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Pearls, not Problems: Exploring Transformative Education in Indigenous Australian Studies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 September 2012

Elizabeth Mackinlay*
School of Education, The University of Queensland, Australia
Katelyn Barney
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit, The University of Queensland, Australia
address for correspondence: Elizabeth Mackinlay, School of Education, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD, 4072, Australia. E-mail:
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This article explores the shift in terminology that occurred in a 2-year Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC)-funded curriculum renewal project that set out to broadly explore current teaching and learning practice in Indigenous Australian studies ( While we started with the term ‘Problem-Based Learning’, it became clear as the project progressed that the terminology we were using was not politically or pedagogically appropriate. As the data began to reveal, the research team became increasingly uncomfortable with the colonial underpinnings and associations of the term ‘Problem-Based Learning’ (PBL), and began to explore the possibility of redefining what we do as something else entirely. A key outcome of the project was that PBL became PEARL, to describe the Political, Embodied, Active, and Reflective aspects of this teaching and learning approach in Indigenous Australian studies. The shift from PBL to PEARL was unexpected, but has resulted in exciting possibilities for migrating and extending theories of teaching and learning in Indigenous Australian studies into critical pedagogy, critical race theory and transformative education. Drawing on critical pedagogy, critical race theory and transformative education theory, this article explores the rationale behind the shift in terminology from PBL to PEARL. We also draw on student data from focus groups, questionnaires and lecturer reflection to examine the ways the results from this project hold great potential for the further implementation of PEARL into primary and secondary classrooms, specifically in relation to pedagogical practice in embedding Indigenous perspectives.

Research Article
Copyright © The Authors 2012

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