The Australian Centre for Student Equity and Success acknowledges Indigenous peoples as the Traditional Owners of the lands on which our campuses are situated. With a history spanning 60,000 years as the original educators, Indigenous peoples hold a unique place in Australia. We recognise the importance of their knowledge and culture, and reflect the principles of participation, equity, and cultural respect in our work. We pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future, and consider it an honour to learn from our Indigenous colleagues, partners, and friends.

You are reading: Service Learning as a Way of Developing Pre-service Teachers’ Knowledge, Perceptions and Cultural Awareness of Aboriginal Education

Thesis written by Dr Glenda Cain


This research explored service-learning as a way of developing pre-service teachers’ pedagogical literacy skills and cultural perceptions with regard to Aboriginal education through involvement in an Aboriginal educational setting. The purpose was for pre-service teachers to gain a better understanding of Aboriginal education whilst developing their own literacy knowledge and instructional skills. Service-learning was the teaching method chosen as it involves experiential learning with structured opportunities for critical thinking and reflection.

A qualitative approach was favoured whereby investigations occurred in a naturalistic setting. As such, the direct experiences of pre-service teachers formed the basis of data gathering and analysis. Field notes provided extra information for the purpose of better understanding the process experienced by pre-service teachers. The approach was fundamentally phenomenological in nature in that pre-service teachers’ attitude, knowledge and pedagogy of Aboriginal education prior to, during and at the completion of a teaching experience within an Aboriginal educational setting, was explored in an ideographic fashion.

During the teaching session, pre-service teachers assessed, planned and tutored Aboriginal students for two hours per week for ten weeks, and then participated in a service-learning tutorial on site for one hour after each tutoring session. Data were collected using observations, interviews and reflective journals. Analysis of the data enabled the researcher to identify the impact of the service-learning experience on pre-service teachers’ knowledge, perceptions, cultural awareness and pedagogy of Aboriginal education. At the heart of the experience was the building of relationships that became the catalyst for change in the pre-service teachers’ attitudes and perceptions of Aboriginal people. The self-efficacy and identity of the pre-service teachers as effective teachers of Aboriginal students also increased throughout the experience. It is hoped that the research will provide further insight into how service-learning can be used as a pedagogical strategy within a teaching course enabling pre-service teachers to be better prepared and culturally competent to address the needs of Aboriginal students and help to Close the Gap (Australian Government, 2013).

Dr Glenda Cain is currently working as Senior lecturer (Literacy-ECE and Primary) at the University of Notre Dame Australia, teaching in both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the School of Education. She has extensive teaching experience across all sectors as a classroom teacher in both early childhood and primary classrooms; a deputy principal; early childhood curriculum officer; and university lecturer. Glenda has completed her Ph.D. through the University of Notre Dame Australia. Her interest in Aboriginal education and service-learning has seen partnerships develop with Clontarf Aboriginal College, the Tjuntjuntjara School and community, and the Department of Child Protection and Family Support.

As a university lecturer in teacher education, Glenda has a comprehensive and up to date knowledge of educational research, issues and trends. Her effectiveness as a classroom teacher and university educator are demonstrated through the university evaluation system where student feedback has been very positive. In 2011 she was awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and School of Education Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence, in 2012. The ASPIRE Award for 2013, is a professional development award that will enable Glenda to present her doctoral studies at an international conference in New Orleans, USA, in 2014.

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