• Year 2 students are learning Aboriginal astronomy from a book they created themselves. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
A small primary school in Perth is using the oldest stories from the Noongar people to teach year 2 students the wonders of the Universe.
Craig Quartermaine

23 Nov 2016 - 12:22 PM  UPDATED 23 Nov 2016 - 12:22 PM

Westminster Primary is a tiny school in a low socio-economic suburb in Perth. But this small, tight-knit, diverse community has created an amazing learning environment for its children.

Ms Mathiasen’s class is about publish its second book, ‘The Fascinating History of Astronomy’. It was written by the students themselves, and the kids love being the stars.

The book features Noongar Dreamtime stories. This is not just an acknowledgement of the past, but it highlights the importance of incorporating traditional knowledge into the curriculum at schools like Westminster.  

Teacher Lis Mathiasen told NITV the book is “extremely important because as we all know the Australian [Aboriginal people] are the world oldest astronomers.”

I watch Ms Mathiasen as she looks across her year 2 classroom and asks, “who can tell me about Isaac Newton?”

Small hands shoot up across the room, revealing the students’ enthusiasm for a subject most people struggle with in high school. 

Ms Mathiasen believes history and astronomy are two particularly important topics that need to be taught in schools with a high percentage of Indigenous students.

“When we dig into history, whether its astronomy or the history of Australia, it is very important that we actually go right back to, ‘where does our history actually come from?’, and of course it does come from the Aboriginal people,” Ms Mathiasen says.

Her students are taking to it like ducks to water. The accessibility of the books has made even the shyest child enthusiastic about reading Dreamtime stories.

Indigenous and non-indigenous students alike created the artwork for the book.

The drawings are a compilation of the children’s interpretations of Traditional stories. While the book features a distinct Noongar influence, it makes the stories relatable to everyone.

The project was supported by parents and education workers.

Aboriginal and Islander Education Officer Tammy Loo, who worked with the children and Ms Mathiasen on the book, can’t speak highly enough of the project.

She describes Ms Mathiasen as “a very dynamic teacher who is always enthusiastic and passionate”.

After years of working in communities in the outback, Ms Mathiasen approached Ms Loo, and asked her help to work with children on the illustrations. This gave birth to the first book and kept growing.

Ms Loo believes the second book has surpassed all expectations. The creation process has enabled the children to get in touch with their creative side and learn ways to express themselves.

As I leave the classroom, I’m left with a sense of hope for our next generation.

To be taught from such a young age about the navigators and astronomers who first walked this land thousands of years before Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton, is a cultural shift that will hopefully become the new norm in children’s education. 

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