Empowering First Nations as co-producers of learning, not mere recipients of teaching

Tony Dreise1

1 Indigenous Scholar at the Australian National University

By virtue of being among the oldest continuing cultures on Earth, Aboriginal peoples of Australia are able to draw upon deep wells of knowledge and wisdom. But having now struggled against torrid tides of colonisation for over two hundred years, our First Nations are now having to navigate, think and act in an increasingly globalised and complex world. This reality brings both threats and opportunities.

A book published in 2013 called ‘Learning a Living’, by Hannon and others, helps open our eyes and minds to the fundamental purpose and agency of learning, particularly for those in developing and globalised contexts. The authors argue that in the 21st Century, education has to empower and support learners in becoming active producers of learning and not just passive consumers of it. This is true for Australia’s First Nations contexts. Educational experiences have to be meaningful, culturally responsive and affirming, driven by underpinning motives of personal and collective agency, and geared toward producing stronger communities and a better world.

From our schooling sector right through to higher education, education systems throughout the world are becoming increasingly attentive to a number of critical success factors in learner success such as lateral thinking, problem solving, and proficiency in information technology. Fadel, for example, identifies four C’s that need to drive education in the 21st Century – Critical thinking, Creativity, Communication, and Collaboration. From a First Nations perspective, perhaps Fadel’s four could be complemented by four more – Cultural bridging, Caring for Country, and building inner Confidence and Character? In combination, these eight skills and attributes are more likely to empower learners in their quest for meaning, stronger intracultural and intercultural relationships, environmental sustainably, career success, and enterprise development. As educators, we are in a unique position to turn threats into opportunities by empowering First Nations people in shaping our curriculum, thinking, teaching, and lifelong and life-wide learning.


Tony Dreise is a proud descendent of the Guumilroi and Euahlayi peoples of north-west New South Wales and south-west Queensland.

Tony is an independent consultant who undertakes research; policy analysis; curriculum and resource development; change management; and community planning for government, community, philanthropic and education bodies. He is also an Indigenous Scholar at the Australian National University, where he is finalising his PhD study into the role of Australian philanthropy in Indigenous education. He holds both a Bachelor of Teaching degree and a Masters of Public Administration.

Over the past twenty-five years, Tony has served in a number of professional capacities including as a senior executive in government, a regional director in Indigenous education, and a national executive in Indigenous adult education and youth training connected to the then Australian National Training Authority. In more recent years, he served as the former Hub Leader and Principal Research Fellow for Indigenous Education at the Australian Council for Educational Research.

Tony is a passionate advocate of both lifelong learning and regional development. At a national level, he is a former Board Member of Adult Learning Australia and a former Member of the National Vocational Training Equity Advisory Council. At a regional level, Tony has volunteered in a number of capacities including as both President of the Northern Rivers Social Development Council and Deputy Chair of the Northern Rivers Board of Regional Development Australia.

Tony’s work in Indigenous education has appeared in both Australian and international publications and conferences. His work at a national level has included analysis of how Indigenous children and young people are faring in Australian education. Tony is a firm believer that Indigenous education results will only improve through sustained and continuous improvement within education institutions and within the wider community environments in which children and young people live. As such, he has been keen to advance theories and programs in ‘whole child’ development, ‘place-based’ investment, and de-institutionalised equity.


The Australian and New Zealand Student Services Association Inc. (ANZSSA) is a professional association for people with an interest in the role of support services in post secondary education.

For more information, please visit ANZSSA website by anzssa.com.


ISANA International Education Association is the representative body for professionals in Australia and New Zealand who work in international student services, advocacy, teaching and policy development in international education.

For more information, please visit the ISANA website at www.isana.org.au.

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