For the past four years, Riley McElhone has been studying Primary Education (Honours). She is currently doing work placement at a local primary school, which is just the beginning for her career in education.
Riley is Wiradjuri, her people come from Central New South Wales. Currently in her honours year of a Bachelor of Primary Education degree at the University of Wollongong (UOW), Riley has been lucky enough to be given a contract to work as a teacher when she graduates. Rileys honours focus is to undertake a quantitative research project, collecting data relating to children between the ages of 5 to 12 who are enrolled in local schools in the Shoalhaven area. She hopes that the results will allow teachers and researchers to advance their learning about the Indigenous children’s connection to Culture and Country.
Throughout her studies Riley has been dedicated to improving learning experiences for children and eventually wants to study her PhD and contribute to the academic knowledge-base on strength-based Indigenous education. Her Aboriginal background and cultural identity enriches her professional life and she wants to use her degree and experience to better educate Indigenous children, “I am looking to inject Aboriginal perspectives and Culture into the classroom”.
Riley’s head and heart fuel the passion she continues to develop for Indigenous education and she believes that Indigenous teachers provide positive advances in education for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. She advocates that increased Indigenous employment in education can see improvements in student behaviour and attendance.
“Indigenous students are living within two worlds, navigating Black spaces and white systems. So I guess that it is always at the back of my mind the current structures and conventions fall short of the standards that I need to uphold as a researcher”.
Riley believes that negative understandings of Indigenous cultures are imposed on non-Indigenous children through current modes of education. She reveals that more action needs to be taken by school executives to make sure students and their parents leave those discriminative thoughts at the school gate.
She doesn’t see herself as an activist for Aboriginal academia, more of a storyteller, who supports better education for Aboriginal students, from primary school through to university. As a future Indigenous academic, she is eager to train the next generation of Aboriginal teachers, so that they can put into practice the knowledge that she generates over the next few years.