The Njulgang project was launched as a pilot program in June and involves the NSW Department of Education working with Microsoft plus partners Indigital, Shared Path, the Eastern Zone Gujaga Aboriginal Corporation and Design, Learn, Empower to create an innovative technology skills program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
The program consisted of four workshops, where 20 gifted and high potential Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from five primary schools in south-western Sydney, learned about local culture and language from a group of Dharawal Elders.
The students brought to life what they learned by creating an augmented reality language learning resource based on the Dharawal Dreaming Story – "How the Animals Came to Dharawal Country".
By bringing the Dharawal cultural heritage and language to life in an innovative way, the students developed new skills using Microsoft tools such as Paint 3D and Minecraft: Education Edition, both of which are available to all students in NSW Government schools.
Mark Scott, secretary of the NSW Department of Education, said the collaboration was a wonderful learning opportunity for students.
“The opportunity for our Aboriginal students to work closely with Dharawal Elders, Aboriginal digital entrepreneurs and Microsoft to bring this innovative learning resource to life is invaluable. The new technology has been developed under the guidance of Aboriginal people and presents the Dharawal Dreaming Story as augmented reality where students can learn about the Dharawal language.
“This year gifted and high potential Aboriginal students are refining their skills using sleek new technology while learning important lessons from Aboriginal Elders about their culture.”
Steven Worrall, managing director, Microsoft Australia, said, “The Njulgang Project is incredibly important. With many spoken Aboriginal languages at risk of being lost, it was important that we worked together to develop a culturally appropriate program that celebrated language, while equipping students with the skills, knowledge and collaborative environment in which to succeed.
“Not only has the program ignited the students’ passion for science and technology, it has provided them with a deeper understanding of Aboriginal language and culture and introduced them to the soft skills that are fundamental to learning in the 21st century.”
Worrall citied McKinsey & Co predictions that by 2030 up to 375 million people would need to switch from the work they are doing today, and as such, students needed to be equipped with a myriad of skills that will prepare them for the future digital economy.
“From genetics to robotics, from neuroscience to climate science, the opportunities in science and technology fields have never been greater. Encouraging students to embrace and enjoy science and technology is therefore a key priority for educators across Australia as talented students become the lifeblood of a strong economy. The Njulgang Project represents a commitment by Microsoft to build the skills required for Australia’s future workforce,” he said.
Microsoft is now working on scaling the program nationally, so additional schools and language groups can preserve and promote their culture through technology while providing more students with the skills they need for the future.
Indigital founder Mikaela Jade — whose company uses mixed and augmented reality to translate and preserve the history and culture of some of the oldest communities in the world — worked closely with the Department of Education and Microsoft on the Njulgang Project.
Jade is also one of Microsoft’s Reconciliation Action Plan Advisers and teamed with Microsoft Learning Consultant Pip Cleaves from Design, Learn, Empower to bring the program to life in the classroom. Cleaves’ experience in designing professional learning opportunities through new and innovative practices enabled students to use the latest technologies while becoming familiar with essential tech skills.
The project was made possible through a collaboration with Shared Path, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social enterprise that incubates small businesses and uses them as a training ground for other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.