Australian Engineering Educators' Perceptions of Indigenous Cultures and Challenges of Minority Inclusion
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In Australia, representation of Indigenous populations within the engineering profession is very low. Evidence suggests that understanding of the needs, values and priorities of Indigenous communities is low among engineers. It has been suggested that the continuing low levels of participation of Australian Indigenous people in the engineering profession may stem from negative interactions between Indigenous traditional owner groups and the engineering industry. There also continues to be a low level of awareness of the differences between knowledge systems in Indigenous and Western cultures. Progressing the Indigenous inclusion agenda within Australian Engineering Education requires a clearer understanding of the current status of efforts in this area, and in particular, the preparedness of engineering educators to manage increased numbers of students from this non-traditional cohort effectively. This paper reports on a proposed pathway to effective integration of Aboriginal perspectives (including knowledge and value systems) in engineering education. Interview research was conducted to explore engineering educators' understandings of Australian Indigenous cultures, and their views on incorporating Indigenous perspectives. Ten engineering academics from around the country were interviewed on their experiences working with Indigenous people in professional, social and educational settings. The findings of this study point towards a historical disconnect between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians. Awareness of Indigenous cultures and history appears to be limited, although there is a level of good-will towards changing this. Of critical importance was the lack of long-term professional and/or personal relationships between the engineering educators in this study and Indigenous Australians. This presents challenges moving forward as fundamental understandings of culture, history and politics are limited. Connections between Indigenous communities and engineering schools and academics are basic at best, and at the individual level. The low representation of Indigenous people within engineering academia and Industry means that a concerted effort must be made to bridge the divide. It is clear that a long-term commitment to Indigenous inclusion within Engineering education is required, and an understanding that there is much to be learned and understood about Indigenous culture, history and politics and their relationship to the field of engineering.