote communities are the ones that don't have access to digital technologies. We're finding that kids in Western Sydney, and other urban areas, struggled to have access to the technology - sometimes more than kids in really remote communities," said Ms Jade. 

"It's been challenging to try and get the devices in the hands of these kids that want to play in the challenge. Also, working with teachers who are really hamstrung by different IT policies. And there doesn't seem to be a standard way to manage culture in computing at the moment. We're trying to work with communities and get them to set up frameworks that help them in the future to really embrace these opportunities."

The participating schools stretched across the continent, from Bruny Island in the south to Erub in the north, and the feedback has been universal. They loved it. 

"The kids were screaming with excitement, and their knowledge and research into Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing was incredible," said Annie Butler, a teacher from Plumpton Primary School who took part in the challenge. 

Wakka Wakka woman Aunty Doris, who is the  Admin Officer at Eidsvold State School said she was inspired by the use of technology to teach language and culture. 

"Way back when we first started with our Aboriginal language [teaching], my main thoughts and wants were to get language out there. But to share in this way, I didn't think it was possible. And to see it actually starting to come together. I'm in awe of it. I'm just totally shocked, and I want to be a part of it," said Aunty Doris.

"To see the students getting involved and looking so in-depth with what they're doing, I thought, well, obviously it is the way to go. I think once the community, and once the school start engaging, getting to know more about it, I think we'll probably want more. There are other things, not just with language, there are other things we can do with technologies."

The challenge judging panel - who announced the winner on 18 November 2020 - was Microsoft Australia's Jane Mackarell, IDX's Luke Briscoe, Indigital's Matt Heffernan, National Library of Australia's Dr Marie-Louise Ayres, and NITV News and National NAIDOC Committee's John Paul Janke.

First prize for the Best Minecraft World went to Kalkie State School, who won an IDX Flint Program package valued at $25,000. The school will receive workshops, skills development, and $10,000 worth of resources. 

Kalkie State School's Samantha Ephraims said the challenge was such a hit, she had trouble getting the kids to leave the class to go to other subjects. 

"It has been amazing to see the kids actively looking for more knowledge in both Indigenous and tech skills."

And for kids inspired by the challenge wanting to get into STEM, but might not know the right path to take, Mikaela Jade has some advice. 

"I started like that. I didn't know much about tech, I was a park ranger," Ms Jade told NITV News.

"Listen to what excites you in the world, and then look at how technology can be applied to that. To support what you want to do, or to make it more exciting, or to make it better for you."

The first National NAIDOC Minecraft Challenge was the result of a collaboration between the National Centre for Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX), the Telstra Foundation, Microsoft, Minecraft Education, the National NAIDOC Committee, the National Library of Australia, and Indigital. 

Take It Blak podcast - EPISODE 20 STEM & Indigital's Mikaela Jade

In this episode of Take It Blak, NITV's Science & Technology Editor Rae Johnston has your monthly hit of the latest STEM news and interviews, looking at the intersection of traditional knowledge and modern science, and speaking to industry leaders. This month: how we know there's water on the moon, noise-cancelling without the headphones,  what makes the PlayStation 5 controller so special and the ethics and future of DNA study. Plus, Indigital's Mikaela Jade talks about alternate pathways into tech and decolonisation using Minecraft.