New Indigenous Education Program focused on STEM

Students from the Northern Peninsula Area State College in Far North Queensland have been the first to take part in a new Indigenous Education Program launched just before NAIDOC week 2020.

The program, introduced by Origin Energy Foundation partner SolarBuddy, focuses on increasing STEM education opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students living in regional, low-socioeconomic and off-grid areas across Australia. 

A hands-on experience

As part of the experience, students became global citizens as they learned about renewable energy, extreme energy poverty, and the role of Indigenous knowledge and science in finding solutions to global issues.

More than 300 Northern Peninsula Area State College students across three campuses took part in the program, assembling individual SolarBuddy solar lights. The solar lights will allow them to study and read after dusk with a reliable and safe source of light.

For every light assembled by the students, Origin Energy Foundation will donate a light to a child living in energy poverty in Papua New Guinea, accompanied by a letter written by their “solar buddy” in Bamaga.

Since SolarBuddy lights have been introduced in PNG, children are studying up to 78 per cent longer. Reliance on kerosene and other dangerous fuels for lighting has been reduced by 80 per cent.

Incorporating Indigenous knowledge into STEM education

SolarBuddy General Manager, Billie Murphy, says the new program is unique in its celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ ongoing contribution to STEM.

“We continue to learn so much from traditional Indigenous knowledge, skills and philosophies about land management, science, medicine and the sustainable management of the environment,” Ms Murphy said. “Incorporating Indigenous knowledge into our STEM education program was a priority to ensure the best program outcomes.”

SolarBuddy worked with Indigenous educators to develop the program which aims to support and inspire Indigenous students to engage with STEM. Incorporating Indigenous knowledge, along with the development of a culturally responsive curriculum and teaching approach, is in line with strategies to improve STEM education opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

The Origin Energy Foundation is a long-term supporter of SolarBuddy’s Education Program and funded the launch of this latest adaptation at the Northern Peninsula Area State College. 

“Bringing together the STEM focus of the SolarBuddy program with Traditional Indigenous Knowledge is an inspiring way to engage these young students on their education journey and highlight the importance of Indigenous culture in STEM,” said Ruth Lee, Origin Energy Foundation’s volunteering-program manager.

“Our volunteers have taken the SolarBuddy program to more than 100 schools across Australia over the past two years,” Ms Lee said, “but this new Indigenous education program is something we’re particularly proud to support with its strong links to Indigenous knowledge and science.  

“It’s incredibly rewarding to see the impact of STEM as these students become global citizens for the day, and discover how simple renewable-energy technologies can make a real difference to energy poverty.”

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