The Double Bind and the Double Burden: Implications for the professional education and practice of Indigenous environmental health practitioners

Stephenson, Peter (2002) The Double Bind and the Double Burden: Implications for the professional education and practice of Indigenous environmental health practitioners. PhD thesis, University of Technology, Sydney.

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This thesis presents the findings of four years of research into the curriculum and workplace experiences of the first Indigenous cohort to undertake a professional education program in environmental health at the University of Western Sydney. The research explores the capacity of a university program, even with a nationally accredited distance education curriculum, to meet the needs of Indigenous participants. In particular, the research examines whether core problem-based learning subjects of the program adequately prepare Indigenous students to work effectively in their complex and power-laden professional settings.

The findings have identified the ways in which a Western-based professional education and training program, even with the best of intentions, present a double bind and a double burden to its Indigenous participants. Students are asked to take part in a strong professional acculturation program without losing the very ties which would make them effective in their own cultural tradition. Thus, they are asked to accept the program for themselves, and at the same time to question and re-interpret the program for their own culture. Resolving this double bind brings with it a double burden: satisfying the curriculum demands of a mainstream degree, as they work to improve the environmental health conditions of their communities where mainstream services have failed.

The findings of this research suggest that a wider educational framework is needed for the education and training of Indigenous environmental health participants. Easing the bind and burden of participants requires a shift in thinking and in action, both within the University curriculum and among the environmental health profession.

In the University curriculum, the shift will require a reconceptualisation of problem-based learning and a change in pedagogy to incorporate critical and strategic perspectives. A future curriculum of this kind would be interested in action and review of field relevant issues, placing the problems and practice of Indigenous environmental health practitioners at the heart of the learning in core subjects.

The challenge presented to the environmental health profession is to take meaningful steps to support Indigenous practitioners in their work. In order for this to occur, non-Indigenous professionals will need to: over-come their fear of working openly with Indigenous colleagues; give professional space to their Indigenous counterparts so that their work in community can trial new ways of acting; share power and take steps to re-dress past power imbalances; learn from, as well as teach, their Indigenous colleagues; value cultural diversity; and take active steps to influence policies, programs, other practitioners and politicians concerned with Indigenous environmental health throughout the country

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Field of Research (2008): 13 Education > 1301 Education Systems > 130103 Higher Education
13 Education > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130301 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Date Deposited: 18 Jul 2013 12:40
Last Modified: 18 Jul 2013 12:40

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